Thursday, April 27, 2006

The falling leaves… drift by my window…

Or not, as the case may be. Even though today was the day I designated for Nigella’s DEEPLY AUTUMNAL DINNER FOR 8, and it’s been bitingly cold for the past 3 weeks, today we were blessed with clear skies, bright sun, and unseasonable warmth. Dang.


344. Chestnut and pancetta salad
345. Roast venison fillet with apple purée and rosemary sauce
346. Quinces poached in Muscat

The venison is served with peas, and a potato and celeriac mash, whilst the quinces are served with lemon ice-cream.

This dinner is for 8 - I halved all quantities to feed myself, my parents, and my very good friend Frances.

So this afternoon, I poached the quinces. You peel, core and quarter them first, reserving the peel and trimmings (this will help the syrup thicken, you see). To make the syrup, boil up some muscat with water, sugar and spices. Then you put the peel and cores in an ovenproof dish, cover with the quince quarters, and pour the syrup over. They need 2.5 hours cooking, well covered, in a 160C oven.

raw quinces

In the oven - don't worry, I covered them with foil.

After cooking, they should look like… well… Nigella describes this point with the singularly most disgusting image I have ever read: “When you take them out, the quinces will be the colour of old-fashioned Elastoplast”.

EEEWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW. When I read that, all I could think of was manky old bandaids, all dirty and wet and peeling off injured fingers. How disgustingly munting.

Thank goodness, then, that they actually looked pretty good.

After they cool properly, they go a bit darker.

deeper and darker coloured

While they were cooking, I marinated the venison fillet. The marinade consists of red wine, celery, carrot, onion, juniper berries, peppercorns, thyme and bay leaves. You boil the whole lot up, let it cool, and dunk the venison in it.

marinating venison

I did this early in the afternoon, and then went to uni to hand in an assignment, (2 days late, whoops). But after I came home, there was still sooo much shit to do! I still had to make the rosemary sauce for the venison, the apple sauce, the mashed potato and celeriac, the peas, salad and syrup for the quinces! This is when I realized what a high-effort menu this really is.

I mean, 3 separate wine-based reductions? (In the venison marinade, rosemary sauce, and the quince syrup). Ahem!

Anyway, getting back to it… the rosemary sauce is pretty similar to the marinade, but with the addition of beef stock and some different vegetables. You boil it all up, reduce it, and then add some of the marinade before boiling it again.

The apple sauce involves simply peeling and coring apples, and cooking them until pulpy with butter, sugar, cloves and lemon juice. Maybe I could have just used a SPC jar of apple sauce…

For the venison, you take it out of the marinade, sear it all over, and then put it in the oven for 20 – 30 minutes. It needs to rest for about 30 minutes, so remember to factor that into your timings.

While it was cooking, I peeled, chopped and boiled the potatoes and celeriac for the mash.

Celeriac – what a funny looking vegetable!

It was at about this time that Frances, my dinner guest, arrived. And as a short digression, look at this lovely gift she bought me, prefaced with the comment, “I hope you appreciate the joke”. (I did).

elderflower cordial

You can get it at freakin’ Ikea!!! So yeah, I really didn’t need to get my elderflower elderflower concentrate shipped from Tasmania. D’oh.

I was so tired by this stage, and I hadn’t even made the peas yet. Dammit.

Me: Frances, you don’t really want peas tonight, do you?
Frances: Ooh, I love peas!

Ok, ok. I boiled some peas.

The last thing I made was the salad, which involved frying up pancetta until crisp, then tossing in some chestnuts (thawed frozen, saved from Christmas) and warming it through. Then you toss it through lettuce with a Dijon mustard and vinegar dressing. Boom boom, done.

I didn’t bother serving the salad as a first course, but just plonked everything down on the table together.

pile of mash

venison slices

peas and sauce

chestnut pancetta salad


applesauce and meat

This menu, despite all the work, was great! I loved the unusual tastes of everything. The highlight of the menu, for me, was the salad - the mealy and sweet chestnuts contrasted fabulously against the salty pancetta. The flavour of the venison was very unusual but not unpleasant, and was lovely and tender. But that mash was really delicious! There was heaps leftover (as expected), and I’m very excited about eating it for lunch tomorrow with leftover rosemary sauce. And even though I nearly gave up on the peas, I'm glad I made them because they really enhanced the menu, visually and taste-wise. (Imagine how brown everything would have been without them!)

And here’s dessert. To finish it off, you have to strain the liquid away and boil it until thickened, then pour it over the quinces. (See, that’s the 3rd wine-based reduction in this menu).

poached quinces

I served it with the lemon ice-cream, which worked out well, as Frances’ favourite flavour is lemon. Nigella recommends half a quince per person, but we were satisfied with a quarter each. This was a lovely dessert, and finished off the meal perfectly.

quince and ice-cream

Overall, I really enjoyed this menu. But if you were to make it for company, make sure you make it for people who you can count on to appreciate the time and effort and expense. (Like Frances, of course).

Leftover quinces are going to become breakfast, with yogurt. Woohoo!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Mostarda di Venezia

343. Mostarda di Venezia (Basics etc.)

Now, this recipe is definitely one of those that has been freaking me out for the past 10 months. Even after reading the recipe innumerable times, I couldn’t quite figure out what it was supposed to be. A jam? A chutney? Some sort of preserve? Well, either way, it’s a way of using quinces, and I finally got around to making it last Thursday.

These are the quinces. I got them at Leo's, naturally.


You start with 1.8 kilos of quinces, then peel, cut and core them, and cook them with a bottle of white wine, some lemon rind and lemon juice until soft and pulpy.

puréed quinces

At this point, Nigella says to push the mush through a food mill, but they were so soft that a good beating with a wooden spoon was enough to purée them sufficiently. Then you weigh the pulp, and add to it the same weight of sugar, before returning it to the pan and adding candied peel and mustard powder.

glacé orange - I found this at Leo's, the good stuff, "whole, in large jars"

So this mixture goes back on the heat until denser and deeper coloured, "about 20-30 minutes". My mostarda was only on the heat for about 10 minutes when it started to burn and catch, so I immediately took it off and let it cool. It looked deeper coloured and denser, so I felt that it was cooked enough.


And the next day, I put them in dishwasher-washed jars. Now I've got to leave it for a month before I get to eat it. Nigella has some serving suggestions for it, so I'll see y'all back here in a month's time.


Sunday, April 23, 2006

Thai Clam Pot

342. Thai Clam Pot (Low Fat)

Clams are surprisingly difficult to find. On Saturday morning, I asked Dad to take me to Prahran Market (the only place where you can ALWAYS find clams). However, he thought it was too far, and said we'd be able to find clams in Kew or on Victoria Parade (the Vietnamese district), both of which are much closer.

Well, there were no clams in Kew. (But on the upside, I did buy the most fabulous egg and bacon baguette at the wonderful Convent Bakery on High street. The baker also gave us a free loaf of light rye and a latté. Sweet!)

egg & bacon baguette (emphatically NOT low fat)

We then headed to Victoria Parade, and started looking at their fishmongers. There were mussels, crabs, pippies, all sorts of fish... but no freaking clams! It was only at the third fishmongers we visited that we found clams. I didn't think looked like clams, but Dad assured me these were clams - the kind that he used to eat growing up in Malaysia. And seeing as I was making an Asian dish, I thought they'd be appropriate.

So I took them home, and soaked them, then drained them, ready to use.

asian clams

This dish is pretty straightforward. Cook noodles in boiling water and set aside. Then heat through garlic, spring onion and dried chilli in a little oil, before adding sake and water, allowing it to boil and then chuck in the clams. I'm used to cooking clams until they open, so I hovered near the stove, watching the boiling liquid, waiting for the clams to open. 5 minutes passed, and not a single one opened. Shit. I got more and more nervous, until Dad came in and told me, "They're not supposed to open, don't overcook them!". Whoops. I guess I'm just not used to handling Asian clams.

So I quickly finished off the dish by taking the clams off the heat and adding fish sauce and coriander, and tossing the whole lot together.

thai clam pot

It was very tasty, although opening each clam individually proved to be a bit annoying. (This is ok if you're eating a big bowl of chilli clams with no accompaniment, but not when you're eating them with noodles.) Next time I make this dish, I'm sticking to ordinary vongole clams!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Goodbye to "One & Two"

With my making the salade niçoise, I have now officially completed the One & Two chapter!

Here's a look back at all the recipes...

33. Mushroom Steak Sandwich
156. Linguine with Clams
239. Cod with Clams
147. Moules Marinière
148. Exceptional Salmon
341. Salade Nicoise
167. Scallops and Bacon
187. Prawns with garlic and chilli
271. Fried Prawn Cakes
158. Peter Rabbit in Mr McGregor’s Salad
261. Liver with Sweet Onions
273. Duck with Pomegranate
284. Marinated, Flattened Quail
155. Chicken with Morels
302. Steak Béarnaise
126. Steak au Poivre
244. Home carpaccio of Beef
267. Lamb and Bean Braise
14. Pea Risotto
128. Pea Soufflé
207. Cream of Chicken Soup
131. Butternut and Pasta Soup
11. Sunday Night Chicken Noodle
66. Spaghetti Aglio Olio
183. Linguine with Lardons
23. Spaghetti Carbonara
12. Pasta with Butter and Stock-cube juices
22. Pasta with Unopened Pesto
137. Pasta with Anchovy Sauce
279. Kale with Chorizo and poached egg
280. Chick peas with Sorrel
251. Young Grouse with Mascarpone and Thyme
170. Blini
269. Zabaione
259. Bread and Milk
263. Baked Semolina
166. Apple and Walnut Crumble
208. Risotto-inspired Rice Pudding

The main important things I've taken from this chapter are some cracking pasta recipes, how to prepare shellfish, and how to enjoy food when it's just for myself. (Although in many instances I have doubled or tripled the recipes with no detrimental effect on the food). In general, the food from this chapter has been highly flavoured, satisfying to eat, and fun (if sometimes very fiddly and time-consuming) to prepare.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Salade Niçoise

341. Salade Niçoise (One & Two)

I made this for my mother and I for lunch today. This salad involves a lot of fiddly effort. But persevere, because it is so worth it! I got all my ingredients at Leo's supermarket (bar the fresh tuna, which I got at a nearby fishmonger).

I found the method for the recipe in the book to be a bit confusing, so I've decided to itemize it here for your convenience. You have to prepare each of the ingredients individually, and then mix them together at the end.

1. Steam potatoes (I used kipfler, because this is what I found at Leo's. I was ecstatic to see an unusual species of potato and really wanted to try it). Then slice them into thick coins, sprinkle with pepper and olive oil.

kipfler potatoes

2. Marinate tuna strips in olive oil, red wine vinegar and soy sauce.

3. Cover cherry tomatoes in boiling water, peel and quarter.

4. Soak salted capers in water.

5. Blanch green beans. (We happened to have fresh ones which our neighbour gave to us from her garden. Score!)

6. Boil eggs (Nigella says the eggs are optional, but when my mum is eating, eggs are not optional, they're mandatory).

7. Wash salad leaves (I used baby spinach)

8. Get out some anchovies (Nigella says to use proper fresh ones, but we couldn't get any. And I just love the super-salty hairy little anchovies from the jar)

9. Make your dressing. (I pounded a garlic clove with salt, white wine vinegar and olive oil)


Once that's all done, you can sear the tuna, and toss all the ingredients together.

Salade Niçoise

It was so beautiful! Every element of the salad melded together so well to form a complete and filling meal. It was just gorgeous. I think the dressing really made it. Delicious!

Check out that egg yolk. Just how I like it.

mega closeup... mmmmmm.....

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

“Serves 4 fat bastards”

The choucroute garnie and syllabub form Nigella’s SERIOUS SATURDAY LUNCH FOR 8 – NO HOSTAGES. I added the crostini to the menu because I wanted to use up some gorgonzola which I had lying around.

338. Gorgonzola, Marsala and Mascarpone Crostini (Dinner)
339. Choucroute Garnie (Weekend Lunch)
340. Quince Syllabub (Cooking in Advance)

I have to admit, choucroute garnie, (AKA a big fat German stew), counts as one of those recipes which I’ve been avoiding due to, well, everything. I mean, it’s the pig-heavy ingredients (frankfurters, bratwurst, gammon knuckles), the fact that I’d have to do some special shopping to find them all, and simply because I couldn’t imagine what it would look like or taste like at all. Anthony Bourdain has a recipe (and photo!) of it in his fabulous Les Halles Cookbook, which gave me an idea of what it should be like, and eased my nerves a little bit. However, his recipe is different from Nigella's in that it's more cheffy (naturally) - he tells you to plate it up prettily, specifies smoked pork loin, salted pork belly and boudins blancs, and includes a duck confit and foie gras variation. Ahem. His recipe also has a lot more swearing in it. For instance, the Anthony Bourdain choucroute garnie "serves 4 fat bastards".

I finally made it last night, and served it up to some family friends who I knew would appreciate the effort, even if the food sucked.

We had Uncle Mike and Aunty Helen over, (who have had roast goose, Blakean fish pie, rhubarb crumble, steak & kidney pie and banana custard with us before), as well as Uncle Francis and Aunty Wendy. I haven’t cooked for them before, but they’re really, really cool. In fact, it was Uncle Francis who bought me How to Eat for my 21st birthday last year!

Ok, so here’s the meat. We got it all at Prahran market on Saturday. There’s bratwurst, frankfurters and some ham knuckles. I used less meat than Nigella suggests – she says it doesn’t matter how many sausages you use, as long as everyone can get a piece of each sausage. So you can use less and cut them into smaller pieces.

pile of meat

The choucroute garnie sounds fiddly, but doesn’t really involve that much effort. To start, I softened finely chopped onion in goosefat, then added carrots, the ham knuckles and a bouquet garni. Nigella says to use a popsock to make it, but I only have very very dark ones, and didn’t want a Bridget “dickhead” Jones blue soup happening. I just used a tea strainer.

bouquet garni

So you chuck the bouquet garni in the pot, then add sauerkraut, stir it up, top it with more goosefat, and let it simmer slowly for 2.5 hours.


While that was simmering, I made the syllabub. You’re supposed to make it a couple of days in advance, but I was short on time and did it all today. The recipe says to steep lemon zest and juice in the alcohol for a day, then strain it, before mixing it with cream and sugar and whipping it up. Once you’ve spooned the mixture into individual glasses, you can leave it in the fridge for 2-3 days. What I did was steep the lemon zest in the morning, and finish it off while the choucroute garnie was cooking. I used a mixture of rosé and quince liquer, which resulted in a lovely dusky pink mixture.

syllabub table

Next, I did the crostini topping, which just involves mixing gorgonzola, marsala and mascarpone (I actually used crème fraîche, because I already had some). This can be stashed in the fridge until it is needed. For the bread part of the crostini, you need to slice up a baguette, brush the little slices with olive oil, and toast them in the oven. They need to be cool before putting the topping on.

So all that was left to do was to boil some potatoes as an accompaniment, and to finish the choucroute garnie. In the recipe, Nigella says that you have to remove the ham knuckles and slice the meat off, but I found that after the 2.5 hours simmering, a gentle prod with a wooden spoon was all that was needed to remove the meat. Then I had to grill the bratwurst and add them to the chourcroute garnie with the frankfurters. 30 minutes gentle simmering later, and the sausages are all heated through and the choucroute garnie is done.

And it was dinner time!

Gorgonzola, Marsala and crème fraîche crostini

These were pretty good. Even my dad liked them, despite the includion of blue cheese.

choucroute garnie

Mmm... it smelled great, and tasted good too. It was pretty salty and sour, but not inedibly so. I think I was supposed to rinse the sauerkraut before adding it (well, Anthony Bourdain says to), but Nigella's recipe doesn't say to do so, so I didn't. If I were to make this again, I'd definitely rinse the sauerkraut. The stew was really rich and tasty - those frankfurters were delicious! I now understand why the German woman at the deli recommended them to me so enthusiastically.

As I said, the stew was really salty, but it went well with the bland potatoes - unbuttered boiled potatoes sprinkled with crushed juniper berries.


Uncle Mike: The potatoes are delicious!

We all ate 1-2 potatoes each, but Uncle Mike greedily ate at least 5 of them. Tsk tsk.


I brought out the syllabubs (or should that be syllabi?), after dinner, and they looked suitably impressive.

quince syllabi

Quince syllabub - check out the lovely pink colour!

It tasted good, despite the short steeping time. And they're good for dinner parties as they're easy, impressive, tasty, and can be made in advance.

After dinner, Uncle Francis had a flick through my How to Eat book...

Uncle Francis: I think we're going to have to book ourselves in for this "Deeply Autumnal Dinner for 8"... it sounds good... chestnut and pancetta salad, roast venison fillet...

Usually when I have my friends over, we watch DVDs after dinner, but tonight they pulled out a guitar and started playing. Aah, those wacky adults!

guitar time

Monday, April 17, 2006

Boosted by Breasts

337. Duck (Fast Food)

In the Fast Food chapter, Nigella suggests duck breasts for a quick and easy meal. She gives 3 types of marinades which you can brush onto the breasts, before baking for 20 minutes at 200C. My parents and I had these for lunch today to boost a lunch of leftovers.

1. Honey and Seville Orange (retrieved from the depths of my freezer)
2. Ginger marmalade and soy sauce
3. Grainy mustard with pineapple juice and brown sugar


marinaded breats

Lunch: Duck breasts (honey & orange at the back, ginger & soy in the middle, and mustard at the front), with leftover penne alla vodka (from Feast, I made it for lunch yesterday), guacamole, lentils, and fish wrapped in parma ham.

We basically sliced the duck breasts up to share, so we could try each flavour. They were all great! The honey and orange one looked the best - the honey in the marinade made the breast go lovely and brown - but they all tasted lovely. In fact, I'd be hard pressed to choose just one. If duck breasts weren't so damned expensive, I'd be eating these all the time!

Ooh, how nouvelle!

A couple of extra things to add...

First, I forgot to give a description of the digestive biscuits from yesterday. They were nice! But very, very different from the McVitie's original, to which I am hopelessly addicted. The homemade ones aren't crunchy and sweet, but more chewy and plain. (Not a bad thing). They taste more like those Scottish oat biscuits that you might have with cheese. I didn't expect anyone apart from me to like them, but when we ate them after lunch yesterday my parents loved them. And the next day, when my friend Danielle came over, she tried my biscuits and said she really enjoyed them. She had 2.

Secondly, you may remember that my brother's in Japan at the moment. I chatted to him online last night.

Sarah says:
Daniel, read this

Daniel says:
the venison sounds so good
the fish on lentils look great

Sarah says:
venison? i haven't made it yet

Daniel says:
hence "the venison sounds so good"
cos I remember we had it last time and it was nice

Aww! What a great bro. The last time we had venison was the venison in white wine, which was indeed very nice.

And finally, in response to Ilana's question about the silver tub which held the lemon meringue ice-cream, it's from Trampoline Gelato. When you buy a 4-flavour take-home pack, they give it to you in one of those spunky metal containers. Trampoline Gelato is, in my opinion, the best ice-cream in the world. I might just have to keep going back and buying more ice-cream to get more of those metal containers. Oh, life is tough.

Saturday, April 15, 2006


This morning my parents and I went to Prahran Market and spent a bomb on exotic ingredients – bratwurst, frankfurters, duck breasts, venison fillet, smoked ham knuckles, puy lentils and so on. The market is closed every day of Easter except Saturday, so I had to get in while the getting was good.

We got back at around midday, and I started on lunch.

331. Guacamole with paprika-toasted potato skins (Dinner)
332. Cod wrapped in ham (Dinner)
333. Sage and onion lentils (Dinner)
334. Digestive biscuits (Feeding Babies and Small Children)
335. Lemon ice-cream (Weekend Lunch)
336. Lemon meringue ice-cream (Weekend Lunch)

Now, I know that looks like a lot of recipes, but I only made the first 4 today. The 2 lemon ice-creams were made last week when I had some free time, and I felt like pulling them out today.

The plain lemon ice-cream is simply lemon juice and zest, icing sugar and whipped double cream. All you do is stir it together, put it into a shallow container and chuck it in the freezer.

As for the lemon meringue ice-cream, you whip some cream, add yoghurt, lemon curd, lemon juice and zest, and some crumbled meringue nests. You fold it all together into a big billowing pile of deliciousness.

lemon meringue ice-cream

In fact, at this point it was hard to put it in the freezer – it tasted so good, I could have eaten most of it right then and there!

Anyway, that was Tuesday. Today, Saturday, I made the meal that preceded the ice-cream.

This menu is basically Nigella’s EARLY-AUTUMN LUNCH FOR 6, with ice-cream and biscuits in place of the hazelnut cake she suggests for dessert. I halved all ingredients to feed my parents and I.

I started by putting the potatoes for the potato skins in the oven. Next were the lentils. They need to be simmered for 45 minutes with an onion, some sage and a couple of garlic cloves.

While the potatoes were baking and the lentils were simmering, I made the digestive biscuits, which were very easy. In fact, the most difficult thing about the recipe is sourcing the main ingredient – spelt flour. This has been my main obstacle in making this recipe for the past 10 months. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find a packet of organic wholemeal spelt flour at the market in the morning. Score!

So to make the biscuits, you put the spelt flour in the bowl of a KitchenAid, with sugar, baking powder and oatmeal, and then rub in butter and shortening. Then you bind it with a bit of milk, and roll it out.

rolling out

They take about 15 minutes to bake.

The fish fillets are simply brushed with melted butter, wrapped in Parma ham, and brushed with butter again. I couldn’t find cod at the market, so I used rockling fillets. You can prepare the fillets in advance and bake them at the last minute.

fish on tray

Ok, so once the potatoes are baked, you cut them in half, scoop out the fluffy middles, sprinkle the skins with salt and paprika, and bake them until crisp. Nigella says to mash the scooped-out potato flesh to make another side dish.

By this stage, the lentils were cooked, so I finished them off by turning them in a pan with some oil, softened and chopped onion, and sage leaves.

lenticche in a pan

The guacamole has to be made at the last minute, to prevent brownage. All you need to do is mash up some avocado with lime juice, salt, spring onions, green chilli and coriander.

potato skins and guacamole

This was the first course. I put the fish in the oven whilst we were eating this.

I loved the potato skins! I haven’t eaten potato skins since I was a small, potato-obsessed child. And because they don’t need to be eaten hot, they’d be great made a few hours in advance for a cocktail or dinner party.

And onto the second course…

fish on lentils

lunch plate

The ham was quite salty, but it went well with the bland fish, mashed potatoes and mealy lentils. They also looked extremely impressive, which was a bonus.

Here is our dessert. It's lemon meringue ice-cream in the metal container, and the plain lemon ice-cream in the tupperware container.

ice-cream and biscuits

Surprisingly, I much preferred the plain lemon ice-cream - it had a much better texture and flavour. The lemon meringue ice-cream was ok, but it had a lot of ice-crystals in it, and was very, very sour. It must have become more sour as it froze, because it was perfect before I froze it. Even though Nigella says "it needs an edge to it", I think that adding a bit of extra sugar wouldn't hurt. Or if not adding extra sugar, definitely take Nigella's sugestion of serving it drizzled with honey or extra lemon curd.

ice-cream and biscuit

Delighfully refreshing!