Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Vegetarian thali cooking class @ Foodish

Back in the early noughties, my friend Elizabeth and I attended several half-day cooking classes at Belconnen Markets. They had a demonstration kitchen where the audience sat on tiered rows of chairs and watched as instructors (once, the great Charmaine Solomon) cooked and narrated. At the end of the classes we got to eat the food we'd seen cooked and take the recipes home.

It had been a long time since I'd been to one of these classes (though Andrew and I have taken cooking classes in Singapore, Malaysia and Japan in the meantime) but we recently signed up to attend a vego thali class at Foodish, the current incarnation of the cooking school at the Markets. When we arrived there last night I expected a lazy evening (just watching and eating) but it seems the classes are now more hands on! The ten course participants broke into three teams and created six dishes:

Spinach and chickpea curry
Dry okra curry
Masoor dahl
Lemon rice

over the course of two hours, which we then sat down and ate. Delicious. Some pics ...

We'll definitely be cooking these recipes again. Oh, and the timing of the class was (accidentally) perfect as we currently have no kitchen! It's being renovated. The old kitchen was removed yesterday and the new one started arriving today. May have to share some pics when it's done. Watch this space ;-)

Friday, May 03, 2019

Pumpkin and pea curry

Just made a big pot of this curry ... some to take to our friends' place for dinner on the weekend, some to freeze for later meals, and some for today's lunch. The quantities are vague, I'm afraid ...

onions, chopped
pumpkin, chopped
peas, frozen or fresh
coconut milk
curry powder or paste
vegetable oil

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and gently cook the onion. Add the curry powder or paste and fry until fragrant. Add the pumpkin chunks and coconut milk and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pumpkin is tender. Add the peas and continue cooking until they're heated through.

Serve with rice or naan or on its own. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Anzac biscuits go low(er) carb

Tomorrow is Anzac Day, a day when Australians and New Zealanders remember those who fought at Gallipoli in World War I. Anzac biscuits are eaten all year round, but a news story this week on what may and may not be included in Anzac biscuits prompted me to experiment to see if I could create a lower carbohydrate version of the classic biccie! Turns out the answer is yes. I took one of the recipes on the Australian War Memorial's website (#2 on this page), halved the sugar, and replaced the wheat flour with chickpea (besan) flour. The recipe is rather vague about temperature and cooking time, but I preheated the oven to 160 degrees C and cooked the (ten) biscuits for 20 minutes until they were golden. Yummo.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Another year has zoomed by ...

Ten years ago, today, I started a spreadsheet to record all the meals I cooked (based on the weekly menus I still maintain), and each year on 20 April I've listed what we ate the most. I wish I could say my cooking has become more diverse and creative since leaving my day job, but am not sure it has! These are the things we ate most frequently over the past year:

BLT wraps
falafel wraps
Chinese dumplings
creamy tuna pasta
potato salad
potato, leek, bacon and bean soup
pumpkin and coriander soup
teriyaki tofu with veges
macaroni cheese
rocket, pear, pecan and blue cheese salad

Which isn't to say I NEVER cook more adventurous things. Yesterday I made shakshuka and tonight we're having fesenjān. I think it's just that ... since moving to a house with a garden, I'd rather be gardening than cooking! Sometimes the two activities overlap – this year we've successfully gown pumpkins, garlic, chillies, various berries and a range of herbs – but these days you'll more often find me wearing gumboots than an apron. Ah well.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Whiz-bang new toy

I bought an app! This is a rare occurrence. I use my [Android] smartphone for pretty mainstream stuff ... email, news, blogs, fitness tracking, photos and instant messaging. Anyway. A couple of years ago I discovered the joy of listening to podcasts, both those provided by the ABC (Australia's public broadcaster) and from a range of other sources. While the ABC Listen app is pretty competent, up until recently I was listening to non-ABC podcasts via the Feedly app (an RSS feed reader). Not ideal. I'm not complaining about Feedly – it's essentially for reading text rather than listening to sound files – but it seemed to become increasingly flaky when playing podcasts, to the point where it was time to find Plan B. Big thanks to my partner Andrew for finding and recommending the perfect app! For the grand sum of A$4.99 I've now purchased Pocket Casts and it is wonderful. It was easy to find and subscribe to all of my favourite podcasts ... and the app just works. No cutting out, no crashing, no flakiness. I'm bingeing on podcasts. Delicious.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Hello, pumpkin!

Many years ago, my colleagues and I used to frequent a French cafe for lunch. All the staff there had fabulous French accents. I remember asking the waiter what the soupe du jour was one day and he replied, 'It is pumpkin, Pumpkin!' Pumpkin still reminds me of that day ...

This year's pumpkin crop is currently maturing in our back yard. So exciting! This week I harvested the first one:

You can't see the size from the picture but it weighed about 3 kg so I've put it into several dishes: four portions of pumpkin soup (one we ate for dinner, and the other three went into the freezer), steamed pumpkin chunks to jazz up a boeuf bourguignon, and a large batch of pumpkin scones.

Fun fact about pumpkin scones ... I don't much like making plain scones as I don't like the sensation of rubbing butter into flour, but pumpkin scones use melted rather than rubbed butter, so are much less faffy! Yaaaay.

900 g pumpkin, peeled and cut into chunks
50 g butter
2 eggs
3 cups wholemeal flour
3 tsp baking powder

Microwave the pumpkin until it is soft, then mash roughly and stir in the butter so it melts through. Cool the mixture a little, then add the eggs. Add the flour and baking powder and mix well to make a soft dough. Turn onto a floured tray and pat into a square or round about 3 cm thick. Bake at 200 degrees C for about 30 minutes. Cool a little, then break into chunks and serve with butter.

I like to freeze buttered scones to defrost for lunch on days when I'm hunkering down with a huge pile of editing work.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Brekkie @ RYE (and some photos of balloons)

This morning Andrew and I climbed out of bed super early (5.30 am) and headed off to the annual Canberra Balloon Spectacular, on the lawns of Old Parliament House. It was, as the name suggests, spectacular! Here are a few pics ...

After the balloons were aloft we went in search of breakfast. We decided to go to Braddon, which is absolutely riddled with hip 'n happening cafes, and selected RYE Cafe & Bar because it was open earlier than most ;-) Our brekkie was delicious. After some excellent coffee, he had:

Spiced baked eggs with chickpeas, black beans and capsicum,
served with pangrattato, goat's curd and grilled garlic bread 

and she had:

Golden egg: soft boiled egg, pulled pork, mustard and potato,
served with an apple, snow pea and cucumber salad and aioli

Yum! We're so lucky to live in this gorgeous city.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Chocolate cheesecake, re-engineered

Chocolate cheesecake just got even easier to make! I used to use a recipe with egg whites but never felt entirely comfortable including raw eggs. (I've done a couple of courses in food safety and, although I've never had a problem with it, am aware that raw eggs can be associated with salmonella.) So over the years I've tinkered with the recipe, removing the sugar from the base (it's sweet enough without it), halving the sugar in the topping, deleting the egg whites and increasing the amount of chocolate. It works well.

First, make the base

200 grams plain, sweet biscuits * [I like to use Malt or Digestive biscuits]
100 grams butter

Crush the biscuits. Melt the butter and combine well with the crushed biscuits. Press the mixture onto the bottom of a foil-lined springform pan and chill.

Next, make the cheesy topping

250 grams cream cheese
50 grams raw sugar
150 grams chocolate [milk, dark or white]
300 ml pouring cream

Soften the cream cheese a little and beat well. Beat in the sugar. Melt the chocolate over a bowl of hot water or in a microwave. Allow the chocolate to cool slightly, them combine with the cream cheese mixture. Whip the cream. Combine the chocolate and cream mixtures well, and pile on top of the base. Decorate with extra cream, grated chocolate, or fresh fruit. Refrigerate until ready to eat.

So yummy and so easy!

* Terminology clarification: here in Australia, a biscuit is what people in the USA might call a cookie or a cracker. (What someone in the USA would call a biscuit, we would call a scone or a muffin. Confused yet?) Anyway, if you're making this recipe in the USA, graham crackers are probably a good approximation. You may also need a metric to imperial measurement conversion facility.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Canberra eateries we've loved and lost

This week Andrew and I are celebrating 17 years in Canberra. Seventeen years! I was a little apprehensive when we ditched the big smoke (Sydney) for a city I barely knew, but it's been a delight. Canberra has become the centre of my universe. Like a pound puppy, I've found my 'forever home'. Awwwwww.

Soon after moving here we adopted the rather decadent habit of taking ourselves out for breakfast every Sunday. Over the years we've latched onto a few favourite cafes and restaurants ... but they haven't always lasted. These are a few of the venues that have disappeared ...

Where: Carlo's @ Watson
Best dishes: tortillas with warm berries; buckwheat pancakes; chocolate brioche
What replaced it: Lolo and Lola Filipino Eatery (also fabulous)

Where: Satis @ Watson
Best dishes: scrambled tofu with organic feta, chilli oil and house-made hash browns; Taj Mahal (chai-spiced coffee)
What replaced it: The Knox Made in Watson

Where: A. BAKER @ New Acton
Best dishes: everything! Lots of examples here
What replaced it: Morning Glory

Where: Ha Ha Bar @ Belconnen
Best dish: mushroom ragoût with feta and sourdough
What replaced it: still waiting to see

Where: Deli Marco @ Dickson
Best dish: creamy mushrooms on Italian toast
What replaced it: a nail salon!

Where: Ellacure @ Bruce
Best dishes: smoked trout, dill and chive scrambled eggs on toast, with mustard-spiked Hollandaise; French toast with clove-infused maple syrup
What replaced it: Stanley's craft beer pub

Where: Wilbur's @ Hackett
Best dishes: crispy potato cakes with smoked salmon; log-cabin style French toast
What replaced it: still waiting to see

Ah well. At least our current favourites, U&Co, Stand By Me, Farmer's Daughter, Hudson's and Little Oink still exist. (Fingers crossed and hope to keep eating there!)

Cheers, Canberra.

Friday, February 01, 2019

A fruity chocolate cake

Happy February! It was delightful to have a cooler, almost autumnal, day today, after several weeks of hot weather. It inspired me to make a cake ...

It is stone fruit season here in Canberra. The shops (and markets, and roadside stalls) are full of apricots, nectarines and peaches. Yum. My friend Hermine introduced me to this recipe several years ago. She calls it '160 cake' as most of the ingredients come in lots of 160 grams:

160 grams eggs (i.e. 3 to 4 eggs), separated
160 grams sugar
160 grams dark chocolate, melted
160 grams butter
160 grams flour
0.5 teaspoon baking powder

Cream butter and sugar together, then beat in egg yolks, then melted chocolate. Beat egg whites till stiff. Combine flour and baking powder, then fold all ingredients gently together. Pour into buttered and floured baking pan and (optionally) stud with halved stone fruit. Bake for 50 minutes at 160 degrees C (it may need a little longer  test with skewer).

I made it with apricots this time

Monday, January 28, 2019

Well, hello Bamix! (Oh, and a yummy ice cream recipe.)

Andrew likes to make banana smoothies for breakfast, using a hand-held stick blender. About a year ago our Breville stick blender died of old age. It had done an excellent job ... lasting over ten years and making at least 3000 smoothies! Not to mention helping out with soups, sauces, dips and the like. We started looking into options for a replacement blender and were disappointed to find that, these days, it is REALLY hard to find stick blenders that don't come with a whole bunch of unnecessary plastic clutter. Bowls, jars, scrapers, and all manner of pointless attachments. As someone who has been functioning as an adult for 35 years, I already own all the kitchen clutter I'll ever need. So we set our sights on a Bamix stick blender as it was simply a blender. No jars, no bowls, no crap. The Bamix is more expensive than most brands on the market, but is famously reliable (it comes with a 20-year warranty on the motor) so it meets our criteria for expected longevity better than the cheaper brands would have.

Meanwhile ... we decided to make do for a while, using an ancient bench-top blender we'd bought years ago from a friend who moved overseas. This blender works OK, but is harder to clean and isn't suitable for some foods. So we finally splashed out on the Bamix a couple of weeks ago.

It's purple!

So, anyway, I'd always used a hand mixer:

to make my many flavours of home made ice cream. Today, however, I tried whipping the cream with the Bamix rather than by hand. It worked well. So fast! So little arm-ache! Here's what I made:

Avocado, Lime and Ginger ice cream

Don't be deterred by the idea of avocado ice cream. This is delicious. The avocado gives it a gorgeous colour and texture, while the lime and ginger provide the flavour.

1 avocado (or two if they're small)
juice and pulp of 2 fresh limes
125 g glacé ginger, chopped finely
0.25 cup caster sugar
1 cup cream

Purée avocado with lime juice and pulp. Fold in ginger and sugar. Very lightly whip cream. Fold all together. Put in freezer. Take out 15 minutes before serving.

Rest in peace, Breville blender ;-(

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Brekkie @ Morning Glory

Andrew and I used to enjoy eating at A. Baker so were disappointed to hear, about a year ago, that it was closing down. A few months ago, after much hype, Morning Glory opened in the same spot. Their menu looked exciting ... I really like Asian brekkie options and there are plenty of 'em at Morning Glory. Today, on our first visit, we started with coffee:

then she had:

Cauliflower upma with paratha and fried egg

while he had:

Black sesame waffle with raspberries and white chocolate

Delicious. And the place was near-deserted at 8 am today. Don't know whether that's because all the other Canberrans have scarpered to the coast, or because other potential diners slept in. Whatever. I enjoyed my breakfast and am not at all averse to trying a few more things on the menu! Conveniently, it's right across the road from the Palace Electric Cinema in case you fancy a coffee or something more substantial before or after a movie ...

Monday, December 31, 2018

Farewell to a wonderfully bookish year

The past year has been exciting. My transition from employment to self-employment was definitely a highlight, as was my trip to Timor-Leste in August. My new work situation also meant I had more time for gardening than in the past ...

The day I dug out a huge weed, I sent a picture to
my partner. His response? 'Worst salad ever!' Ha ha

Anyway, something else I had more time for in 2018 was reading. (Reading for pleasure, in addition to all the reading I do in my role as an editor.) Here are some of the best books I've read lately.

Lost Horizon by James Hilton. Not a new book, by any stretch ... it was first published in 1933 and two film versions have been produced. It is a beautifully crafted tale of life in a mysterious Himalayan utopia. The sort of book you read slowly because you don't want it to end.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. An intricate story of a family unravelling. Hard to put down.

Multiple books by, and about, Madeleine St John! First I read the charming novel The Women in Black, set in Sydney in the 1950s, then saw the new movie version Ladies in Black. That led to curiosity about the writer so I read the fascinating biography Madeleine by Helen Trinca. That led to me reading The Essence of the Thing, Madeleine St John's Booker-shortlisted novel. All good.

The Dry and Force of Nature, both by Jane Harper. Gritty Australian crime/mystery novels. Jane Harper has recently written a third novel but she's clearly very popular ... I'm currently in 182nd place in my local library's queue to borrow it.

Crooked: Outwitting the Back Pain Industry and Getting on the Road to Recovery by Cathryn Jakobson Ramin. In addition to the excitement I felt this year (self-employment, gardening, travel) I also felt back pain. Quite a lot of it. I'm still not sure how it came about, but buckets of anti-inflammatory pills and many hours of physiotherapy exercises have helped. Crooked helped me to identify the different treatments on offer (evidence-based versus smoke-and-mirrors) and has allowed me to take a more active and focused role in the recovery process.

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover. An amazing account of the transformative power of education.

Two excellent books on fast fashion and why we shouldn't buy it: Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline, and Stitched Up: The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion by Tansy E. Hoskins. Not that I needed convincing – I've been a fashion minimalist for a long time – but well-argued reminders of the harms created by cheap, 'disposable' apparel.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Funny and thought-provoking.

The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in Death, Decay, and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein. A fascinating story of an interesting life and an unusual career.

Oh, and two books that 'bookended' my Timor adventure: A Woman of Independence by Kirsty Sword Gusmão and Crossing the Line: Australia's Secret History in the Timor Sea by Kim McGrath. I read Kirsty's book soon after it came out, more than ten years ago, and it kicked off my fascination with Timor-Leste and its history. I reread it (along with several other books on Timor-Leste) prior to travelling there. While in Dili, our tour group received a briefing on the maritime boundary negotiations between Australia and Timor-Leste, and Kim McGrath's book provides a detailed exposé of Australia's inappropriate behaviour toward its poorer neighbour.

My hopes for 2019 include yet more reading and more gardening! Happy New Year.