Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tasmania - It'll do you good!

Well since I last posted, bananas have almost halved in price, my team lost the Grand Final (am almost over that), Rainman no longer holds Qantas in such high esteem, and Dunaden has won the Melbourne Cup by a whisker.  That was exciting. And it's also pinch, punch, first day of the month, and what a day 1.11.11. - doesn't that look good and yes I know what you're thinking -  not as good as 11.11.11, but let's not get ahead of ourselves people, we'll celebrate that one in due time.

I also spent a week in beautiful Tasmania, one of my favourite places, this time in the north west, where I was lucky enough to see this beautiful sea eagle on the Arthur River.  The Tasmanian Tourist Board should pay me commission cause I bang on and on about it so much but seriously if you haven't been - then you should go, (maybe I can pitch that as a slogan).  

The air is clean, the grass is green...
You should go - if you haven't been!  

Awaiting the recruitment call from Saatchi's  as we speak!  Maybe my photos will say it better.  

Cowrie Point

Dip Falls Mawbanna

Tarkine Forest

All gorgeous but the thrill for me was stepping into the Tarkine and leaving my footsteps where the dinosaurs once roamed.  That and the chips from Jolly Rogers. I ate them whilst looking at this view, with the sun on my back, watching my kids play football on the beach.  Heaven.  And that's not a slogan. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Hungarian Goulash (Make My Day)

Not the best day.  Woke with a headache.  Ate breakfast and got craving for bananas.  Cannot afford bananas.  Bananas now categorised as wildly extravagant treat on par with truffles and rhinoceros horn and must be eaten only in the supermarket.  Before you pay.  Then you don't have to.  If you know what I mean.

Needed a coffee and a little smackerel of something. Cupboard bare.  Not so much as a broken biscuit. Decide to make scones.  I suck at scones. Wrangling tray of scones into eyeball searing hot oven and pantry door in the way (am not responsible for stupidly bad kitchen design.)  Give pantry door a hip and shoulder. Said door falls off the rails, onto Miss PMG who is minding her own business, whipping cream for potentially sucky scones and does not see very tall bi-fold wooden door heading her way.  Will have very big bruise tomorrow.  And large gash.  Thank God it didn't hit head.  

Scones actually edible.  Spread some for Miss PMG who has container of frozen chilli beans strapped to arm.  There is no ice.  Not a lot of cream to go around either.  Cream fell in sink when Miss PMG got walloped.  We saved what we could.  

Stripped my bed.  Put cosy, warm, fluffy flannelette sheets in the wash.  Went to linen cupboard for second pair of cosy, warm, fluffy, flannelette sheets only to remember that I had to wash them twice.   Bird pooped on them.  Both of them.  Twice.  What are the odds? 

Sheets still on clothes line after three days of rain.  Cannot sleep without cosy, warm, fluffy flanelette sheets.  Cry.  Throw sodden sheets in machine on spin cycle.  Back in the lounge room and I stub my toe on very tall bi-fold wooden door which is now lying on floor after wood glue surgery.  Curse and cry.  

Go shopping.  Dodgiest, noisiest trolley ever manufactured.  Have list of seven items when I need everything.  Circle supermarket several times whilst trying to remember everything in my head.  Now have mantra of peas, filo, paprika, fetta on continuous loop.  Stop and write myself list before I go insane.  Lady runs into me,  gives me dirty look like it was my fault.  Hey lady, I was the stationary one.  

Stand and gaze at canned tomatoes deciding whether diced or whole suit my needs more.  Apologise to man for blocking aisle.  He scowls at me.  Want to slap him but I don't and in the meantime could somebody please tell me where they hide the wonton wrappers cause I have looked in all the logical places.  To no avail. 

At the checkout, Mitchell is so excited to be knocking off that his mind wanders and he puts all of the canned goods in one bag.  My back does something that it shouldn't as I'm heaving them into the trolley and the bread gets squashed in the process.  Start to feel sorry for myself.

Back home,  I drag the sheets out of the machine, drape them over two drying racks and put the racks over the heating vents.  Turn heater on high.  Start dinner.  Boys are making quesadillas cause it's at least two hours to dinner and they might starve before then.  Big mess.  Steal a quesadilla and start to clean up.  NO HOT WATER.   Hope I have made a mistake and get son to check, just in case I have lost all feeling and can't tell hot from cold - it can happen.  No such luck.  There's NO HOT WATER.

Mr PMG and I fight our way through the very tall weeds and I make mental note to buy whipper snapper snipper.  Locate the hot water service and find the pilot light is out.  
Neither Mr PMG or I are very at all mechanically minded so we first pray we don't blow ourselves up then take turns pushing random buttons in the hope that something will happen.  It's the equivalent of opening the bonnet and staring at the engine when your car breaks down.  It does nothing.

Mr PMG falls backwards into the weeds when I accidentally blind him with the torch and we curse our dual ineptitude.  And the fact we don't know any plumbers.  Decide against buying whipper snipper  as it would only end in tears.  House is now stifling hot and I complain about the heater being up so high.  Forget all about cosy, warm, fluffy, WET flannelette sheets and turn heater off.

Get angry at Masterchef for splitting final show in two.  And that stupid dumb snowman.  Vegetables in desserts are just confusing.  Decide Masterchef is rigged anyway and I'm never watching it again.  Time to put an end to this day and snuggle up in my cosy, warm, fluffy flannelette sheets.  "What eejit turned the heater off?"  Ah yes it was me I forgot.  Sheets damp and cold.   Frabjous end to a frabjous day.  At least there was Goulash for dinner.  No substitute for the sheets but warm and cosy nonetheless.  Just to top off the day I forget to take a photo.  Ahh, I've got the leftovers methinks.  Uh Uh.  Boys demolish leftovers.   Just not my day.

Hungarian Goulash
There are thousands of recipes for Goulash.  After making it several times, I have taken the parts that I like from several of them, added my own bits and put them all together.  It contains no cayenne pepper, worcestershire sauce, macaroni, for crying out loud or green capsicum.  Green capsicum is just wrong in anything.  
Here is my goulash recipe.  A guaranteed highlight when your day is out of kilter.

1 kilo of gravy beef or chuck steak cut in 2-3cm dice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 medium brown onions, sliced
Three tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
3-4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (use less if you don't like a lot of garlic but then I don't know if we could be friends).
1 tablespoon caraway seeds (you can leave these out if you like, that won't upset me but they do taste good)
Finely grated peel of one lemon
1 heaped teaspoon of dried marjoram (you can use oregano but the marjoram is sweeter)
One quarter cup of tomato paste
Three cups of beef stock (stock cube is fine)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
teaspoon of sugar
6-7 medium potatoes, diced
1 tablespoon arrowroot or cornflour mixed with enough water to make a paste
Sour cream and small pickled cucumbers to serve

Heat oven to 180 degrees.
Heat butter and olive oil together in large pan and saute the onion until it is soft.  Add all other ingredients except the beef and tomato paste and cook for a few minutes stirring all the time until it is well blended.  Add the tomato paste and cook for another minute.  
Add beef and mix well with other ingredients.  Cook until the meat is well coated and begins to turn brown.  Add the stock and bring to the boil.
Transfer everything to a large casserole and place a layer of baking paper over the top and then the lid.  (This keeps the steam in and helps to make the meat tender).  Place in the preheated oven for 90 minutes.  Add the potatoes after 90 minutes and stir them in well, making sure they are submerged in the liquid.  Return to the oven for 30 minutes.  Test to see if potatoes are cooked.
If you wish to thicken the sauce, add a couple of tablespoons of the hot sauce to the cornflour or arrowroot mixture and stir well.  Return this back to the casserole and stir well.  Replace the lid for a minute or two to allow sauce to thicken.
Serve in a bowl with sour cream and sliced small pickled cucumbers (they're optional but delicious.
This recipe will easily feed 6-8

Friday, July 1, 2011

Kransky on Brunswick St.

Whenever I hear the word kransky I think of Fran Drescher from The Nanny.  It just sounds like a word made for her.  Yesterday I overindulged on kransky at Babka Bakery in Brunswick St (lots of b's).  I'm blaming Miss Z.  How could I eat zucchini fritters while she's sitting opposite with kransky.  I had to have it too.  And yes I do have a backbone, it just sometimes goes missing where food is concerned.

There's a lot to be said for being easily led - the kransky was heavenly.  Thank God I didn't go with the fritters - I would have cried.  Sliced, pan fried kransky, boiled dilled potatoes, light and fluffy sauerkraut, mustard and fresh horse radish.  And bread and butter.  I know.  Aaaaaahh.  We made involuntary noises of stuffed contentment as we watched the passing parade of tattoos.  

To show that I do have a spine, I then had coffee while Miss Z had tea.  We did eat the same cake though, only cause we split it and thank goodness for that cause one piece was stonkingly huge and half of that nearly put me in a food coma.   The cream didn't help.  
Maybe not the best food for a shopping trip but it did ensure that we weren't distracted by hunger pangs for the next forty hours or so.  We worked off the calories by meandering up and down Brunswick St., in and out of shops coveting things we dont need.  That takes energy.

Zetta Florence had these gorgeous cards on sale for $5. Like the kransky, we both had to have some of them.  I got sucked in by these  beautiful budgies at Douglas and Hope but Miss Z resisted despite her love of birds.  I think she has a thing about melamine.  We almost fought over a three tier tin cake rack until we realised we'd both missed the third digit on the price tag.  Nothing wrong with our eyes no sir.

We then moseyed over to Casa Iberica and spent a long time poking around the foodstuffs there, wondering what was what.  As well as selling the famous Portuguese custard tarts at three for $5, this place sells the biggest paella pans you've ever seen.  I bought some oven baked empanadas, chorizo and pre cooked white cornmeal.  

While I was waiting to be served another customer asked me if you could make pasta with the cornmeal.  Italian born Miss Z nearly had conniptions at that and the senora behind the counter gave me a look that said don't even think about giving advice.  Quick to divert an international incident I deferred to both of them and sidled off to look at the groovy pictures on the paprika tins.  I know when I'm beaten.

Time to go home.  What a day.  Good friends, sunshine, kransky and free all day parking in Fitzroy.  Can't ask for more than that.

PS You could possibly hibernate after a meal of kransky and potatoes.

PPS This post has no photos because something went very wrong with my computer and I lost (sob) many photos.  That's all I'm saying about that.  Too painful.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Apricot and Coconut Loaf (Trackie Dack Cake)

Yes it is quite plain looking. It has no WOW factor whatsoever and its ingredients include All Bran for crying out loud so I think that makes it definitely daggy.  There's no chocolate, cream or icing.  It's not pretty or dainty and it's definitely not a celebration cake  - nobody wants All Bran in a celebration cake trust me. 

For the record, THIS is a celebration cake.  Hmm, that comparison doesn't do much for the cause does it.  It's like comparing myself to Heidi Klum.  That cake screams pretty dresses and champagne whereas this cake...doesn't.  This cake says (in a sensible voice), put on your trackies and let's have a cup of tea but sometimes that's just what we need isn't it?  Are you still with me?  Good, cause despite it's Plain Jane appearance, this cake has many virtues, all of which I shall now extol.  Incidentally, whats the difference between cake and loaf?  Is it called a loaf just cause its made in a loaf tin?  Please let me know.  If you know. 

Back to the cake loaf.  This is so easy to make it's ridiculous, it's all done in one bowl (I love one bowl anything), and no scales are required.  Apart from the All Bran everything is a one cup measure so it's fantastic for kids to make.  It has one cup of milk in it and this could easily be swapped for soy milk, making it suitable for vegans.  When everything is assembled it takes literally less than five minutes to get into the oven - you will probably wait longer for your oven to heat up.  It freezes well (told you it was a long list).  I often make this for school lunches and double the recipe, cut it into slices when cooled and then freeze.  It doesn't need butter but it tastes really good with it (what doesn't).  It's substantial but not heavy, I'm sure it's kinda healthy and it tastes REALLY GOOD.  

Enough extolling, pretty soon it could sound like boasting and that's not the nature of this cake loaf.  Give it a try, trackies optional this is a democracy after all, but they will make it taste better.  Just saying.

Apricot and Coconut Loaf
1 cup wholemeal self raising flour
pinch of salt
1 cup coconut
1 200g pack of diced, dried apricots
(you can dice them yourself but that means more work)
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup All Bran
I cup milk

Preheat oven to 180C and grease and line a loaf tin.
Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl.
Add the milk and stir well to combine.
Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin and smooth the top. (Don't need to be too fussy)
Bake for 35-40 minutes, testing with a skewer to check that it's done.
Run a knife around the edge when you get it out of the oven because the apricots can make it a bit sticky and cool in the tin.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Chestnuts (Some things should just be left to the experts).

When my number two son was quite young, he got it into his head that he wanted his hair short - real short, a number one all over.  Instead of taking him to the barber's, where it would have been done and dusted in 10 minutes and cost all of $10, his Dad decides to do it for him and son of course agrees cause he wants it done there and then. 

Now Mr PMG liked to wear his hair short as well and was used to shearing his own tough nut with his electric clippers, happily patching the little nicks and gouges as he went.  For the first few days afterwards it sometimes looked like his head had gravel rash but amazingly, this fact didn't deter either of them and they pressed on. 

Things pretty soon took a turn for the worse when son decided he didnt like the feel of the clippers and kept moving his head.  Mr PMG got stressed and the hair was not looking too fabulous at this point - kinda like Liam Gallagher - with  mange.  Turns out it wasn't as straightforward as Mr PMG thought it would be and after every snip just made it look worse  the pair of them decided to call it quits. 

Lucky it was cold so the big beanie I made my son wear to the barber's for the repair job didnt look too odd.  You know that look the Masterchef contestants get when Matt lifts the lid on some torturously complicated dish?  That's the same look the barber had when he pulled the beanie off my son's head.  I could say horror but maybe that's taking it a bit far.  Maybe. 

When the barber's breathing returned to normal I stammered out an admittedly not quite truthful version of  events  which did involve apportioning some, (ok ALL), blame on my totally innocent younger daughter and sort of making Mr PMG the good guy cause he did try to fix it - albeit very badly.  Daughter still hasn't forgiven me but you know, needs must and all  that, she was only four for crying out loud, I didn't think she'd remember.  Besides I couldnt lay the blame on Mr PMG cause that would then reflect badly on me - as in "you're married to someone who would do this to his own child - what sort of person are you?"  Cause, you know, it matters what the barber thinks doesn't it.

After son was brought back to some semblance of normal and I paid much more than I should have I'm sure, (who's gonna quibble in that situation), I left the barber with his parting words ringing in my ears - "not as easy as it looks is it?"  And that's what I should have remembered when I spotted these beauties in the greengrocers. 

These beauties have now been sworn at, cussed over and kicked around in frustration cause it took me for flippin' EVER to get the shells off.  After breaking fingernails and reducing these lovelies to a crumbly ugly mess, I chucked them in the back of the freezer and declared (as confidently as the barber),  "As God is my witness, I''ll NEVER peel chestnuts again."   (Sorry Scarlett).  

And because it could be some time before these see the light of day I'll leave you with a recipe from Chestnut Growers Australia   - experts in their field - just like the barber. 

               Chestnut and Rice Soup

(Courtesy of Ann Creber, Food Consultant and chestnut grower, Melbourne)

(Serves 6)

300g peeled chestnuts
3 tbspn extra virgin olive oil
1 small white onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 medium potato, diced
8 cups chicken stock
2 bay leaves
2 cups Aborio rice (or short grain)
salt to taste

1.Prepare chestnuts and peel, after boiling in hot water for 10 mins.

2.Chop coarsely and put aside.

3.Warm olive oil in deep saucepan over low heat.

4.Add onion and saute gently, stirring often, until translucent.

5.Add carrots, celery and potato and stir.

6.Add chopped chestnuts, stock and bay leaves, bring slowly to the boil.

7.Reduce to a simmer and cook for 1-3/4 hours.

8.Add rice and cook for exactly 15 mins.

My tip - bribe/blackmail/beg someone to peel them for you!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Pavlova (Not as tricky as it looks)

Practically speaking, I am not good at a lot of things.  If I listed all the things I wasn't good at you'd probably wonder how I get through my day.  Yet I muddle through, and I know I'm not alone. There are muddlers all around you and don't think it ain't so.  I know I'm not the only one who's impressed by the casual use of power tools - "A DRILL- OMG, stand back kids ."

So, now you know that I am not the friend you need if your plumbing goes awry or you've put a hole in the wall in a fit of pique. I could only assist by passing the Yellow Pages and advising you to avoid all those who pique you in the first place.  So, what am I good for you may well ask and I would reply well actually I can make a pavlova, and in some circles believe it or not, that's just as impressive as possession of a soldering iron and a piece of 4x2.  (Don't think it beats a ute though).

There's lots of argy-bargy about whether the Aussies or the Kiwis invented The Pav but I'm not buying into that because really who cares?  Let each side pontificate while we get on with the cooking and eating of.

It's not tricky to make a pavlova you just have to make sure your oven is the correct temperature and that you beat in the sugar at the right stage.  Conquer these two things and you'll knock people's socks off with your pav making prowess.

There are a lot of recipes for pavs but they differ only in quantities of eggwhites and sugar.  Some of them add vanilla essence, some don't.  I use the recipe from the Country Women's Association just because those women really know what they're talking about.  Having said that, they also think that everyone knows as much as they know about cooking and consequently their instructions are a little scant so I've elaborated a bit.

4 egg whites
1 cup caster sugar
2 teaspoons cornflour
1 teaspoon white vinegar

First of all preheat your oven to 150C.  It's important to give it plenty of time to get to the right temperature so give it at least twenty minutes and check with a thermometer unless you know your oven is spot on.

Cold eggwhites do not expand as much as eggwhites at room temperature so you don't want to use eggs straight from the fridge.  Because it's a little trickier to separate room temperature eggs I separate the whites and yolks when they're cold and then leave the whites in a bowl on the bench for a half hour or so (depending on the warmth of your kitchen).   

The presence of grease will also stop eggwhites expanding so I wipe out the mixing bowl with some vinegar or lemon juice, wash it in hot water and then dry.  These seem like fussy little steps but they do make a difference and they don't take long to do.

Start beating your egg whites using a low speed and then increase to medium.  They will be soft with lots of bubbles (below).
Keep beating until it becomes firmer and starts to hold it's shape.  This is where you can start to add the sugar.


I add the a couple of spoonfuls of sugar at a time and beat it in for a minute or so.  Put the beater speed just below medium as you don't want the whites to get too stiff before you beat in all of the sugar.   You can test to see if the sugar has beaten in by rubbing a little of the mixture between your fingers.  If you can feel the sugar grains then it hasn't been beaten enough.  As you go on you will work out how long it takes for the sugar to dissolve.  This is a really important stage because if you don't beat the sugar in properly the undissolved crystals "sweat" in the oven and you end up with a really sticky, crunchy pav instead of a nicely crisp one. 
It takes a few minutes to beat the sugar in properly and by this time your eggwhites should be really shiny and very thick.  You can if you wish tip the bowl upside down over your head to test if they are thick enough if you'd like to add an edge of excitement to proceedings,  but I prefer to lift the beater like so and if the shape holds then they're done.  Sprinkle the cornflour and vinegar over the top of the meringue and fold in gently with a metal spoon.

Next get an oven tray and line it with baking paper.  You can also use aluminium foil if you don't have any but you will have to lightly grease that.   Trace a circle around a cake tin (about 22cm) onto the paper and then pile up the mixture inside the circle.  Build up the sides a little and make an indentation in the centre so the filling sits better.

Place in the preheated oven on the second lowest shelf and bake for one hour.  Check it after about 45 minutes to make sure it's not browning, it should change to a nice deep cream colour but never brown.  If your oven is accurate it should be ok.  When the hours up, turn off the oven and leave it in there until it cools.

It will crack as it cools down.  I think this is normal as it's happened every time I've made one and I've also never seen a non cracked pavlova so lets just take it as the done thing.  I like to think it gives a nice glimpse of the marshmallowey interior. 

When cool it's time to add your filling.  For a pavlova of this size whip about 3/4 cup of cream, smooth over the top and add whatever takes your fancy.  I love passionfruit and banana.  I'm not a big fan of chocolate on top as I think it's too much on top of the sweetness of the pav.  Macerated strawberries are delicious and kiwi fruit is a favourite.  Lemon curd stirred through the cream is great with practically any topping. 

 For the one pictured below I stirred some crushed, frozen raspberries and passion fruit through the cream and then topped it with thawed whole raspberries.  Always fill the pav at least an hour before you want to eat it because you need time for the cream to soften the meringue a little. 

And that's it. Try it. It's delicious, impressive and more coveted than a tool-belt - I guarantee.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Dumb Things (How to make Brussel Sprouts complicated).

I do dumb things some time.  I made a list of some of those dumb things but it got quite lengthy so I ditched it, remembering thankfully, that this is a cooking and not a confessional blog.  Besides, everyone knows that poteen can kill you don't they?  One thing I will confess too and which I do on a regular dumb basis, is cook far more complicated things than I need to, when I really don't have the time to, and oh how I wish  somebody would sometimes try and stop me!  Slap me and frog march me out of the kitchen if that's what it takes.
Wednesday is my dumbest day but is not in isolation, I can be dumb on Saturdays as well.  One Wednesday I made a sweet potato roulade.  Do you know how long it takes to make a roulade?  Well now I do.  Wish someone had told me - explaining to your workmates that roulade is the reason you're wearing the same clothes two days running just makes you sound weird.    The next Wednesday I made two frittatas with four different side dishes.  One Saturday I gets the urge to eat Indian and because four vegetarian dishes, saffron rice and raita aren't enough I get even dumber and make my own chapatis.

Why?  Because I am an idiot.  Wednesday rolls around and the urge strikes again.  It's dinnertime and I have some butterflied lamb, potatoes and some brussel sprouts,  a fairly basic meal that could more or less take care of itself whilst I tend to a ransacked house and my shaggy eyebrows.  Brussel sprouts could take a few minutes in the frypan with some butter and olive oil  - easy peasy.  But no.  Instead I'm thinking about my new stash of garlic and Yotam Ottolenghi (more of him later),  and a recipe of his that I filed away several weeks ago.  Even the title makes you tired.  It pretty much makes the cooking of a fairly humble vegetable about as complicated as you can get but the end result is delicious and guaranteed to convert confirmed sprout haters -  "Sprouts, I 'ate sprouts."
Yotam Ottolenghi's Brussels sprouts with caramelised garlic and lemon peel

4 heads garlic, cloves separated and peeled
About 150ml olive oil
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
50g caster sugar
90ml water
Salt and black pepper
1 medium lemon
600g brussels sprouts
1 red chilli, finely chopped
50g parmesan shavings
20g basil leaves, shredded

Put the garlic in a pan, cover with water and blanch for three minutes. Drain, dry the pan, and pour in two tablespoons of oil. Return the garlic to the pan and fry on high heat for two minutes, stirring, until golden all over. Add the vinegar, a tablespoon of sugar, the water and some salt. Bring to a boil and simmer on medium heat for five minutes, until barely any liquid is left, just the caramelised cloves in a syrup. Set aside.

Use a vegetable peeler to shave off wide strips of lemon skin; avoid the white pith. Cut the strips into 1mm-2mm thick slices, or julienne, and put in a small pan. Squeeze the lemon into a measuring jug and add water to bring the juice up to 100ml. Pour over the strips of peel, add the remaining sugar and bring to a simmer. Cook for 12-15 minutes, until the syrup is reduced to about a third. Set aside to cool down.

Trim the bases off the sprouts and cut them top to bottom into halves. Heat four tablespoons of oil in a large, heavy-based pan, add half the sprouts, season and cook on high heat for five minutes, stirring them once or twice, but not too often, so that they char well without breaking up; add extra oil if needed. They will soften but retain some firmness. Transfer to a bowl and repeat with the remaining oil and sprouts.
Stir the chilli, the garlic and its syrup into the sprouts, and set aside until warmish. Stir in the parmesan, basil and peel (without the syrup), season and add oil if necessary. Serve as it is or at room temperature.
'll leave the last word to Paul Kelly, famous for song writing rather than cooking.  Cooking complicated is sometimes impressive but anyone who manages to include the words "nonchalant phenomenon," into a song about Don Bradman, beats that hands down. 
I've also had a crush on him for a long time.  There you go - there's a confession for you.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Chicken with 40+ cloves of garlic. (Too Much Garlic Can Only Be Good For You)


I dont believe that garlic can cure everything, but I am of the belief that you should at least give it a go. So on a recent Wednesday evening, when the energy of the house was a little off kilter and some family members weren't feeling entirely chipper, I put this theory to the test and made Chicken with Lots of Garlic. If you Google the recipe you'll find it at Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic but I lost count at forty and then threw them in until the bottom of the pot was covered.

A lot of garlic is not a scary thing. When it's cooked like this it's a sweet, mellow, warm, make you feel much better, smack your lips together taste. People won't baulk at being in your proximity and some of them will even want to kiss you - probably so they can distract you and steal your chicken so be wary of those. You won't scare vampires off with this amount of garlic either so if that's your thing maybe eat it with a big wooden stake by your side - I don't know, I haven't seen any of the Twilight movie so vampires are not my speciality.
This year I bought some beautiful garlic from http://www.patricenewell.com.au/ . I missed out last year and now I'm cross with myself for not ordering more as she has now sold out. A few days after ordering online a beautiful purple box arrived at my door holding about 30 heads of garlic. At $20 plus postage, it's great value.

The garlic is grown biodynamically and no chemicals are used during production. The heads smell sweet with a beautiful colour, dry papery skin, and firm cloves with no trace of bitterness - it's delicious.

 Australian garlic can still be found in some fruit shops and supermarkets as the season draws to a close. Avoid Chinese garlic at all costs and if you're in any doubt about that, have a read of this and see if that doesnt make up your mind. http://www.theage.com.au/news/epicure/fresher-and-smellier/2005/07/18/1121538895265.html.

  I used the recipe from http://www.taste.com.au/ but there are hundreds to choose from.  They are basically just variations on the same theme, Nigella uses chicken thighs but most recipes use the whole chook.  Some use wine, some use water, others different herbs.  Just find one that you like and go with that.  Besides tasting fantastic this recipe is also a one pot dish so it just keeps getting better and better. 

Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic

Ingredients (serves 4)

1 lemon
1 large (about 1.6kg) free-range chicken
2 bay leaves
40ml (2 tbs) extra virgin olive oil
1 tbs finely chopped rosemary
40 garlic cloves, skin on
300ml chicken stock
300ml white wine

Preheat oven to 190°C. Cut the lemon in half lengthways and place in the cavity of the chicken with the bay leaves. Tie the legs together with kitchen string to secure, (I forgot the string), then rub with the olive oil and sprinkle with the rosemary. Place the chicken in an ovenproof casserole dish, add the garlic cloves, stock and wine and bring to the boil on the stovetop over medium heat.

Cover with a lid and transfer to the oven for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Remove lid and roast for a further 20 minutes or until the chicken is golden brown.

Remove the chicken from dish and set aside to rest. Use a slotted spoon to remove about 16 of the garlic cloves and set aside. Place the baking dish on the stovetop over high heat and simmer for 5-6 minutes to reduce to a sauce, pressing the garlic to release the flavour. Strain.
Serve the roast chicken with the reserved garlic cloves and drizzle with a little sauce.
I made it with roast potatoes but I think mashed spuds would be great so it could soak up the sauce.  As for the healing properties of garlic, I will happily vouch for them - there were smiles all round after dinner.  The Chocolate Ripple Cake for dessert may have helped the cause but I'm giving the garlic sole credit.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

GInger Beer, The Blob and a Happy New Year.

Happy New Year,  I know its the 7th day but I figure you've got one week to wish people Happy New Year before you start to sound hopelessly behind so I have just made it.  I started my New Year with a long list of cooking resolutions as I figure they are the easiest ones to keep and the other type of resolutions never change anyway, you just pick them up from where you dropped them last year.  

I guess they're not really resolutions just lists of things I'd like to cook.  If I ever edit it down from the 5,000 things that are on it at the moment I may post it here.  I did get a little overwhelmed when I realised it would take me about two and a half years to work through the Indian cookbook I got for Christmas http://www.phaidon.co.uk/store/food-cook/india-9780714859026/ but then I took a little breath and regrouped.

That said, the first week of my revved up cooking hasn't been all that stellar but it is hot and I am on holidays.  I should have factored those factors in when I got all revved up in the first place but I guess the enthusiasm of  the fresh New Year overtook me.

New Years Day I got it into my head to make ginger beer.  I don't know why, I think because it didn't involve any application of heat and I had all of the ingredients and it didn't involve leftover ham in any shape or form.  It also involved very little work - all up it had a lot going for it. 

My Mum used to make this when we were kids and then put it under the house to brew/ferment/mature I'm not sure of the correct term.  Very often the bottles exploded but this only added to the excitement of the whole procedure -  the fact we were drinking something that could go off like a bomb in our hands!  Don't think it was that dangerous but there were a lot of us and we had to make our own fun. 

To make ginger beer you first have to make a ginger beer plant.  Don't worry, it's not as complicated as it sounds.  I'm now embarassed to admit that I have put off making this before because it sounded like too much of a palaver.  "I can't be bothered doing all THAT!" says I.  Like I was splitting the atom.  Turns out all THAT involves is getting a jar, putting some yeast, sugar, ginger (ground) and water in it and then everyday for 8 days you add some more sugar and ginger to it.  That's it - that's your plant.  I'm not really lazy but that does makes me sound like I am.  

Anyway, what happens is that you get a bit of a fermentation process going and quite frankly the contents of your jar do not look or smell very pretty but don't worry cause that's how it should be. They actually start to smell a bit like a brewery - albeit a very small brewery, you do have to put your nose right in the jar to smell it.   The instructions say to cover the jar with some muslin but I don't possess any so I used paper towel and an elastic band. 

Don't be like me and think well what's wrong with using the lid because after a few days you get a bit of a build up from the fermentation and the lid will pop off.  In your face.  I make the mistakes so you don't have to.  Also the reason for the porous cover is so that the contents of the jar can pick up the micro organisms from the air and increase the fermentation process.  It's a living thing.  Don't tell kids that - you'll scare em.  Mr PMG thinks I am growing The Blob in our kitchen  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbgMbVWAB7w

There are thousands of recipes for ginger beer on the net, all very similar.  I used Margaret Fulton's recipe which my Mum says is practically the same as the one she used to make.

Margaret Fulton's Ginger Beer

Ginger Beer Plant
1/2 teaspoon dried yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup warm water

Mix yeast and sugar in a large jar and add the water, stir well to combine then add the ground ginger and stir again.  Cover the jar with whatever you have and add 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of ginger to the jar every day for 8 days.

4 cups sugar
6 litres warm water (24 cups)
1/2 cup strained lemon juice

Make the syrup after you have fed your plant for 8 days.  Heat sugar and 6 cups of water, stirring until sugar dissolves.  Remove from the heat and add the remaining water and all of the lemon juice.  Strain the ginger beer plant through 2 layers of paper towel, chux whatever you have, into a bowl.  (You can keep this sediment to start another plant but I can tell you now I won't be doing that because I think it will look disgusting and I would have to restart it right away and I wouldn't have the clean jars ready and there's just too many reasons why it would just be easier to start another one from scratch.) 

Add the strained liquid from the plant to the sugar syrup and stir really well.  Pour into plastic bottles (old soft drink bottles)  to the base of the neck and seal.  You can use glass, you know the risks, the choice is yours.   Don't screw  the lids on too tightly because this increases the build up of gas in the bottle and they might BLOW UP!!  Of course you can do this in the name of science or if you're looking for a bit of noisy fun.  Just make sure you're not the one who has to clean up the mess.

Store them upright in a cool place if you can for about 5 days.  If it's hot they might be ready in about 3-4 days.  The longer you leave them the more they have a tendency to blow up so don't put them away then go on holiday for 2 weeks.  That's advice from my mother who thanked her lucky stars the bottles were under the house and far away from washable surfaces.

Bottling day is tomorrow and there will be pictures in the next day or so.   I think it should have been today but I forgot to feed the plant for a day - good thing I don't have any pets.  Am looking forward to my first brew and hope that it tastes as good as I remember.

Since reading more about home made ginger beer I've discovered that  it's a teensy bit alcoholic.  http://www.scienceinschool.org/2008/issue8/gingerbeer  Some people would probably refrain from giving it to kids  for that reason.  I don't recall any such restrictions being placed on us - probably a sure fire way of getting the 7 of us to sleep! 

Slainte, here's to a Happy New Year.