Sunday, 31 January 2010

Autumn gold

Wait, what? It's January. But yes, these are new season apples. They are Early Golds from the Borenore Hillside orchard, the largest fruit stall at the EPIC Growers' market, and one that I find consistently reliable. These new ones are so crunchy and juicy - just fabulous! Obviously they are related to Golden Delicious, a supermarket staple which is pretty reliably horrible, unless you are lucky enough to find them fresh in season. Apples are one fruit that I simply won't buy from the supermarket any more.

And there were these large yellow figs. It's always interesting to go to the market after a month away and see what's changed. I was hoping for early figs, and there were some though not very many yet. Plums, peaches, nectarines and berries galore, and rhubarb and melons too. The fruit was amazing and I may have over-bought. The most notable veggies were beetroot and cauliflower, but I didn't need any. Next week, perhaps.

I've eaten the figs, and made some slightly dodgy muffins with fresh blueberries (too much baking soda, oops). Tonight we've eaten steak and salad, made with another market purchase, a Homeleigh Grove apple vinaigrette. This is made with their fruity olive oil and a light, sweet cider vinegar. It's a nice simple one; I like it. Tomorrow's breakfast may feature fresh blackberries with yoghurt and granola. Sounds like a good start to a Monday.


Friday, 29 January 2010

Sherry Berry Trifle

Blueberry, that is. I contemplated a Sherry Cherry Trifle, but who has time to pit cherries right before Xmas? A trifle, though, is traditional for Christmas, and it's quite useful. It's a dessert that can be made in advance, with whatever is on hand, and yet is quite festive. It's also a traditional way to use up stale sponge cake - though that's not a common thing in my house.

They can be pretty dire, when made from the supermarket jam roll soaked in Aeroplane jelly with tinned fruit and packet custard, and a splash of wino's cheapest sherry. Though if done with care, even that can have nostalgia value. But there's plenty of room to improve on any or all of those options without much effort. Even packet custard can be tweaked into something rather better. And since the packet kind sets, it's actually a better option than a proper egg yolk custard sauce, if you're planning to put it in a large bowl and empty it over a couple of days. And I do still like to have jelly, even though I'm grown up.

Recipe: Sherry & Blueberry Trifle
625g blueberries
3 tablespoons vanilla sugar
150ml water
1 sachet gelatine
1 250g sponge cake
1/2 cup medium sweet sherry
750ml custard
300ml cream

* Tear up the sponge cake and put it in the serving bowl.
* Drizzle the sherry over the cake.
* Wash 500g of the berries, and pop them into a saucepan with the sugar and water.
* Bring to a gentle simmer and stir well to make sure the sugar is all dissolved and the berries are a bit broken.
* Remove from heat immediately.
* Drain berries, reserving juice.
* Sprinkle cooked berries over the cake.
* Make a jelly with the juice and the gelatine, topping up with water if necessary to make 500ml liquid.
* Pour the warm liquid jelly over the cake and berries, and refrigerate to set.
* When set, top with cold custard.
* Top that with whipped cream, and decorate with fresh berries.

Extra Copious Notes

Cake options -
Make your own sponge, and spread it with a good jam. Make your own swiss roll. Buy a bakery or supermarket one - the quality need not be too high, since it will be soaked.

Soaking options -
A decent sherry matters here, and you want at least a semi-sweet, not a fino. Pedro Ximinez is lovely, if expensive, for a chocolatey one. Or for fruity options, an Amontillado style or premium cream sherry. Other kinds of soaking liquid can be used to taste. Port is traditional, but you could also consider muscat, tokay, a dessert wine, a liqueur or for the non-drinkers, a fruit juice. Or hmmm, how about black coffee, or earl grey tea, or chai?

Fruit options -
Go for cooked fruit (including tinned) unless you are going to eat it very quickly. Fresh fruit is nice, but much less so after a couple of days. You can use frozen berries to make the cooked part, but fresh will still look better as decoration on top.

Custard options -
I made a custard from packet custard powder, you may be shocked, shocked! to learn. But I used 750ml of full cream milk, with powder enough to set 500ml milk, and also added two whole eggs, well beaten, into the mix. This is much less likely to split than a straight egg custard, too. Bought custard could be used - the premium Paul's variety is pretty good for a dollop.

You can probably improvise for the rest. Use your favourite Aeroplane jelly from childhood, or a wine jelly, or no jelly at all. Top with soft thick cream dollops, or whipped cream, use any fruit or nut or even lollies for topping decorations... It's a bit of fun, not a rigid haute cuisine recipe.

I'm sorry I didn't take a picture. I got a bit otherwise preoccupied during Xmas. I will say that it looked very pretty, with a ring of whipped cream around the edge, dotted with fresh blueberries and some maple toasted pecans from the market nut sellers. The pecans didn't age well, though. The sugar coating dissolves, and the nuts start to soften. That would be a same-day decoration option, not good for 2-3 days.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010


There's a few places that I've avoided for some time, not liking either their food or their attitude. But I revisited a couple of them last week, and was pleased to find improvements.

Carlo's at Watson is one of them. I had a very pleasant pre-rehearsal brunch there with B1, and enjoyed a mango & passionfruit frappe ($5) and a "half" breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon and tomato. The food arrived in good time. The radio in the kitchen wasn't set to deafening levels, and there wasn't even a powerful smell of cooking oil! Even more miraculous, the waitress was polite and helpful, and she even went and organised an off-menu side order for B1. Incredible!

I shall put Carlo's back on my list of possibles. OK, the breakfast was a tiny bit overdone - the scrambled eggs were a bit watery - but I like my bacon crisp and my tomatoes well done, so no great harm. Carlo's has usually had pretty good food - I like the buckwheat pancakes particularly - but in the past I've had such terrible service that I haven't gone back in 5 years. This was such a huge improvement on my previous experiences there, I'm quite delighted. They still won't split bills, though.

The other place I revisited was Taj Agra in Dickson. In their case, the service was never a problem, it was the food. I had a couple of very oily and bland curries,from them shortly after they opened. One also had very gristly meat. I was completely put off, and even a second try didn't improve it, so I crossed them off my list.

But last week the Bloke and I decided to give them another go for a quick post-rehearsal dinner, and they are now back on. We ordered a beef saag and an aloo cholay, with naan and raita, and it was very nice indeed. We asked for medium heat, and that was pleasant for us, but also the cholay (chickpeas) were interestingly spiced under the heat. The beef was lean and tender, if a little bit dry, and its spinach puree sauce was tasty. Neither sauce was at all greasy. I still think that Bollywood is nicer - a bit classier presentation, a bit better cooking. But they are also a bit more expensive, and often full.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Summertime, salad time

Hot sunny days have been good for these little grape tomatoes. They are "honey grapes" that I got from Bunnings, and they are well named. They're amazing little bursts of sweet tomato goodness. I have them in a self-watering pot, which makes sense considering what a slack gardener I am. These and the Russian Brown have survived the heat well.

I'm also still getting plenty of rhubarb, and a bit of spinach, and lots of herbs, but not much else at the moment. My lettuces went to seed, and I didn't replant the hydroponic thing after removing them. My beans died in the heat, maybe because I didn't water them enough. Or was it snails that killed them? Or both. Whatever. There's a butternut pumpkin vine and some Kipfler potato plants, and a lot of figs coming on the small tree, but they aren't ready to harvest yet.

In this heat, salads are welcome. Here's one I made on the weekend - cured salmon, avocado, mixed greens, cucumber, and a simple dressing of good olive oil and lemon juice. So there's another use for that avocado. I would have added some grape tomatoes, but I ate them all after I took the picture. I'm now waiting for the green ones to ripen - and the plant has some flowers too, so there's even more to come.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Avocados, please

Avocados are expensive right now. Yesterday I did a big Woollies shop to restock after my last week of being too busy to cook or clean up. And it's nearly $4 for an avo - $3.98 each (or whatever, it's close). And then I spotted the organic ones - a two-pack for $3.42. Ahahahaha!

And did you know that the organic avos are packed on a nice recycled cardboard tray, not that styrofoam tray kind of thing that they pack meat on? Any other pre-packed veg is on one of those trays. I don't often buy much F&V from Woollies, so I haven't noticed this until now. What's the point here, I wonder?

While I was there, I did my good deed of the day by advising a small group of young women in the meat section that chuck steak is for casseroling, not grilling.

I don't really have any formal recipes to add here. But avocado smushed on rye toast, with a good sprinkle of lime juice, is an excellent breakfast. Cayenne optional. Also, while I'm handing out tips, never cook avocado! It goes very nasty and bitter with prolonged heat. If you want it on a pizza or in a pasta, it's OK to add it at the last minute so it just warms gently.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Concert tonight!

I nearly forgot! I haven't been cooking or shopping this week because I've been far too busy getting ready for this!

Details here:

A program of Spanish choral music, at the Q in Queanbeyan tonight. It will be amazing - Red Book of Montserrat medieval stuff; Victoria Missa Ave Maris Stella; Lauridsen Nocturnes; Catalan folk tunes.

If you only go to choral music once every seven years, make it this one! You very rarely get such a solid bass and tenor sound in a choir. Not to mention the mix of youthful energy and bright voices with the older and more experienced full voices.

(Damn, gotta fix this HTML, there is no read more.)

Monday, 11 January 2010

Ramz at Dickson, and other things

On Saturday I was off at my favourite Asian grocer, Saigon, buying bean sprouts and gai lan and such. It's my favourite because they have great fresh veggies and fruit there (deliveries Friday and Tuesday arvos, IIRC). I got some weird looking pink fruits, that I think are Australian water-roseapples. And almost next door, there is a new grocery called Ramz Spice Mart.

Ramz fills a gap in Dickson. We've got plenty of Vietnamese and Chinese grocers, and they tend to stock other south-east Asian goodies, but this new one is an Indian specialist. It's run by a Fijian Indian family, who are new to Canberra, and I wish them success.

They stock every kind of dahl you could want, several of them in flour form, too. And huge bags of rice and a great array of chutneys and pickles and spices galore, of course. And the odd things Fijians seem to want, like tinned corned mutton. There's also a freezer with Fijian reef fish and goat meat, as well as samosas and other snacks, and a good selection of frozen vegetables. There's drumsticks and mehti leaves and karela and other more common things. And paneer in the fridge. (See recipe at end.)

It's not a huge shop, like the supermarket in Belconnen, but they still have room for a few oddities. There's a small rack of shiny sequinned bags and sandals and clothes up the back; and some cosmetics and cookware on the shelves.

Speaking of Dickson, Woollies seems to have finally finished their "upgrades". I'm not thrilled. It's bigger since they've moved the grog shop out, but the aisles are narrower. And they've got those annoying self-checkouts replacing most of the old express queue. I would not mind those so much if I didn't have to get help every damn time I use them. I tend to commit sins like not putting my two mangoes down at exactly the same split second, or trying to use a non-standard bag. I find them very irritating. Also irritating is the change to coin-op trolleys. I've never stolen a trolley before, in fact I never even thought of it. But now I really really want to. I have no idea what I'd do with it, I'm just a contrary type.


Now we've got that out of the way, what do we do with paneer? Mattar paneer is a classic, and the paneer packet had a recipe on the label. But because I had spinach (half from Woollies and half from the garden) I made a mixed Mattar Saag Paneer. So there.

Recipe: Mattar Paneer with extra greens

250g Sharma's Kitchen Paneer (or any paneer)
2 medium onions
5 cloves garlic
large thumb sized knob of ginger
1 tblsp coriander seeds
2 green chillies
1 tin tomatoes, crushed
1 cup plain yoghurt
1 tsp cornflour
1 tsp turmeric
2 fresh green chillies, or chilli powder to taste
pinch salt
4 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup ghee or vegetable oil
250g frozen peas
4 cups fresh spinach, chopped
chopped coriander leaves

* Puree one onion, the fresh chillies (if using), garlic and ginger and the coriander seeds, with just a dash of water.
* Soak the paneer in hot water for a couple of minutes, then cube.
* Heat the oil and fry the paneer until golden.
* Remove paneer and drain.
* Add the second onion, chopped, to the pan with the bay leaves, and fry until golden.
* Add the puree and the turmeric and fry until oil starts to separate.
* Add yoghurt, tomato, cornflour, chilli powder (if using) and salt and stir very well.
* Stir constantly until it returns to a simmer.
* Add paneer and the water.
* Simmer gently for 20 minutes.
* Add peas and spinach, and return to a simmer for 5 minutes.
* Sprinkle with plenty of chopped fresh coriander to serve.

Notes: I wanted to link to the website, but they seem to be down right now.

Anyway, this isn't very much modified from the original. I added the extra greens, as I mentioned. Also, the cornflour is mine - it helps to stop the yoghurt curdling. And the option of chilli powder instead of fresh chilli. I also reduced the oil from 1/2 cup to 1/4 cup, and I'm not quite sure that was right - the paneer stuck to the pan a bit.

But it was yummy, and also very creamy despite the fact that I used low fat Greek yoghurt. Definitely worth doing again.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

A Curry Dinner

Here's last week's curry dinner from the freezer, in its earlier incarnation when I first made it before Xmas. The vegetables are large yellow beans - which look a little like penne pasta in this picture - red capsicum, and green spinach.

It was based closely on a Madhur Jaffrey recipe called "Palag Ghosht".  I have actually cooked this before, and last year even blogged it here, but I like this variation even better. In this updated edition, it's a bright and fresh flavoured thing, with the spinach just barely cooked. The original recipe has the spinach cooked for 45 minutes,  which makes it a bit more the spinach puree types that you usually find in Indian restaurants. I also added some extra vegetables.

Recipe: Lamb and Spinach Curry
600g boneless lean lamb
a thumb sized chunk of fresh ginger
7 cloves garlic
2 tblsp whole coriander seed
75ml sunflower oil
1 medium onion, sliced in fine half-rings.
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup natural yoghurt
300g spinach
300g mixed vegetables

* Grind the coriander seed, finely grate the ginger and crush the garlic.
* Cut the lamb into 3cm chunks, and mix in the coriander, ginger and garlic.
* Mix well and set aside for an hour.
* Heat the oil and fry the onion until golden and crisp. Do not let them blacken.
* Remove the onion with a slotted spoon, and blot off oil on kitchen paper.
* Add the lamb and its marinade, with the turmeric, cayenne and salt to the remaining oil.
* Stir well and cover.
* Cook for ten minutes, lifting the lid to stir every couple of minutes.
* Add the yoghurt a tablespoon at a time, stirring well and allowing to simmer before adding the next spoonful.
* Add the fried onions.
* Cover and simmer for 45 minutes, or until the meat is just tender.
* Add sliced beans, capsicum and simmer for ten minutes.
* Add finely shredded spinach leaves, stir well through and cook until just wilted.

I used hoggett chops - this is old lamb, not quite mutton yet, and you need a specialist butcher or meat grower to get it these days. A few of the market sellers have it in season. It's a little tougher, a little more strongly flavoured, and takes a little longer to cook than lamb.

I use an old cheap blade-cutting coffee grinder for spices. We upgraded to a proper burr grinder for the coffee, and it really makes a difference.

And the final gadget is a newish toy: a mini food processor, about 1 cup capacity. It's excellent for chopping the ginger and garlic, as well as for herbs.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Back again

We've finished the first week back at work, and tonight we're celebrating with a G&T or two, a scratch dinner of leftovers, and Children of Earth just finished on the telly. An early night with a book to follow - the bloke has a Mike Carey and I have a Robert Harris. And a sleep-in tomorrow. It's been a hard Xmas, and parts of it were rather horrible, so I'm pretty glad it's over. Even if that does mean going back to work.

The week in cooking has been quite minimal - a curry from the freezer, a bolognese spaghetti sauce from the freezer, hot dogs with coleslaw, and a quick bite at Tien, a Vietnamese place in Dickson that opened late last year. The curry was very nice - I'll put more about that up for my next post.

Tien was rather good, too. I had the pancake stuffed with prawns and minced pork (about $14). Tasty food, the pancake is more eggy than a western style pancake, almost an omelet. It came with lots of fresh salad including some Vietnamese herbs that I don't know the names of. The Bloke had a chilli basil chicken stirfry - very fresh and light, with lots of crisp onion and carrot. We'll be going back there, for sure. In fact I have a cunning plan involving their steamboat...

I haven't managed to get myself moving very fast in the mornings yet, and I've been eating breakfast at my desk around 10am. Bring in some fruit and a peanut butter sandwich, and I'm set. Or failing sandwich making time, eat a muesli bar from the stash at work. But I exhausted that stash on Thursday, and I tried to restock at As Nature Intended at the Belco market.

I was out there having lunch with infoaddict at Beppe's - a favourite cafe of mine, they serve one of the best coffees in town. It's a drive rather than a walk for lunch, but Momo and Plunge are both closed this week. I picked up some good fruit from Wiffens, but the muesli bar shopping did not go well. The range at As Nature Intended is very small, probably because it's all organic. I bought one box from each brand, the Norganics blueberry and the Aribar raspberry.

Norganics is available widely in supermarkets, and I find them tolerable. A bit too sweet for me, but still it has chewy oats, dried blueberries and an appley tang, and it's made in Australia. I give it a credit grade. The Aribar, on the other hand... utter fail. The ingredients of wholegrain brown rice and raspberries sound fine. But I really should have checked more carefully. In the fine print, all is revealed. Norganics: 16.1g sugars/100g. Aribar: 32.8g/100g. Yes, it's unbearably sweet, and on top of that, it's made in Canada. Shipping right across the world, what a waste! Not that I'm a total local food purist; I am happy to buy imports of true specialties like real maple syrup. But there was no point to this import at all. I could easily have made a batch of chocolate crackles at home, to very much the same effect. And no, I wouldn't want them for breakfast, either.