Monday, January 11, 2010

Green Jelly Dreaming and Holiday Cooking

When I was about five years old, my family went on a weeks holiday to the Bethany Guest House in Healesville.  The photos show it was fairly basic accommodation, but at the time we thought it was fantastic. 

My memories of that holiday are pretty much limited to the stiff, green jelly they served every night in the dining room and my brother dressed up as a tree for the fancy dress party.  I have no memory of what I wore.   I think my brother won a prize but I could have imagined that.  He was an excellent looking tree.  I do remember that we had a good holiday. 

My Mum has had better holidays since then, but for years that was one of her favourites.  Why?  Well besides the fact there were about a hundred other kids there to keep the six of us out of her hair, the main reason was because she didn't have to cook!  Can you imagine - a week off from cooking for eight people every day,  it must have been heaven. She probably had enough time to read a book, or talk to my Dad or even DO NOTHING (oh frabjous, unheard of luxury).  Do you think she cared that the jelly was too stiff?  Me neither.

That's what holidays should be about - as little work as possible.  But unless you're lucky enough to have your own Bethany equivalent, somebody will still have to cook and if you have to cook you want something that's easy to make, tastes good and preferably doesn't heat up the kitchen too much.  I know that sounds a lot to ask but just because you're not working doesn't mean your food can take a holiday with you. 

Anyway, that's how I came up with the idea for this salad.  It ticks all of those boxes plus it's moderately good for you, just don't read the fat content on the haloumi packet and you will believe that.  It's enjoyed by all ages and suitable for vegetarians.   It has so many attributes it could almost write its own CV.  It tastes really good.

I have named it the Bethany Bounty Salad.  A stupid name I know as it contains no green jelly and it would never have been found in the dining room of an Australian guest house of that era.  It's my tribute to a happy memory.   Go ahead and make it and create your own holiday memories (tree costume optional).

Bethany Bounty Salad
3 (180g) packets of Haloumi Cheese
1-2 baby cos lettuce
6 potatoes, diced (peeled if needed but less work if you buy the already scrubbed ones)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 punnet cherry tomatoes halved
Chopped herbs, whatever you have.  I used parsley and basil.
Olive oil, salt and pepper

If you have your own favourite dressing use that.  I used the juice of half a lemon to about 3 tablespoons of olive oil.  Seasoned with salt, pepper and about a quarter teaspoon of dijon mustard.  Mix and season accordingly.  Add more lemon or seasoning as required.

Wash and dry the lettuce and layer on a large platter or bowl.  Put the potatoes in a microwave proof bowl with the crushed garlic, some salt and one teaspoon of olive oil.  Cover with plastic wrap and microwave on high for about 8-9 minutes.  Check with a fork to see if they are tender.  When they are cooked, scatter them over the lettuce along with the halved cherry tomatoes.

Cut the haloumi any way you prefer and pat dry with paper towels.  I cut each block into four and then halved each block widthways so that I ended up with 24 squares.  Heat a large frypan on medium and add some olive oil.  You don't need a lot, just enough to cover the bottom of the pan and stop the cheese from sticking.  Fry cheese until golden on both sides.

Remove cheese from pan and place on top of other ingredients.  Pour dressing over and scatter herbs on top.  I usually add olives to this dish but didn't have any this time.  It is good with or without.  I have also added cooked spears of asparagus.  Add whatever you like - remember it's supposed to be working for you.

The amounts given in this recipe fed five people, including two teenagers so you may need to adjust the amounts to fit your own circumstances.

Follow with green jelly and icecream.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Get Breakfast or Get Cranky (How to make Sunshine On Toast)

I love breakfast, I eat it every day. When someone tells me they never eat breakfast I get a bit distressed. I go a bit swoony and imagine how I'd be if I did that - went without.
I'd be light headed for a start, and cranky - definitely dangerously cranky. I have been known to snarl if I've had to wait too long. Concentration - forget it. Who can concentrate when there is NOTHING in your stomach and it's at least eight hours since you last ate.

Bono could knock on my front door and I'd probably ask him if he had my toast. I just can't think straight without it, it's a survival thing. I have to eat in the morning and I will happily eat the same thing every weekday morning, I don't bat an eyelid at the monotony of it - muesli, toast, tea. Muesli, toast, tea, muesli, toast tea, muesli, toast, tea - you get my drift. Sometimes I vary what I put on my toast but there is always one slice sweet, one slice savoury and I cut each slice in half and then eat savoury, sweet, savoury, sweet. Sounds obsessive I know.

I couldn't eat the same thing for dinner every night if you paid me but it is not an issue for breakfast - in fact it would be an issue if I didn't have those things, they are part of my morning ritual as I prepare for my work day. A creature of habit.

Weekends are a different story. I'm up for anything, especially if someone else is cooking, and whilst I can easily scoff a stack of syrup soaked pancakes occasionally I am really a savoury girl at heart. Good thing Mr PMG is now qualified to take my pulse and administer morning sustenance as required.

On the occasions when I haven't bared my teeth and raided the cupboards before he rises, this is a dish that he likes to prepare in order to quell the snarling, irrational me, rampaging around the kitchen. He calls this dish Sunshine on Toast because he likes that name and when I am starving I am not going to argue - that just delays the food getting on the plate. If you don't like the name just call it breakfast.

Sunshine on Toast

Turkish Bread
Fresh Tomatoes
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

Chop some nice red tomatoes and put them in a hot pan with some olive oil. You want to hear a sizzle as they hit the pan, it makes no difference to the taste it just sounds good. Cook them to the degree that you like (this is sometimes a little bone of contention between Mr PMG and me but as I said when I'm hungry and he's cooking I generally like to keep arguing to a minimum.) While these are cooking, slice the Turkish bread and grill either in the oven or on a grill pan, you want it to be golden.

When tomatoes are done, add salt, pepper and a splash of balsamic vinegar, stir and turn off the heat. When bread is cooked, put a piece on each plate and spread with tzatziki. Be generous. Top with tomatoes and basil. Serve. Soothe any savage beasts. Enjoy.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Jam Dougnuts and African Food - PMG loves the Queen Vic Market

I live in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. I love my city. I love it for lots of reasons but I'll start with just two of them - The Queen Victoria Market and jam doughnuts. The fact that you can buy the doughnuts at the market makes the whole deal even better. And once you bite into the golden, chewy, sugar drenched dough and feel the lava like strawberry jam blister your lip you will be smitten - guraranteed. And you will agree with me that these are the best jam doughnuts IN THE WORLD!

Feel free to argue but my mind is made up, and has been for a very long time. Besides, I'm sure there are lots of jam doughnuts out there but none of them would be made in such a great looking van. I'm convinced that the van adds something to the flavour, I wish they made mini replicas of them. It's such a familiar, comforting sight every time I go to the market and always makes me feel good, even when I'm in a long queue and praying that the doughnuts won't disappear before it's my turn at the window. When this happens, (and it will unless you are always up with the larks), you will actually elicit genuine sighs of sympathy from fellow Doughnut Van Fans when you regale them with your sad tale.

For those of you who don't consider doughnuts to be real food I did buy some other goodies, including these beautiful chillies for $2.00 the lot. Their shine and colour conned me even though I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with them. I'm thinking of some type of sauce. Any ideas?

I also found some red palm oil, an ingredient I had never heard of until last week and when I did I thought 'where the heck could you buy that?' What a dummy - finding an ingredient in Melbourne is pretty much as easy as pointing your nose in the right direction. In this case I practically fell over it.

Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. Mr PMG gave me Maeve O'Mara's Food Safari Cookbook for Christmas. Oh my - within a few pages I was itching to get cooking. If you find your cooking is a bit jaded or you're in a bit of a creative rut then this is the book for you - it will really fire your imagination. With recipes from thirty four different countries it really is like a bit of a treasure chest and every time I look through it I'm constantly trying to put the different flavours together in my head, wondering what a completed dish tastes like. It's inspiring.

Countries are listed alphabetically so the book begins with recipes from Africa, a cuisine that I knew nothing about. Along with some herbs and spices, Red Palm Fruit Oil is listed as an essential flavouring which is how I recognised it when I saw it in a little shop called Tribal Tastes, situated in the food hall at the market.

The very friendly and knowledgeable owner, (whose name I am sorry I didn't get), gave me lots more information about the palm oil and told me that her husband featured on the Food Safari series, contributing the recipe of Jollof Rice. How serendipitous was that! I bought a bottle of the oil for $15 and am planning to make the Jollof Rice soon, it sounds delicious. It's a dish from Senegal, containing fish, rice and vegetables with a chilli, tomato and capsicum sauce - maybe that's what I can do with those chillies.

If you don't have the Food Safari Cookbook, you can find the recipe on both the SBS and Tribal Tastes websites. Tribal Tastes also has an online shop if you want to make it and can't get to their shop.
All this talk and still no dinner. I bought some fresh flake fillets (say that quickly) and capsicum, zucchini and potatoes. I might just flour the flake and fry it (I know, too many effs) and then cook the capsicum, potatoes and zucchini but I don't want them all mushy so I might cook them separately and then sort of stew them together with some wine and olive oil. And hope that works.
From the food hall I also found these great little herb and garlic dinner rolls which were priced by the kilo, something I have never seen before. For $3 (half kilo), I got ten rolls - good deal.
I guess with all those types of flavours we're probably looking at a bit of an Italian inspired dinner, something that nobody could complain about that's for sure.
I am now officially starving. Something about the words fish and fry in the same sentence. That and the fact that it's been several hours since I ate an undisclosed quantity of my favourite jam doughnuts. Fan that I am of their many restorative and recuperative powers, one of their limitations is that they do not ever qualify as dinner - but only because they've shut up shop by

Friday, January 1, 2010

Jolly Green Trifle at Hogmanay

Despite my blind and misguided optimism I didn’t end the New Year with the perfect haircut, more money in the bank or a nicely organised fridge. What I did have was a home hair colour job that made my hair freakishly shiny (picture a more mature Miss Chrissy doll), a knocked out household after a stomach bug bit every one of us, and a great view of the spectacular lightning display from Mother Nature as she successfully and oh so easily outdid the City of Melbourne’s not unimpressive fireworks display. As my friend Jonathan would say - 'a lay down misere.’ And how!

We always have dinner with friends on NYE. Naturally what we eat is an important part of the proceedings and usually thought about as soon as Boxing Day is over, (who can do anything on Boxing Day?).

This year we had fish and chips. From the chip shop. I know what you’re thinking – but who wants to cook when it’s been a muggy, moisture sapping, killer summer day in Melbourne and your kitchen is the same temperature as your backyard. Not me, not our friends and obviously not the three hundred other people crammed into the chip shop.

Anyway, the food isn’t ever the point of it - we wanted to get together, we didn’t want to fuss and fish and chips fit the bill. I liked it - a lot. The fish and chips weren’t great but I didn’t care because I didn’t have to do anything. Well I did make a salad, and I did use real plates because this year we have a dishwasher. And our friend Miss BB did make a trifle (pictured) – complete with green sprinkles - a tribute to the stomach bug that knocked us all out! So I guess we did do something.

Mr C freaked us all out by sneaking out and ringing the doorbell just after midnight. Mr PMG is a Scotsman so Mr C came first footing , greeting him with silver coins, a glass of whisky and a printed picture of a lump of coal because let's face it, the real thing is hard to come by in suburban Melbourne. Mr PMG was chuffed.

The Scots refer to New Years Eve as Hogmanay for reasons unknown to me or any Scottish people I've ever asked. Traditional food includes Clootie Dumpling which is boiled in a cloth (clootie) and served in gob-stopper size portions. Good thing we didn't have it after the fish and chips - not that I think trifle qualifies as a health food.

So besides the weird hair the year ended on a good note. Stomach bug went, cool change arrived, and my hairdresser reopens on Monday. The storm blew 2009 out to sea and the new year came in fresh and full of hope.

I'd love to hear about what you ate on New Year's Eve, whether it's a five star stunner, a dodgy kebab on the way home from the pub or a pizza with a friend. I might steal your ideas for my next years celebrations. Then again maybe not the kebab - I'm not doing that stomach bug thing ever again.

Happy New Year.