Thursday, March 30, 2006

Béchamel's Variation No. 2

315. Parsley Sauce

The second variation on the béchamel recipe is for parsley sauce, which is "heavenly... to blanket broad beans". To turn ordinary béchamel into white sauce, you infuse parsley stalks with the milk, and add blanched and chopped parsley leaves when you pour the strained milk into the butter-flour mixture.

We had the parsley sauce broad beans thing for lunch today, to bulk out a lunch of leftovers (vegetable soup and Clarice's cheesy aubergine bake).

parsley sauce

I used one frozen packet of broad beans, boiling them for a couple of minutes, letting them cool, adn then removing the tough outer skin from each bean. You'd think that this would be the type of kitchen task that I'd avoid like the plague. However, I really, really love broad beans. The tough skin would simply impede the swift enjoyment of the tender bean within.

Broad beans in bowl, discarded skins in LK coffee cups.

And here is our lunch - crusty bread, broad beans and parsley sauce, leftover aubergine bake and vegetable soup. How delicious! And vitamin filled!


broad beans blanked in parsley sauce

The parsley sauce was really good on the broad beans, but it seemed a bit of a palaver - I don't know if I'd bother making the whole thing just for a regular lunch. However, for an occasional meal, it's a nice change from the usual.


Soup and Béchamel

So here comes the first variation on béchamel – cheese sauce. It’s the same thing as béchamel, but with a pinch of cayenne added at the start, and grated cheddar added at the end. Boom boom, no sweat. Nigella gives the cheese sauce recipe, but doesn’t suggest a use for it, so I looked to another domestic goddess, my friend Clarice, (a.k.a. DG) for an idea. She has a recipe for a cheesy aubergine bake, which sounded too delicious to pass up. I made it for lunch today, and in addition, I decided to make Nigella’s vegetable soup, which directly follows the béchamel recipe in the Basics etc. chapter.

313. Cheese Sauce (Basics etc.)
314. Vegetable Soup (Basics etc.)

The vegetables in the vegetable soup are an onion, carrots, a turnip, a parsnip, a potato, a stalk of celery, and a leek. On the page, it looked like a lot, but fabulously, when I walked into Coles, I discovered this thing called “Soup Mix”, which contains all of those vegetables (except the leek), in correct quantities, neatly shrinkwrapped and arranged on a Styrofoam tray, for only $2.97. SCORE! I did buy a separate leek though; it was $1.28.

soup mix

Anyway, the soup is very easy to make. You start by peeling and chopping all the vegetables…

cut and diced

…and then chopping them medium-fine in a processor. From there, you cook the vegetables gently in some oil and butter until softened, add a litre of stock and a bouquet garni. Then you can just leave the pot alone, letting the soup simmer for about 40 minutes.

While this was simmering, I got on with DG’s aubergine bake.

This dish has 3 components made in 3 different pans (aubergines, tomatoes, white sauce), which can either be done all at once or one after the other depending on how dexterous and confident you are! The cheeses do make a difference, but feel free to substitute them depending on what you have in the fridge!

I was feeling quit dexterous today, (and hungry too!), so I made it all at once. DG says to use mozzarella cheese in the cheese sauce, but as Nigella's cheese sauce uses cheddar, I felt that I had to go with that option. Basically, for this recipe, you fry eggplant slices and tomato slices until slightly softened, and then layer them in a baking dish with cheese sauce and feta cheese.

cheese sauce

1st layer

cheese sauce and tomato


Ready for oven

Clarice says to finish with a layer of aubergine slices, and then sprinkle with grated parmesan, before baking at 200C for 20-30 minutes. When it was cooked, it looked all hot and bubbly, so I let it sit, out of the oven, while I finished off the soup.

To do this, all you need to do is add a bit of sherry to the pot, and then process the soup until it reaches a desirably soup-like texture, (which all depends on preference). I like mine to be smooth enough that you don’t see the vegetables, but chunky enough for you to feel them. If that makes any sense at all. I was kinda scared whizzing up piping hot soup, but I did it on a low speed, and covered up the processor chute, so luckily there were no dangerous spurts of hot liquid anywhere.

piping hot soup

And then it was time to eat.

Baked bake – served with balsamic salad

Soup bowl

Nigella’s vegetable soup is amazing. Daniel only took one spoonful before declaring it “instantaneously brilliant”, and I must say I totally agree with him. What a simple and delicious way to eat your vegetables.

I absolutely loved Clarice's cheesy aubergine bake, but I knew all along that I would. I mean, a recipe by Clarice? Containing aubergines? Tomatoes? 3 cheeses? You can't go wrong with that!

Back to basics...

As I reach the home-stretch of my project, each day I find myself reading and re-reading my list, searching for one of the few remaining recipes that I can cook and then cross off.

Today, I found a recipe which I could cross off without actually cooking.

312. Béchamel

Béarnaise may be my favourite sauce, but béchamel is unquestionably the most useful.

I have to admit, that upon first seeing the recipe, I was a bit confused - yes, Nigella says it is the most useful, but she doesn't actually suggest any uses for it! There are a whole bunch of variations though, for which she has serving suggestions.

But then, when I read the actual recipe again, I realised that (duh!), béchamel is white sauce is béchamel is white sauce... More importantly, I've made it at least half a dozen times before, in various recipes... I just never counted the béchamel itself in my list of recipes which I've made.

41. Fish and Porcini Pie
Blakean Fish Pie
Pea Soufflé
Chicken Pie
Cream of Chicken Soup
Braise-roasted lamb with Caper Sauce
Baked Veal and Ham Pasta

There you go.

Meanwhile, stay tuned. The variations on a theme of béchamel will be coming over the next few days!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

How pretty, the fool!

311. Damson Fool (Basics etc.)

Nigella writes, "damson fool is the recipe for which I wait most greedily". It's in the FOODS IN SEASON section of the Basics etc. chapter, which comprises suggestions and recipes for "the foods whose short season it would be criminal to ignore". Naturally, she refers to the seasons in England, so the chapter has almost no practical application for me down here in Australia. Firstly, as I'm in the southern hemisphere, our seasons are back-to-front from England's. Secondly, and more importantly, many of the seasonal foods Nigella writes about are totally unavailable in Australia - purple-sprouting broccoli, for example.

This is not to say that I have abandoned this section completely, though. When Seville oranges were in season, (in July), I went a bit nuts and made the Seville Orange Marmalade, canard à l'orange and scallops with bitter oranges and a Seville orange curd tart. And as for those seasonal foods which never appear in Australia, I've made some substitutions so that I can, at the very least, try out the recipe. For instance, for Nigella's Young Grouse with Mascarpone and Thyme, I substituted quail for the grouse.

Similarly, when I made the damson fool tonight, a bit of clever engineering was required. In the recipe, Nigella says to cook 500grams of damsons, then stone them, and mix them with sugar, spice, and whipped cream. Damsons do not exist in Australia, but damson-related products are technically available. That is, if you have a generous friend, who doesn't mind finding some and sending them to you specially from England. Thank-you DG!!

As you can see in the photo below, I am now the proud owner of a small bottle of damson gin, and a jar of deeeeelicious organic damson preserve. The damson preserve is by Duchy Originals, bought at Fortnum and Mason's, and the alcohol is from this company called Bramley & Gage, which make a wide variety of fruit liquers.

damson products

By the way, I also got a couple of bottle of quince liqueur, and one of raspberry liqueur. Can anyone guess which recipes I'll be making with those?


Ok, so back to the recipe. In the absence of fresh damsons to cook, my method of choice was to whip up the cream with the sugar in one bowl, and mix the jam with some cinnamon, and some damson gin in another bowl. Then I folded both together.


I was basically making this recipe just to taste it, not to serve as a proper dessert, so I made it in approximately half-quantities. This was mainly because we've never had fool before, so I wasn't sure if we'd like it. Also, I didn't want to be too extravagant with the damson preserve, as it's hard to come by. In total I used about 150ml cream, a couple of big spoonfuls of the preserve, 2tsp of icing sugar, a pinch of cinnamon and just a few drops of the gin.

This made one large glassful, which I shared with my parents as a snack tonight.

How pretty, the fool!

It was lovely - sweet and creamy and full of damsony goodness. Honestly though, it might have been a bit much in larger quantities. Surprisingly, my parents really really liked it. I thought they might find it a bit too rich or sweet, but they didn't think so at all. Then again, they didn't see the half-tub of double cream that went into it...

Friday, March 24, 2006

Mmm... I love eating mussels!

Mussels fall into that category of "things Sarah tries to avoid cooking". This may seem bizarre, as I love to eat mussels, and they're not that hard to cook. But the thing is, really, really fresh mussels aren't easy to come by. At Box Hill they can be pretty hit or miss, and I never really feel like driving all the way to Prahran or Fitzroy just for mussels. But when I went to Box Hill this morning, the mussels I saw there this morning looked good, so I was in business.

310. Thai-Flavoured Mussels (Low Fat)

This dish took a grand total of 10 minutes to make. The first stage is to finely chop up some Thai-style flavourings - garlic, ginger, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves - and cook them in stock until soft. I used dashi, but Nigella says you can use anything you like. Then you add finely chopped chillies, then the mussels themselves. Finally, you pour over a mixture of boiled water, lime juice, mirin and fish sauce, and let it cook until the mussels are steamed open. To serve, you throw in some chopped coriander.

It smelled absolutely heavenly! Before the How to Eat project, my cooking repertoire relied heavily on mod-pan-Asian flavours, which were so popular throughout the early years of this decade. Since starting the project, I've not been eating this type of food so much. I've missed it!

Just one note - Nigella's recipe feeds one, and I doubled it to feed my mum and I tonight. This wasn't nearly enough! I don't think you need more mussels, but adding vegetable or noodles would really help, especially considering how fragrant and strong the broth was.

But overall, this tasted absolutely lovely! And to think, there's no added fat in the dish at all. Great stuff.

Friday Lunch

Nigella must really love garlic-roasted potatoes. They appear at least 3 times in this book, off the top of my head, and I'm sure there are more references to them scattered throughout. They also reappear in Feast, and probably in many of her New York Times and Delicious Magazine columns. I've made one of the How-to-Eat-versions already - for a dinner party in which the garlic potatoes accompany a butterflied, marinated leg of lamb.

308. Fillet of Beef with Red Wine, Anchovies, Garlic and Thyme (Dinner)
309. Garlic roast potatoes (Feeding Babies and Small Children)

These dishes aren't intended to be paired together, but following on from that dinner party, I thought meat and roast potatoes would make a good combination. (Indeed, garlic roast potatoes with anything makes a good combination). I started off by making the potatoes - chucking potato chunks and whole unpeeled garlic cloves into a baking dish, covering with oil and then shunting in a 200C oven for 45 minutes. While they were cooking, I did the beef.

The fillet of beef sounds very fancy on the page, but is more homely and simple on the plate. (And no less lovely for that). What you do is cook some aromatics - shallots, garlic, anchovies and thyme - in olive oil and butter, and then remove them from the pan. In the fragrant oil you sear a fillet of beef, and pour brandy and red wine over, letting it bubble up. Then you return the aromatic garlic-thyme mush to the pan, cover it, and let the beef cook on either side for about 10 minutes. In this way the beef is "braising, frying and steaming all at the same time; as it cooks it breathes in flavour".

Once the beef's done and it's resting, you deglaze the pan with a bit of water and butter, before adding the beef juices that have seeped out of the beef. Slice up the meat, pour the sauce over, and it's done!

meat and potatoes

Meat - the sauce turned out a bit chunkier than I'd serve to company, so if you're planning this for a dinner party, don't be lazy like I was. Pull out your processor and get the shallots minced fine.

I served it with some designer lettuce for a lovely lunch.


It's quite obvious why Nigella loves garlic roasted potatoes so much - they're delicious! I improved on them from last time, cutting them slightly larger so that they wouldn't be so tooth-breakingly hard.

The beef and sauce had a really deep flavour, thanks to all those anchovies and the red wine. The flavours really complimented the beef well, and infused into the meat itself because of the cooking process. It was quick to make as well. I highly recommend this dish, this combination of dishes, for a casual-yet-special family lunch, for a dinner party, for any occasion!

The Chocolate Cake Verdict

So, the Chocolate Birthday Cake. As I said previously, I took a slice to work on the day I made it (Sunday) to share with my workmate Daniel. Mum & Dad also had a slice each that night. But this still left about 75% of the cake which needed to get eaten. Over the next few days, I ate a few more slices, but I also brought it around to share with people.

I took a couple of slices to uni the next day to share with my mates. We ate it at our favourite cafe, while discussing diets, exercise and healthy eating. (Irony!)

Adri gives it the thumbs up!

On Tuesday, my brother ate a slice.

Daniel: Sarah, this cake is fantastic. It's not dry, even though it's a few days old.

And on Wednesday, I brought some to work to share with Bonnie and Michael...

Michael eating cake

It was ok, but I think it was getting a bit dry by this stage.

Tonight I polished off the last slice. In order to salvage it from 5-day old dryness, I took a tip from Nigel Slater's 24-Carat Brownies, which I have yet to make, but really, really want to. For complete and utter indulgence, he suggests serving his already "dense and fudgy" brownie with vanilla ice-cream and warm chocolate fudge sauce. I microwaved the last slice for about 20 seconds, topped it with a scoop of Connoisseur vanilla ice-cream, then heated up some leftover chocolate sauce (from the poires belle Hélène), and poured it over the cake and ice-cream.

I ate this and watched David Lynch's Lost Highway on DVD. Perfect end-of-week relaxation!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I trust that by now you're all nursing your post-post-St. Patrick's Day hangovers. And here is, in this author's humble opinion, the perfect, hangover-salving meal.

306. The Irish Club's Irish Stew (Dinner)
307. Birthday Cake (Basics etc.)

The choice of Irish stew is a pretty obvious one, I must admit. But the birthday cake is more of a stretch. You see, in the run-up to St. Paddy's day, my friend DG made a dreamy-looking version of Nigella's Chocolate Guinness Cake. Ever since she showed me the gorgeous photo, I'd been craving it. Bad. I didn't have any chocolate cake. And unfortunately for me, the Chocolate Guinness Cake is in Feast, not How to Eat. Help was at hand though, with Nigella's chocolate birthday cake, in the Basics etc. chapter of How to Eat. Phew!

The birthday cake is a pretty basic double-layered chocolate cake, covered in a ganache. To make the cake, you melt butter, chocolate, sugar and condensed milk together, and then stir it into sifted flour and cocoa together, followed by 100ml recently-boiled water and 2 eggs.

cake mix

I put the cake into 2 sandwich tins, and baked it at 180C for 25 minutes. While it was baking, I got on with the stew.

Nigella's Irish stew consists of layers of ingredients. Firstly browned lamb chops, then vegetables (carrots, onions, parsnips), then par-boiled pearl barley. Between the layers you sprinkle a mixture of parsley, sage and rosemary.

pre-potatoed stew

Then you pour some warm stock over, and cover the whole lot with thinly sliced potatoes.

potatoed stew

It only take 1.5 hours in a 160C oven,which is a lot less than some of the other stews I've made. After it's cooked, there's the option of browning the potatoes under the grill, which I chose to do. Nigella says that the whole point of the stew is that it needs no accompaniment, except for a lot of bread and butter.




Oh my goodness, I cannot even begin to tell you how much I loved this stew! I love a stew at any time, but this one was especially divine. The meat had softened during cooking, and all the flavours melded together fantastically. Even the parsnips, which I normally don't like, tasted good in this context. Both my mother and I ate heroic quantities, and went back to dunk our bread in the delicious sauce. There's just something about the richly flavoured, fattily gelatinous sauce coating the pearly grains of barley which keeps you going back for more.

one plate

Fortunately, the dessert was just as good, although I didn't end up eating it until much later at night. I iced the cake while the stew was in the oven, and left it sitting, majestically, on our kitchen bench. The icing is a chocolate ganache - equal quantities of chocolate (half dark, half milk) and cream. You chop up the chocolate into fine rubble, then heat up the cream and pour it over. Let it sit for 5 minutes, and then beat it with an electric mixer until thick and smooth. Ideally, I imagine that you would start by slicing the cakes flat, leaving you with a perfectly flat surface upon which to pour your ganache, letting it set glossily with minimum interference from a spatula. In this way, the finished product would be a hat-box shaped, "sachertorte shiny" affair.

However, I never bother to slice the domed top of my cakes flat. (That's laziness and greed in equal measure). And putting two domed cakes together results in some excess space which needs to be filled. I poured most of the ganache on top of the cakes, and then whipped up the rest quite stiff before spreading it around the sides to fill in the gaps.

So as you can see, the result isn't a perfect one, but I hardly think that you'd turn your nose up at it. In fact, when you really, really need chocolate, any old thing will do.


As I said previously, I didn't get to eat any cake until a bit later that evening. As soon as lunch was over, I had to dash to the train station to get to work. I cut a couple of slices, stashed them in an old tofu container, and took them to work to eat on my break. One for me, one for my friend-slash-workmate Daniel (emphatically NOT my brother), who just loves to eat chocolate cake. We ate them out the back, on nice serving plates, sprinkled with cocoa from the cocoa duster we use for cappuccinos. Rocking.

sliced cake

Daniel: That is an amazingly chocolatey cake.

Too right. I'm taking the cake around to share with other friends and family, so stay tuned for another post on the verdict of the cake!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Salt, Salt, Salt

304. Ham cooked in cider with leeks, carrots and potatoes (Weekend Lunch)
305. Yoghurt, honey, passion fruit and cream (Weekend Lunch)

I have recently discovered that you can buy pickled pork at Box Hill! I can't believe I never noticed it before. Last time I made a ham, I went out all the way to Blackburn to get the meat. Box Hill is much closer, and is the place I always do my grocery shopping. But it was only last week that I noticed that Meat Inn had a huge sign, reading "PICKLED PORK $6.99 a kilo!" hanging near their store. Whoops!

Before cooking the ham, you have to remove the salt. I used Nigella's method of covering it in cold water, bringing it to the boil and then discarding the water. It worked for the ham in coke, so I thought it would work this time.

magnificent piece of meat

To make a ham in cider, you boil it in cider with some aromatic vegetables.


Towards the end of cooking time, you remove the vegetables and add new carrots and sliced leeks. And here is what it looks like once cooked.


I thought it looked quite impressive, all sliced up.

sliced - with locally produced "Henry of Harcourt" cider in the background

However, upon eating it, I realised that the de-salting method had been completely ineffective! The ham was still so salty, to the point of inedibility and we couldn't eat more than a slice. Gross.
Luckily, the dessert more than made up for it. This dessert is simply Greek yogurt, honey, passionfruit and cream layered in a glass. And it's delicious. We ate it with Hobnobs and Chocolate-coated teddy bear biscuits.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Steak Béarnaise

Of steak, Nigella writes...

The essence of eating for two exists in just one word: steak... there's something solid, old-fashioned and comforting about the two of you sitting down and eating steak.

I made a steak béarnaise for lunch today, which is the last remaining steak recipe in the book. Upon making it, I realised that I've never actually made a steak for 2. When I made the low fat steak, it was for 3 of us, and when I made steak au poivre, I made it, greedily, for myself. And today's steak béarnaise was for the whole family. But I'm so glad we all got to eat it, because it was certainly the most delicious out of all the How to Eat steaks!

75. Steak (Low Fat)
Steak au Poivre

302. Steak Béarnaise (One & Two)
303. Béarnaise sauce (Basics etc.)

A steak béarnaise, made well, is one of life's great pleasures. Bérnaise sauce is similar in method to hollandaise sauce, but with different ingredients.

You start off by reducing white wine vinegar with shallots, tarragon and peppercorns.


Then you strain out the bits, and whisk the liquid with some egg yolks and water in a double boiler. After this, you whisk in softened cubes of butter, one cube at a time, until it is all thick and emulsified. I fried our sirloin steaks while this was going on. In the recipe, the only instructions Nigella gives are to fry a steak "as a steak is fried". So, I used the method I recently saw Giada De Laurentiis use on her program, Everyday Italian. That is, you oil and season the steaks, and then fry them for a 5 minutes a side on a very high heat, thus giving the steaks a delicious brown crust on the outside. And I let them rest as I finished the sauce.

To finish the sauce, you add some lemon juice to the emulsified mixture, followed by more fresh chopped tarragon.


The traditional accompaniment for steak béarnaise is french fries, but Nigella suggests baguette with salad, which is a fine accompaniment. Besides, home-baked chips are pretty gross, as are the chips from the fish and chip shop around the corner.


I really cannot describe how lovely this lunch was. The steaks (thank-you Rendinas!) were great, and the béarnaise sauce was just incredible. The method for the béarnaise may be very close to the hollandaise, but the flavour is just on a completely different level.

We kept on using our bread to scrape up the remaining sauce, long after the steaks were finished.


Daniel: Thank-you Sarah, that was brilliant!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Fancy Schmancy

Do you ever get a sudden, irrepressible urge to bake? I did this morning, at about 9am when I was supposed to be getting ready to go to uni. Instead, I baked a cake which took longer than expected, and ended up missing my first class. Whoops.

301. Fancy Cake (Basics etc.)

The fancy cake is yet another one of Nigella's citrus-flavoured almond-based cakes.

39. Clementine Cake
47. Moorish Cake
Almond & Orange-Blossom Cake

It is basically the same as the Moorish Cake, (in fact, the Moorish Cake is a variation of the basic "fancy cake" recipe), but with different proportions of ingredients, and without the orange syrup. It's called "fancy cake" because it is made in a brioche tin, giving it a fancy shape. The actual cake mixture is quite simple - you beat egg yolks with sugar until light, then fold in almond meal, lemon zest and beaten egg whites.

I didn't have any lemons to hand, so I used the zest of a seville orange, retrieved from the icy depths of my freezer. Furthermore, whenever I make this sort of cake, I whisk up the egg whites first, and leave them, in their stiff peaks, to the side while I get on with the rest of the cake. This is to save washing up. You see, I use my KitchenAid mixer for all stages of this cake, and when you whisk egg whites, you need your equipment - the bowl and the whisk - to be scupulously clean. Doing the egg yolks first means that you need to wash and dry the equipment before beating the egg whites. Egg yolks, on the other hand, require no such lavish attention. If you do the egg whites first, you don't need to wash anything before you beat the egg yolks. You can just scrape the beaten stiff whites into another bowl, not worrying about the bits that remain on the equipment.

I've found that egg-whites don't come to too much harm if left out for a short period of time. In fact, back at my old job as a cook at Crown Casino, our soufflés were made up and portioned into ramekins in the afternoon, in the pastry kitchen on the opposite side of the complex. We'd transfer trays of ramekins of the raw mixture from the pastry kitchen to our own kitchen (none too delicately), and cook them to order in the evening, which could be as late as 10:30pm. They always turned out fine.

Anyway, the egg whites for this cake only stayed out for about 15 minutes. No worries.

Those of you with sharper memories will remember that when I made the Moorish Cake, I had a bit of drama going all over town trying to find a tin. In the end, I didn't use a proper brioche tin, but a brioche-shaped ceramic pudding dish. As you can see now, I have a proper brioche tin. And it was ludicrously easy to find. They're actually sold at The Essential Ingredient, only about $12, in the right size, and with non-stick surface. I found it, by chance, about a week after I made the Moorish Cake, and I felt quite the douchebag when I saw them.

So, the cake takes an hour to bake in a 160C oven.

After cooling in the tin for 10 minutes, you have to turn out the cake, which is not that easy, considering how many crevices there are on the tin. My only advice is to be patient and gentle with the cake. I used a butterknife and a plastic chopstick to wedge it out, slowly, and in one piece.

le gateau upside down

When I made the Moorish Cake, I served it upside down, which I think looks better, but Nigella does stipulate turning it up the right way, immediately.

I let it cool in the kitchen whilst I spent the day at uni, and ate it in the evening with my parents. I assume that you're supposed to serve this type of cake plain, but I couldn't bear the plain brown top (and was afraid the cake would be dry), so I topped it with strawberries which I'd macerated in castor sugar and orange flower water. And served it with crème fraiche, just as I did with the Almond & Orange-Blossom Cake.

It was fabulous, and not dry at all. There was a fantastic contrast between crunchy top and the fragrantly dense moistness within. I do believe you could make any egg-white leavened cake in a brioche tin to get the "fancy" thang happening, but I can't honestly see why you'd want to go past this one.