The Mad Tabouleh Lady

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You may have heard of Kevin McCloud‘s drinking game. There are a few versions but a simplified version goes like this.  Whenever Kevin mentions the following words in his programme, Grand Designs,  bespoke, artisan, the build, integrity, take a big sip. Extra drinking points are acquired if he says it in French or Italian. In the world of food, I propose a board game: the rules are similar, you score a drink when you read or hear the following: artisan, (the Italian artigianale deserves two drinks), quinoa, kale, ancient grains, and gluten-free. There are probably more buzz words out there and I hope someone will let me know so my bored, no board game can expand.  I have nothing against these foods per se, but I am tiring of their takeover. Normal, sensible eating is now dominated by these faddish foods. Why has barley become an ancient grain? Or brown rice? Farro has been used in Northern Italy forever. As for quinoa, it’s overrated and tasteless and has an unpleasant texture.  Kale? A common enough plant in my veggie garden which enhances a good minestrone or risotto. But kale chips, kale smoothies? Kale and eggs for breakfast? National Kale Day? Gluten- free products are important for celiacs, but now every normal non gluten free product carries this selling tag: gluten-free jam, gluten-free eggs, gluten- free tomatoes – the marketing departments are having a field day with labelling for the naive and gullible.

Nothing like a good rant after cleaning out the pantry – an onerous and tedious job, involving small flying creatures and much waste.  Whilst there, I found a packet of unopened “Ancient Grains” bought on a whim at some stage  The packet is labelled, in capitals, ‘gluten- free rice plus‘ and contains a ‘powerful blend of rice, nutritional ancient grains and seeds which includes brown rice long grain, white basmati, red basmati, buckwheat, white quinoa, and millet, and black sesame seeds. Putting aside my cynical self, I whipped up a tasty tabouleh, adapting the recipe from the back of the packet. I served it with a little side of chopped boiled eggs with Dukkah. All Gluten-free, and not like chook food at all!!

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Powerful Tabouleh

  • Cook one cup grains with two cups of vegetable stock ( or water) using the absorption method. ( 15 minutes) ( I used a good home-made stock as these grains need help with flavour)
  • 6 chopped spring onions, including lots of the green part
  • 1 cup or more of Italian parsley, chopped
  • a handful of mint, chopped
  • a handful of currants
  • some small tomatoes, chopped, preferably ‘heirloom’ ( whoops, another buzz word ).
  • 2 -4 cloves of garlic chopped
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbls lemon juice
  • 1/2 teas Dijon mustard
  • salt/pepper.

When the rice blend has cooled, add the other ingredients to the bowl, and let them sit for a bit to absorb the dressing.

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The original recipe called for far too much parsley and used dried cranberries, which I find too sweet.

Serves two as a big lunch or a side salad for four or more.

Verdict? I liked it more than a regular Tabouleh and was pleasantly surprised.

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Baked Pears with Prunes, Chocolate and Almonds

Autumn just gets better and better, with new season’s pears appearing and a few quinces making their debut in the markets. My few garden pears are maturing on the tree- protected from cockatoos and parrots by bird netting. All this bountiful plenty makes me think of how wonderful pear desserts can be.Image

Leah, of the Cookbook Guru, has chosen Karen Martini’s ‘Cooking at Home’ this month. Its a great chance to cook from a recipe book that you might own, or just borrow one, as I did.  It is also a chance to be honest and appraise the pros and cons of a recipe. A few pear recipes caught my eye but I decided to make something with a touch of drama, a little trick that I might keep up my sleeve for when  friends come over for dinner.

       Baked Pears stuffed with prunes, chocolate and almonds. (serves 6)

  • 350 g castor sugar
  • 2 slices of lemon
  • 800 ml water
  • 400 ml white wine
  • 6 beurre bosc pears, peeled, cored, but with stems left intact
  • 2 sheets frozen puff pastry, defrosted
  • pure icing sugar for dusting
  • good quality ice cream for serving

    Stuffing

  • 4 Tablespoons sherry ( or other spirit)
  • 6 prunes
  • 2 Tablespoons currants
  • 100 good quality dark chocolate, melted
  • 10 g toasted flaked almonds
  • 4 pieces glace` ginger, chopped
  1. Combine the sugar, lemon, water and white wine in a large saucepan over high heat and bring to the boil. add the pears, reduce heat to low, then cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until tender. Remove pears and set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 220c. Line a baking sheet with baking paper.
  3. Make the stuffing. Heat the sherry in a small saucepan. When hot, add the prunes and currants. Stir, remove from the heat and set aside for 15- 20 minutes. Strain ( if you need to). Combine the melted chocolate, almonds and ginger and prune mixture, then set aside to cool.
  4. Cut the pear shapes from the pastry sheets, with an extra 3 cm all around. Spread 1 tablespoon of stuffing onto the pastry and sit pears on top. Transfer to the baking tray and bake for 14 minutes.  Dust with icing sugar and serve with icecream.Image

Pros.

  • The pears can be made up to a week ahead. I made one third of the recipe for the actual composed dessert, but ate the other pears for breakfast.
  • The stuffing can also be made ahead, leaving the shaping and baking till the last minute.
  • It looks dramatic.

Cons.

  • The lovely sounding stuffing tasted only of fruit chocolate. The subtlety of the other ingredients didn’t shine through ( except for the ginger).
  • The pastry I used was commercial sheet pastry which was hanging around in my freezer. It wasn’t fabulous. I would suggest a really good quality puff pastry in order to get the benefit of puff and crunch that this dessert probably deserves.
  • Mr Tranquillo said he preferred my other pear desserts and was underwhelmed. His opinion was proffered only when pushed!

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Swordfish with Tomato, Chilli and Caper sauce.

I am calling this Pesce Spada alla Putanesca as it reminds me of Sicily.

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It was with some reluctance that I decided to throw my recipe into the ring of the Cookbook Guru this month. Firstly, I don’t own a Karen Martini book and I was never tempted to make any of her recipes when they were syndicated weekly in the Sunday Magazine some time back. They just didn’t appeal.  But on a recent trip to the library with Mr Tranquillo, haunter of libraries and frequent borrower, I came across a copy of Karen Martini’s “Cooking at Home.”  After reading the book cover to cover, I was pleasantly surprised and I have already made two dishes from this book, this dish and a pear dessert ( coming soon).

A recent rule I have inflicted on myself is to use up what’s on hand when choosing or inventing a recipe.  As I had already purchased a nice slab of Pesce Spada or Sword Fish from the Preston Market, and had all the other ingredients in my pantry, Karen’s Sword Fish with Tomato, Chilli and Caper sauce ticked all the boxes. I have given the dish the Italian title above as the sauce is very reminiscent of a classic Putanesca sauce. ( it only lacked the anchovies).  And just like the putana, or prostitute of the original, I too had all the ingredients on hand to throw into the sauce. This dish is very piccante, assertive, gustoso.  Any sustainable fish could be substituted, bearing in mind that a delicate fish would be swamped by the flavour. The beauty of this dish is that the sauce can be made ahead: indeed it develops more flavour and thickens, but leave out the basil until reheating.  Snapper or Barramundi could work well too. A nice Pinot Noir or Sangiovese pairs well with this dish.

Serves 4

  • 200 mls extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • 7 caperberries, drained and sliced or 2 Tbles of capers
  • 4  Tbles black olives, pitted, (halved)
  • 1 teas dried chilli flakes
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 200 mls white wine ( dry for example Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay)
  • 3 cups chunky tomato pasta sauce (passata)
  • 2 handfuls basil leaves ( oregano would be a good substitute)
  • 4 swordfish, ( about 120 grs each) cut in half lengthways ( remove gristly bits)

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook the garlic for 1-2 minutes or until just golden, then add the caperberries, olives, chilli flakes, and salt to taste. Stir. Then pour in the wine and bring to the boil. Add the tomato sauce (sugo or passata), and simmer over low heat for about 5 minutes or until thickened. Check seasoning and stir in most of the basil.

Brush the swordfish with olive oil and season. Heat a large non stick frying pan over high heat and sear the fish for about two minutes on each side or until just cooked ( and golden).

Spoon the sauce onto four plates or a large platter and top with the fish. Scatter with extra basil and serve with a salad and crusty bread.

I followed the recipe for once! Anything above in brackets are my small notes. The saucing is generous so do include some good bread, or serve with some soft polenta.

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A little note re the tomato passata. As I was not able to make tomato sauce this year due to the humble, no pathetic, quantity from my garden, I found this great sauce at BAS foods in Brunswick. It tastes just like one Nonna would make.

Sunday Stills, the next challenge: the Colour Brown

I have decided to have a go at a few photography challenges lately, including the Sunday Stills Photography Challenge. These challenges drive me to look at, and sort, the back log of photos in my files. It is also a way of distracting me from food blogging, which can get obsessive at times. I never go anywhere now without my camera, but when it comes to sorting, labelling and discarding, I’m hopeless. Here is my ‘brown’ offering for this weeks challenge.

                     Brown boxes arranged in a doorway in a suburb of Tokyo.

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Travel Theme: Gardens

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It is always a pleasure to visit a garden when travelling overseas. Some delight, others offer peace and sanctuary, a place to picnic, or to stroll in natural surroundings. Central Park in New York and the Villa Borghese gardens in Rome both provide a chance to retreat from frenetic crowds and busy street life.

But becoming a traveller when at home is also on my agenda. The gardens of Victoria, Australia never cease to amaze, excite and challenge me. I was fortunate to visit a few local gardens last Spring with my dear friend Dianne, enchantress and gardener extraordinaire. “I’ll just pop this seed in my pocket!” “Could we ask for a small cutting of that plant?”

As part of this weeks travel theme on WheresMyBackpack.com, I am taking a stroll in the gardens of Alowyn Gardens , one hour from Melbourne, Australia. At each fork in the path, new and exciting choices need to be made. The garden provides such enormous variety: perrenial borders, a Parterre garden, an edible garden followed by a forest garden, a dry bed garden and the truely amazing Wisteria archway, just to name a few.ImageImageImageImageImageImage

Pasta d’Autunno Recipe or Keats in the Kitchen

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Autumn is my favourite season. Crops mature slowly and their full ripeness always reminds me of my favourite poem by Keats. ( see below for memory jolt ). The tomatoes have slowed down, only to be superseded in abundance by glossy eggplants, onions, and chillies. The zucchini persist, with ridiculously rude specimens hiding under leaves, slowing the flowering and fertility of the plants. Basil of all varieties perfume the pick. It’s time for a simple Pasta d’ Autunno.Image

Ingredients ( for two)

  • extra virgin olive oil, large glugs as required
  • two small red onions, chopped into large chunks
  • two or more garlic cloves
  • one long red chilli, roughly chopped
  • one small zucchino, cut into small chunks
  • two large tomatoes, ( 4 small ), as above
  • two large handful of rugola ( rocket)  leaves
  • generous grinds of salt and pepper
  • 200 grams of pasta ( 100 grams per person) I used a short pasta
  • grated parmigiano, reggiano or grana padanoImage

Method

  • Place a grill on the stove top, heat on high, adding a good slurp of oil
  • grill the onions, remove, then grill the chilli pieces, remove, then the zucchini chunks.
  • Meanwhile, heat a small frying pan, add 1 tablespoon of oil, then the sliced garlic, followed by the chopped tomato. Cook until the tomato disintegrates, then reduce heat to simmer.
  • Cook pasta in plenty of salted boiling water until al dente (as per packet instructions). Save a little pasta water.
  • Add the grilled vegetables to the tomato mix, stir through, season well, then add a little pasta water to loosen.Image

To assemble,

Heat a large serving bowl. Add the rocket leaves, then the pasta, followed by vegetable mixture. Toss lightly. Then add some grated or shaved parmigiano.

The grilling of autumn vegetables seems to enhance the flavour. The three processes, boiling pasta, grilling, and frying, can happen simultaneously, making it a 15 minute dish.Image

And now for that Keats poem.

Ode To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimmed their clammy cell.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir, the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

John Keats ( 1820)
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In My ( camping ) Kitchen. March 2014

During March I spend time in two kitchens: three days a week at home in my large and over supplied kitchen, the other four days in my camping kitchen by the sea. To be truthful, I prefer my camping kitchen, although perhaps the novelty would wear off after a while. I find my little two burner stove quite sufficient for our catering purposes. We back this up with an electric rice cooker, one gas-fired kettle BBQ ( for paella, pizza and basic BBQs ) and have now added a three tray Bain- Marie food warmer, essential for big curry nights or Sunday breakfasts. We cater for up to 16 family members some weekends. Image

This large Paella pan feeds a big group. We fire up an old gas kettle BBQ and use the lid to keep things going. My son cooks the chicken and chorizo separately, keeping the vego seafood people happy.

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My camping kitchen lives in a tiny corner of a canvas camper trailer. The fly wired sides are always open, allowing sea breezes through. I collect these beautiful metal dishes: they live in the trailer and surprise me every time I go camping. ImageImage

The sea is a 20 metre stroll from my kitchen. Black swans cruise by in the morning, looking like mini Loch Ness Monsters.  Cruise ships lit up like Christmas trees arrive by night, followed by cargo ships from China and one dark looking vessel we call “the ship of death”. The shipping lane of Port Philip Bay is often busy.ImageImage

Last week some cheap leatherjackets ( fish) arrived in the supermarket. Rubbed with a masala mixture in the Keralan way, they were then fried as a side dish to an Aloo Gobi curry. In the nearby countryside, the market gardens near Boneo Road have small outlets for daily supplies- freshly grown basil and wombok, Nicola potatoes, cauliflower, beetroot and corn, carrots and herbs.  They go into Mie Goreng, curries, and pasta dishes.

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In my kitchen are party animals, a hungry girl after an apple, and warbling magpies singing for their supper. Despite the volume of cooking, it is a peaceful and joyous time of the year.ImageImage

Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial kindly hosts the monthly “In My Kitchen” . Follow the link to read about other wonderful kitchen stories.

Travelling with Fear Factor

What is travel without a touch of fear?

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Every time Mr Tranquillo suggests a journey, I begrudgingly agree because I am usually too busy to check the ‘fear factor’ rating of the destination and even if I did, would it make any difference?  We are both gypsies at heart and have always enjoyed wandering the globe. But lately, we seem to be following the earthquake trail more often than not: Santiago in Chile, Tokyo, the North Island of New Zealand, the Abruzzo region of Italy and of course anywhere and all the time in any part of the Indonesian archipelago.  Add in a few rumbling volcanoes, tsunamis, floods and mudslides and there you have Indonesia, one of the most beautiful and fertile countries on earth.

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As Australia’s nearest neighbour, many Australians are familiar with the islands of Bali and Lombok. Not so many venture further afield, despite Indonesia’s 17,508 islands. Indonesian language used to be popular in Australian High Schools. It has been on the decline since the Bali bombings ( 2002/5) and the Schapelle factor, despite how easy it is to learn basic Indonesian. Others fear the great Islamic Sea and the emerging fundamentalist approach in some regions. Some fear leaky boats, different food, road travel without seatbelts ( me!), mosquitos and any other number of things.  Our government used to relate to its nearest neighbour with diplomacy, respect and tact. This has not been the case in recent months. Now that is a worry!  Reading the Jakarta Post on-line at least enables one to keep abreast with accurate news regarding the Australian- Indonesian situation, news that is not available now at home.Image

This year’s visit to ‘Indo’ took us to West Java and Sumatra, both notorious this year for volcanic action. We stayed beneath the towering bulk of Gunung Gede in Cipanas, a smoking giant that, in the wet season, rarely emerges from the tropical mists above.  We visited numerous caldera of old volcanoes,  sleeping beauties waiting for their day, situated in the Bandung region: the stunningly beautiful caldera in Lembang, and  Kawah Putih nearby.Image

Our time in Sumatra was spent on Samosir Island in the middle of Lake Toba, site of the biggest volcanic eruption ever.  Yet another sleeping volcano, Lake Toba is part of the Great Sumatran Fault fault,  which saw Gunung Sinabung  active whilst we were there, a short 25 miles away. Almost one month later, the residents ( 20,000 or so) may now return.ImageImage

I always worry about the Indonesian people who are evacuated and relocated during these events. Where do they go? Who provides for them during their dislocation? In the densely populated island of Java ( 141 million),  this must cause great suffering for the local population. Fear factor travel involves respect. The Indonesian people are remarkably friendly and adaptable. The land provides but fertility comes at a price.ImageImageImage

The list you don’t want to look at- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_volcanoes_in_Indonesia#Sunda_Strait_and_Java

The Biggest, Sweetest, and Ugliest Street Pancake.

We lined up one Sunday evening, along with many other locals of a middle class suburb of Jakarta, to order a large, sweet pancake cooked over coals. We order a Martabak Manis Special – basically a big, sweet pancake with the lot – completely unaware about what ‘the lot’ entailed.

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First the pancake batter is poured into a largish pan and cooked slowly over glowing coals. When almost ready, a cup of sugar is sprinkled over the top. The cooked pancake is then moved to a bench, where a cup of more of Blue Band margarine is slathered over the top. As the hot pancake absorbs the margarine, more is added.  ImageImageImage

Then comes a thick layer of grated chocolate, then some grated kraft cheese ( !!), then a ground peanut layer, followed by a toasted coconut layer.  The monster is then rolled and sliced and lands in a box. It costs a hefty AU$10.00, not cheap by Indonesian standards.

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The moment of truth arrives back at B’s sister’s house. We take a piece, and then a tiny bit more. Unbelievably sweet, rich, and just ridiculously fattening and nauseating. Once in a lifetime for this sweet treat.

Javanese Street Food- a world of temptation

Street food is omnipresent throughout Java : it is hard not to think about eating all day. Some of my best breakfasts ( indeed meals) cost a mere 25 cents: other snacks even less. It is important however to assess how pure the water is and how clean the vendor’s cart might be. Travelling with a native speaker opened a whole world of temptation. Thanks Barnadi. The winner of best street food award goes to:

  • Deep fried tofu with green chilli

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I ate a whole bag full of these and nearly spoilt my lunch. Imagine a bag full of freshly cooked tofu squares, with twenty little green, not overly mean, chillies. Pull the stem from the chilli and shove it into the centre of the hot tofu. To Die For.

In second place comes,

  • Javanese breakfast rice.ImageImageImage

Some were complex, others quite basic but all were satisfying and delicious. Nasi goreng or nasi coconut or kuning ( yellow) with lots of yummy little extras like fried tempe cakes, wrapped in brown paper triangular parcels that, when unwrapped, became the plate.  Add a little hot sambal for good measure.

Other photos include delicious corn fritters, my favourite fruit combo of pineapple and dragonfruit,  and pepes ikan ( fish and coconut mixture wrapped in banana leaf, grilled on coals)ImageImageImage

More Javanese delights coming soon.