Thursday, June 30, 2005

Clementine Cake Verdict


It's fantastic. It's very fragrant, the smell of the clementines fills the kitchen and creates a really homey atmosphere. It was actually difficult not to dig into it the first day. Nigella says it improves with sitting around.

Cake inside - I love how brightly yellow the centre is.

On Wednesday night, my parents went out for dinner with Uncle Francis and Aunty Wendy, who are really cool (and who, incidentally, gave me How To Eat for my birthday this year), and they came back around 10 o'clock for coffee and cake. I had tea with my slice.

So the cake! Very yummy. It's so super-moist, as Nigella says, it's like one of those cakes that has been drenched in syrup, even though there is no syrup with this cake. And the flavour of the clementines is really pronounced, but not overpowering. My mum loves flourless orange cakes, so she was ecstatic with this. Mum and I had one and a half slices each. Uncle Francis had two slices. I'm pretty sure Dad and Aunty Wendy liked it.

In all honesty, it doesn't taste markedly different from the normal flourless orange cakes you can get at more upmarket bakeries here, but it is so easy to make that it seems pointless to buy one. And if you buy it, you don't get that feeling of self-satisfaction and accomplishment that comes with baking a cake. I was so excited with it I even brought a slice to my computer to show to friends overseas via webcam... unfortunately I couldn't actually give them any cake, so I just had to eat it for them whilst they watched. Shame.

How to Eat Cake

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

A Comforting Lunch for 4

It’s Melbourne, it’s June, it’s freezing. A really dense fog descended on the eastern suburbs last night as we were coming home on the freeway. In fact, it was so foggy we could barely see 3 metres in front of us. Scary stuff. Thankfully the fog cleared by morning, but it was still well cold… the perfect weather for a comforting lunch.

41. Fish and Porcini Pie

To make this pie, you start by poaching some fish in milk, fish stock and porcini mushroom soaking liquid.

Poaching fish – the recipe asks for cod, salmon, and smoked haddock, but Nigella says, “You can change the fish as you want”. I went with salmon, flake, smoked cod, because cod was the only smoked fish I could find, and I thought the colours were so pretty together.

Fish in dish

Then you use the poaching liquid and mushrooms to make a white sauce. You put the fish, then the sauce, in a dish, top it with mashed potato and bake it.

Ready for oven

During baking time, the filling got a bit excited and erupted over the sides and onto the floor of the oven. Whoops.

Dirty oven

Peas and Pie

One plate

This was well tasty! It was so good, definitely a keeper. You'd think it'd be a bit rich, what with all the butter and full-fat milk and potatoes, but it was just perfect. Smooth, lush, and very flavoursome. (By the way, I used milk and butter in the potatoes instead of double cream). My dad loved it, and he usually doesn't go for this type of stodgy English nursery food.

Dad: Make this again. Are you going to make this again? You have to make this again. I don't care if you don't put it up on the blog. You going to make this tomorrow?

You know how Nigella recipes are usually extremely generous in portion? When we first looked at my pie we didn't think we could finish it, but it was so delicious and easy to eat. We could have easily finished the lot, but restrained ourselves for the sake of our collective waistline. It was so yum my brother even got some leftover challah from the kitchen bench to come and mop up the juicy sauces.

But dessert, oh my god the dessert! As per Nigella's suggestion, it was ice-cream, cherries (Morello from a jar), flaked almonds (Lucky from a packet) and chocolate sauce.

I made the ice-cream yesterday, and did the chocolate sauce after we ate my pie. The chocolate sauce recipe comes from Nigella’s Poires Belle Hélène, so doesn’t count as a separate recipe. It’s very easy, you melt 2 blocks of dark chocolate with sugar and coffee and stir through some double cream in the end.

Daniel: Eats one spoon of ice-cream without sauce… This is orgasmic! Orgasmic! Orgasmic!

Dad: Oh my god this ice-cream is so smooth! You don't need the chocolate sauce with this, this ice-cream is fantastic by itself!

The sauce was lovely, but extremely rich! We’ve got heaps left over… what am I going to do with it?

Dad: Don’t worry, I’ll eat the chocolate sauce.
Me: But I thought you said you just wanna eat my ice-cream by itself, that adding stuff would interfere with the taste…?
Dad: Yes yes, but I’ll put the chocolate sauce on the cheap ice-cream we've already got. That ice-cream NEEDS chocolate sauce!


Choc sauce and cherries - the ice-cream is in that jug on the right

Best ice-cream ever! The most important thing, I think, is just to use the best ingredients - a proper vanilla pod, fresh eggs, good cream. I love its golden richness, and the little vanilla seed flecks all the way through. It's sublime. I'm a total ice-cream junkie, and this was just heaven. And I definitely recommend adding the extra double cream when you make it. Bliss!

Go Nigella!

See, this is one of the reasons I'm glad I started this project - I probably wouldn't have even tried making the pie otherwise (like I said, we don't go for this type of food much as a family), and that would have been a real shame. Because it was a joy to eat.

A little light Tuesday afternoon cookery

39. Clementine Cake (Basics, etc.)

Clementines, I’m told, appear in England only at Christmas, which is one reason why this cake is a fixed item in Nigella’s Christmas repertoire. Being both seasonal, and English, I wasn’t sure if we could get them here at all. I mean, these English cookbooks I love reading are full of strange words like “clementine”, “damson”, “greengage”, “gooseberry”, “elderflower”... exotic items that I’ve heard of, but never seen in the flesh. (Actually, though, when I went to England last year on holiday, I had the pleasure of trying fresh gooseberries, and the misfortune of trying elderflower cordial. Yurgh.) Back here in Melbourne, most of these foods remain firmly stuck in the literary realm, not the culinary one. However, the other day at Safeway, what did I see but a huge pile of CLEMENTINE MANDARINS! Score! It’s Clementine Cake time!


Nigella says to boil the fruit for 2 hours, purée them and mix them with eggs, sugar and almond meal. But, following a tip I picked up on the forum, I just microwaved the fruit in water for about 8 minutes in total, turning them over every couple of minutes. It was so much easier and faster!

Such a shame - you're supposed to bake this in a 21cm springform tin, and I wanted to use one of the Living Kitchen springform tins that I got for my birthday, but there isn't a 21cm one!! There's 20cm, 23cm and 25cm. Dang. So I pulled out an old and extremely battered 21cm springform from the bottom of my drawer, and lined it extremely carefully with Glad Bake. (Such fabulous stuff, I couldn't bake without it!)


I'd also heard horror stories on about the cake being too moist, needing longer cooking and leaking out everywhere, but luckily nothing of the sort happened. This was one of the reasons why I was so anal about using the right size tins. But also, I think you've just got to be careful and measure out the correct weight of clementines, as opposed to going by number of clementines.

Cake cooling in tin - It smells heavenly…

Whilst the cake was baking I started on some ice-cream.

40. Basic Vanilla Ice-cream (Basics etc.)

Nigella’s vanilla ice-cream is just her custard, with a lot more sugar (apparently freezing things kills the flavour). And you know what, after all my worrying about making custard, there were no dramas with it. I used a different pan, a very large, wide one with a thick base – which I think made all the difference. After about 10 minutes cooking, it didn’t get super-thick like powdered custard gets, but it had thickened, and did smell custardy, so I stopped cooking at that point, and let it cool it in the sink.

Custard – cooling in the sink

Cream in custard – Nigella suggests adding 300ml double cream, if you want it creamier. I wasn’t too fussed about how creamy it was, but I added the cream so that I’d end up with more ice-cream! Double-bonus!


It was so delicious… after putting the ice-cream into the freezer, I skipped yoga and spent the next half hour licking out every bowl, pan, spoon and utensil that had come into contact with the lovely, lovely custard….

I don’t have a verdict yet for the cake, as we haven’t eaten it yet. Apparently it gets better if you leave it. But we will eat it tonight – my parents are going out for dinner with their friends, and will come home for cake…

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Carpe Custard - Seize the Custard

My inability to make custard (see my semi-failed attempt at banana custard) is going to be a problem. You see, there are at least 12 recipes for custard in How to Eat, including Real, Quick Foolproof, Sauternes, Rhubarb, Marsala Muscovado… which all sound divine, if it weren’t for my complete custard-making-ineptitude. And these don’t even begin to include all the pudding recipes for which a custard would be the perfect accompaniment, quickly and effortlessly whipped-up by a beaming domestic goddess.

My previous experiences with custard have been either scrambled eggs, or lumpy and thin soup. My custards, which I stir constantly and obsessively, on the lowest of heats, go from “runny liquid” to “almost curdle”, totally bypassing the delectable “voluptuous gloop” stage of proper custard.

Making custard should be a simple thing! I can bake cakes, I can fry steaks, I can make meringue, I can make risotto, I can even make pastry! PASTRY, dammit! I’m a professional, I get paid to prepare food. So why can’t I make bloody custard? I’ve been told that it’s due to various factors – too many egg-yolks make for an unstable mixture, if the heat is too hot it will curdle, thin liquid (e.g. milk instead of cream) means the mixture won’t thicken as quickly, flour or cocoa in the mixture stabilises it (which explains my unprecedented successes with chocolate custards…), and so on.

I have to face my fears and jump over this hurdle ASAP, for the sake of this project. You see, it’s not only the custard recipes that are at stake, but all the recipes with custard as an accompaniment, and all of the menus which have a custard component. For example, I have my eye on the Fish and Porcini Pie from Weekend Lunch. Looks simple enough, and the ingredients aren’t too exotic, even by Australian standards. The only problem is that the suggested dessert is ice-cream (recipe provided in Basics etc. chapter), cherries, flaked almonds and chocolate sauce. But what is home-made ice-cream? It’s nothing more than the frozen form of the dreaded custard. So this whole fish pie idea is screwed if I can’t get a custard right.

I’ve seen Delia make custard on her How to Cook programme. Didn’t look too difficult, and if it’s been made on How to Cook, it’s definitely within my reach. Don’t fret, I’m not a Delia fan, and despite this custard situation, I’m not a complete moron, so I don’t need her How to Cook books to teach me how to cook. To turn to Delia’s How to Cook for help at this stage would be an admission of failure – my failure, as a cook, as a provider, as a woman, as a human being. But this still doesn’t solve the custard problem…

Oh fuck it. I have 500ml single cream sitting in the fridge, and I don’t want it to go to waste. Carpe diem. Or carpe custard. I’m making the ice-cream this week!

Deep breaths, deep breaths… Watch this space…

Monday, June 27, 2005

Monday Night Dinner - Pasta with Butter and Stock Cube Juices (reprise)

Did you see the little gravy boat of sauce from lunch? I heated it through in a pan with butter and rosemary (from our garden, no less), to form the sauce for the pasta you see below. Delish.

Pasta - mmmm...

The last time I made this I was in essay-writing hell, and was too stressed and selfish to make anything more than a single serving. Today, however, I was feeling warm and generous and maternal - so quadrupled the quantities (from the One and Two chapter if you're interested, and you should be interested) and we all ate it. And by sheer coincidence, my dad had bought a baguette from Laurent this afternoon, so we ate it with the pasta. SCORE!

Monday Lunch

38. Basic Roast Chicken

Those of you with sharper memories will remember that I made this same, wonderful roast chicken for lunch not too long ago. So why, I hear you ask, am I making it again and counting it as yet another recipe in my list? Well, firstly, this time I made it slightly differently, with all the little extras that Nigella suggests (see below). But the main reason I'm counting it again is because it appears twice in the book (Basics etc. and Weekend Lunch), and I didn't realise this when I was typing up my recipe list. So, it accidentally appeared twice in my list of 385 recipes.

By the way, I have a numbered list, 10 pages long, in size 12 Times New Roman font, which I typed up in Microsoft Word, and printed out in blue ink because I ran out of black. I'm crossing off recipes as I go. So now you know.

Basic Roast Chicken with roast garlic and shallots, and jus

This chicken is easy, and fills the house with the aroma of a Good Home. You shove half a lemon up the chicken, anoint it with a teensy bit of extra virgin olive oil, and bake it at 200C for 20 mins per 500g plus 30 minutes. I'm not sure why though, but I never need the extra 30 minutes - maybe it's because I have a stronger, fan forced oven??

Things that are different from last time:
- I added whole unpeeled garlic cloves and shallots to the pan (Sooooo good, we ate ALL the garlic and shallots! Normally that stuff just gets left on the plate...)
- I sprinkled chopped flat-leaf parsley and toasted pinenuts "to make this basic recipe feel a little less basic" (This is a fabulous touch, and there was a bit of a scramble between us to get to the last nut!)

But the most exciting thing about making this chicken is the jus/gravy/sauce, that is made by cooking up the pan juices with some water and wine, which means... Pasta with butter and stock-cube juices for dinner tonight! Yeah baby, yeah!

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Friday Dinner

A couple of my friends had their last exams yesterday, so we decided to celebrate by going out dancing. They came over for dinner first, the menu for which came from the Weekend Lunch chapter.


36. Lemon Chicken
37. Sticky Chocolate Pudding

The chicken is "a not too anglo version of the Greek kotopoulo lemonato", which means chicken pieces roasted in the oven with wine, water and spices. According to Nigella's recipe, you have to fry the chicken first, to brown it.

WARNING: It splatters a lot. Don't do this in a brand new sleeveless top.

Once it's cooked, you strain the juices off, and beat them with eggs and lemon juice in a double boiler to make avgolemono, a lemon sauce.

Me making Avgolemono – check out my new shoes!

Me with chicken - I don't mean to turn this into a "oh-my-god-look-at-me-I'm-so-fabulous" blog, but usually when I cook, I'm in no fit state to be photographed. Which means I'm in trackies, with greasy hair and no makeup. And anyway, I love this platter!

Lemon Chicken - Living Kitchen serving platter and 1L Living Kitchen measuring jug for extra sauce

This was nice. The chicken was a bit tough because it was cut very small, but the sauce was well tasty. I served it with basmati rice (done in the rice cooker). Nigella suggests having salad or peas as well, but it was too frikking cold for salad, and I was too lazy to cook peas. The sauce-and-rice combo is fabulous.

I started making the pudding after we finished eating. Nigella suggests pecorino and pears for dessert if it's summer, or this pudding in "more customary English warmth". Well, it's Melbourne winter now, which means it's bloody freezing. So pudding it is. I haven't made a Chocolate Self Saucing Pudding (which is what we call this in Australia) since Year 9 camp, when my best friend Frances and I would make it every time it was our turn to cook. Easy peasy. You mix up the batter, pour it into a buttered dish, sprinkle over cocoa and sugar, then pour some recently boiled water over. During baking time, this sinks to the bottom, forming a gooey sauce beneath the sponge layer.

Chocolate Self Saucing Pudding is a really common Australian sweet (like lamingtons, lemon delicious, golden syrup dumplings, Anzac biscuits etc), so it surprised me that English food writers seem to make such a big deal of it. I remember seeing Nigella make this very pudding on Nigel Slater's Real Food program, and Nigella was about to pour the water over it, and explaining the sauce-forming process to Nigel, as if it was some huge miracle, and he said, "I don't believe you". And I was thinking, "Oh my god, get over it, just make the pudding, make the pudding, make the pudding, make the pudding..."

Sticky Chocolate Pudding - I cooked it for 15 minutes longer than the recipe stipulates, because when I took it out, the liquid-to-sponge ratio was too high for my liking.

1 serving - with fridge cold cream.

Molten - I love how gooey and soft it is.

The pudding was so intense and rich, too rich. That one little bowl I had was way too much. I nearly felt ill by the end of it. It's nice, but we just couldn't handle so much chocolate at once. "Geared towards 6" my buttocks. 6 of us ate it, by the way, with lots leftover. But pepped up on sugar and chocolate, we were ready to party...

(But despite my complaining about how rich this pudding was, I actually managed a second smaller bowl after I came home from the club. Shhhh....)

Thursday, June 23, 2005

School-Dinner Lunch for 6-8

This was our first time having people over for food since I started the How To Eat project. This menu, from the Weekend Lunch chapter, looks to be typically English, so I invited Uncle Mike and Aunty Helen - Mike is my mum's ex-boss from BHP, a Cambridge man, very proper and very, very English.

34. Steak and Kidney Pie
35. Banana Custard

The filling is basically a stew of vegetables, mushrooms, steak, kidneys and stout. Of kidneys, Nigella says, "unless you've got a good butcher [kidneys] can be bitter and somehow sawdusty and rubbery at the same time". I, thankfully, do have a good butcher, so got my steak and some fab lamb kidneys from Rendinas (and wahoo, it was only $10 for all of it!) Lamb kidneys were only 50 cents each, and the steak was about $17 a kilo. I got field mushrooms from the local greengrocer, and my Guinness from the bottle-o up the street. Support local business!

I cooked the filling on Tuesday in a red Le Crueset pot (I think it's a Dutch Oven..?), and let it sit on the stove, off the heat, until this morning. It's winter now, it didn't need to go in the fridge. On Wednesday, I went shopping, and got a ceramic Maxwell & Williams pie dish from The Ware House on Bridge Road (only $14.95), and put it all together this morning. The recipe asks for a 20cm pie dish, but I couldn't find any. "This looks pie-sized, doesn't it?", said the shop-assistant, as he pointed to a 26cm one. It indeed did look pie-sized, so I took it.

Unfortunately, Rendinas didn't have any suet, (apparently no-one uses it these days...) so we had to go to another butcher, who scraped up the 100g I needed. I've never used proper suet (aka solid beef fat) before, but it was easy to use. You grate it up, or chop it into teensy-weensy pieces, and stir it into the flour with some water. Easy peasy. It looks rough and ramshackle, but I think that's the look we're going for here. It's extremely easy to work with.

The filling made the perfect amount to go in the pie dish. Fab!

Pie - I didn't put an "upended egg cup" or pie funnel in, but it was fine. The filling's super-sturdy anyway, so there's little chance of it collapsing. There was also some pastry leftover, so I got all creative with my Living Kitchen cookie cutters and wrote "EAT THIS PIE" on top, with a love heart too.

Me with Pie - Domestic Goddess moment anyone?


My plate

Uncle Mike: "I like this pie because there are lots of kidneys in it! The first mouthful I had was an enormous chunk of kidney."

Too much mash? (We barely made a dent in it - I'm going to make Salmon Fishcakes with the rest.)

Nearly there

Done! This was the perfect amount for the 6 of us, but we were all very full at the end. I think it would have been fine for 8 people too.

This pie is so delicious! The filling cooking in the oven on Tuesday night filled the house with the most gorgeous aroma, and the pastry is amazing. Even Aunty Helen said she loved the pastry, and she's quite exacting when it comes to food standards. The pastry is light, flaky, crispy and filling, all at the same time. Nigella says you don't necessarily need mashed potatoes because of the pastry, and she was right - the pastry is very substantial. (I, of course, panicked at the idea of there not being enough food, so did mash as well). The peas are just ordinary frozen McCain's peas, boiled, with nothing added. Love 'em.

Banana Custard

You know what? I can't make custard. It's one of the kitchen skills which I have yet to acquire, let alone master. I either end up with scrambled eggs, or a thin, pallid soup. Today, I ended up with a cross between the two! Perhaps the heat was too high. It still tasted good, but was a bit lumpy, and didn't develop a skin. Argh, I dunno. The only custard I have been able to make properly is the chocolate custard, which is used in the Chocolate Cherry Trifle (Feast) and the Gooey Chocolate Stack (How to be a Domestic Goddess). But that one has flour in it to stablilise. Well, there are, like, a dozen custard recipes in How To Eat... hopefully I'll get the hang of it before too long!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Wednesday Night Dinner

32. South Beach Black Bean Soup (Cooking in Advance)
33. Mushroom-Steak Sandwich (One & Two)

I started cooking the soup at 10pm on Monday night, after an ace episode of Desperate Housewives.

Step 1 – Boil black beans for 1.5 hours.

Step 2 – Sautée up some onion, garlic, shallots, and capsicum with spices.

Step 3 – Blend vegetables

Step 4 – Add veggies to black soup, forming an intensely BROWN sludge.

My dad walked into the kitchen at this point and said, “Mmm… something smells good!” Then he looked into the pot and said, “What the hell is that?” Thanks, Dad.

I left the soup, off the heat, in the pot for two days, and we ate it for dinner tonight, Wednesday.

We had some field mushrooms left over from the Steak and Kidney Pie filling (tomorrow’s lunch… watch this space!), so I decided to do the Mushroom-Steak Sandwiches as well.

South Beach Black Bean Soup - served with diced red onion, chopped coriander, sour cream, tabasco and lime juice (from a carton, because limes are expensive right now!)

This soup's really good, despite its ugliness. It tastes kinda Mexican, because of the spices. It's pretty hearty too.

For the sandwiches, you cover some field mushrooms with a mixture of butter, garlic and parsley, and bake them for 20 minutes.

Mushrooms in oven

According to the recipe, you should then wodge them in a ciabatta or baguette with some lettuce, lemon juice, and Dijon mustard. However, I was out shopping all day today, and forgot to buy any bread. We had some Turkish Pide in the freezer, but when defrosted, it was amazingly both rock hard and soggy at the same time. So plastic white bread it was. It tasted good though. The mushrooms were incredibly flavoursome, and have a great, chewy texture. I am totally making this again, and with proper bread next time.

The sandwich recipe is actually also in Nigel Slater's Real Food, and ever since I got that book, I've been dreaming about it. It did not disappoint.


Monday, June 20, 2005

Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

The Feeding Babies and Small Children chapter is turning out to be surprisingly profitable, especially considering that the youngest person in our house is 21!

31. Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

These are kind of similar to the tagliatelle and meatballs from Nigella Bites, except that the meatball mixture is slightly different, you fry the meatballs before adding them to the sauce, and the sauce itself starts off with a soffritto of carrot, onion, garlic and celery. What I love about this sauce though, is its bright orange colour! It goes orange when you add the milk, and looks so happy and cheerful!

I’m not sure how many the recipe is supposed to serve, but Nigella suggests making it in a large quantity so that there are leftovers for freezing. I however, did not want to add to my already bursting freezer, and having been overwhelmed by Nigella’s exceedingly generous portions in the past, I halved the recipe.

My serving

Nigella says that she gets about 46 meatballs from 1 kilo of meat. Bizarrely, I got 50 balls from about 500g of meat, which means that either my balls are too small, or I am too generous with my meat. Either way, no biggie, it tasted good. Another thing, I found that the sauce thickened too much – I think it evaporates faster in half-quantities – and thus couldn’t accommodate all the balls. So I just topped it up with some more water.

Meatballs - the perfect quantity for the four of us

Daniel: Dinner’s at 7? Aw, I can’t eat, I gotta go study in the library.
Me: Well that’s ok, have some leftovers before you go if you’re hungry.
Daniel: Hey, what’s that smell?
Me: What, this? ... Points to pot... That’s dinner tonight!
Daniel: Well I guess I’m staying home then!

And it was delicious! We had it with rice, as per Nigella’s suggestion, which I liked, but my family said they’d prefer it with pasta next time. And there will definitely be a next time!

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Sunday Dinner for the evening after the night before…

You know what I love about Nigella recipes? It’s that she tells you the stories behind the food, when and why and how they’re eaten. Basically, she puts the food in context. And with that in mind…

I had a rather large night last night, and when I came home, starving, at 6:00pm on Sunday evening, I needed food. Fast. Something meaty and salty and carb-filled and delicious.

30. Beef and Beans with Pasta

This recipe emanates from the Feeding Babies and Small Children Chapter, which is ironic considering the context in which I made and ate it.

It is so super-easy. You just whiz up a carrot, a celery stick, an onion and a stick of celery in a processor, and then cook them in a pan, adding beef, borlotti beans, beef stock, tinned tomatoes and macaroni. It took less than an hour in total. And, thank God, the recipe asks for one litre (so one carton) of stock. My freezer has become the graveyard of half and 3/4 filled cartons of stock which I am too lazy to defrost...

By the way, this is a big non-stick Bessemer pot, which is my favourite pot!

You grate parmesan over the top to finish, and Nigella suggests serving it with chilli oil – a wonderful combination. And excitingly enough, we now own a bottle of chilli oil because I had to buy it for Wednesday night’s lamb racks.

It was really yummy, very comforting home-style food, perfect for the cold weather. (It's freezing outside!) And I know it’s aimed at feeding children, but I’d rather keep it for myself! Yes, it is aimed to please children, but it is still a serious meal, not a dumbed-down kiddie-friendly imitation of proper food.

I ate it with my parents, who liked it. Especially my mother, who said repeatedly, “Hm. I like it. I like it.”

There are lots of leftovers, which is a very good thing.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Random thought for the day...

"Nigella is my Anna del Conte"

(Idea shamelessly stolen and adapted from a sign my friend held up at a Scissor Sisters' concert...)

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Wednesday Night Dinner

My inner domestic goddess is back with a vengeance! Dinner tonight was so incredibly fab!

28. Spinach Soup
29. Cinnamon-hot rack of lamb with cherried and chick pea’d couscous

These recipes all are from the Fast Food chapter. The lamb and couscous are meant to be served together, and the spinach soup is one of the “Reminders of and Ideas for Hasty Improvisations” from the beginning of the same chapter.

Spinach soup… very quick impromptu soup. I decided to add this at the last minute, as I realized we didn’t have any vegetables in this meal. You just fry an onion, then add frozen chopped spinach, and once it’s thawed, some stock (500g spinach, 500ml carton of Campbell’s Real Vegetable Stock). Nigella doesn’t say to blend it, but looking at the mixture, I didn’t think “soup”, I thought “very wet spinach”… so I blended it up. Oh my God though, the mixture I poured out of the blender was the most intensely green iron-y looking sludge I have ever seen in my life. I mean, even Popeye would have had a heart attack!

Spinach soup

I panicked! What on earth would I do with a huge pot of green sludge? I added a bit of water from the kettle to thin it down a bit, and took Nigella’s option of whisking in a spoonful single cream beaten with an egg yolk, hoping that this would tone down the intensity of the green. (I finished the carton of cream! Sounds lame, I know, but finishing of an entire tub of cream with no wastage makes me very happy and satisfied.) It still looked a bit spooky, but I thought, “Screw it, we’re going to try everything from this book”, and resolutely filled up our soup bowls. How wrong I was! The soup tastes infinitely mellower than it looks. And it was so lovely that we all ended up coming back for seconds.

The couscous does not count as a new recipe in my list, as I’ve made a fruitless version of it before, last week. It’s better with the fruit in it. Nigella suggests dried cherries, but I used barberries, which we already had in the pantry. And I know that this is an appropriate, if not desirable change, because in her middle-eastern Herbed Bulgar Wheat and Nut Salad, from Feast, she suggests dried cherries as an alternative if you can’t find the more authentic barberries. (I actually have no idea where I could find dried cherries here, but I got barberries at Nuts’r’Us, my favourite middle-eastern store). Visually, the barberries are beautiful, studding the couscous like rubies. And they taste lovely, so incredibly sour against the bland couscous. Even Dad, who hates couscous, loved this.

Dad: This is fantastic! And you know how I feel about couscous…

The lamb is simplicity itself. They are brushed with a mixture of chilli oil and cinnamon, and shunted in the oven. We got very high quality lamb racks, from Rendinas Butchery, and they were fantastic – charred black on the outside, and juicily pink and tender within.


1 plate - My mum loves restaurant-style presentation!

What a fantastic dinner!

Dad: So if we invite some of my work-colleagues around, could you cook this?

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Chambéry Trout with Salsa Verde

Nigella uses a lot of vermouth in this book, so I picked up a bottle of Noilly Prat on the weekend. (By the way, both Chambéry and Noilly Prat are types of vermouth, and I couldn’t find any Chambéry at Dan Murphy’s…)

26. Chambéry Trout
27. Salsa Verde

I really, really didn’t feel like cooking today. I was in the library all day today, studying for my next and final exam – Organisational Behaviour – which is coming up on Friday, and then I had to go to buy fish on the way home. By the time I got home I was so frazzled I couldn’t concentrate. Lucky for me, then, that this was easy to prepare.

OK, enough complaining, back to the food. Nigella suggests broad beans as an accompaniment. When I got home, I took a 500g packet out of the freezer, and ran warm water over them to thaw. Then Mum and I slipped off all the skins, to reveal the vibrantly green inner bean. A warning for you though, when you remove the skins, the amount of beans you end up with looks pitifully small. So I boosted quantities with some peas. I also did potatoes – just some new potatoes, thinly sliced and put in a single layer on a tray in the oven whilst the fish was cooking.

Speaking of which, you poach the trouts in a mixture of water and vermouth for 20 minutes in the oven. And for the salsa verde, (which is an Italian parsley sauce), you just chuck everything in the processor. Easy.

Noilly Prat

1 Plate

Verdict: Good. Not in the super-spectacular, “Quick! Let’s get Sarah a rich husband” type of league, but still very nice. My dad, especially, loved it, and it was a good contrast because we’ve been having a lot of chicken and meat recently. I like trout, and it’s only $12.90 a kilo. As I said, it was very easy to prepare, requiring only minimal involvement in the cooking process.

Broad beans are fantastic. You know, I had no idea my brother likes them. Loves them, in fact. As he walked through the door, he saw them sitting in a colander, and promptly declared “Hey! I love these things!”, and ate one. Silly bugger, they were still raw.

By the way, I didn’t cook last night, Monday night. Mum made Hainan Chicken Rice instead. I spent the whole day at uni studying, and couldn’t be arsed planning anything. On that day, my inner domestic goddess… well, she stayed in.