Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Red Currant Turkey Sauce

I was living in Hong Kong the first time I ever spent Christmas away from my family. I had only been there for about four months, so I decided to stay in HK - it's the only time I've enjoyed northern hemisphere winter weather on Christmas Day.

I lived with my boyfriend and a girl named Jessie in a five hundred square foot apartment in Wan Chai. We had a kitchen but it was not fully equipped - there was no oven, only a portable gas cook top and grill. So I approached a friend who was a chef at a nearby brasserie and asked her if she would consider roasting a turkey for me on Christmas Eve. She agreed, keen, I know, to get in the Christmas spirit herself.

I set off the to Welcome Supermarket and acquired the biggest frozen turkey I could lay my hands on. I didn't care that I was only feeding three people - I was happy to eat turkey sandwiches for a week afterwards if need be. Anyway, frozen turkeys take about three days to defrost. The one I'd bought was sealed in shrink wrapped plastic. I wrapped it again in not one, but two plastic shopping bags, then put it on top of the fridge in a foil tray.

It never occurred to me that Cheech and Chong, the terminably bored cats that lived in our apartment, would take an interest in that turkey. It was frozen, afterall! What could be good about that? But I arrived home from work on December 23 to find my flatmate waiting for me. She was very sorry to tell me Cheech and Chong had mauled my turkey's left drumstick. Of course I was disappointed, but not mortified. I wrapped the semi-defrosted bird up and carted it down to the brasserie to show my chef friend the problem. She said the bird could be saved - but only if we cut the mauled drumstick off and threw it away. I quickly agreed. My turkey was slated for roasting the next day.

I finished work on Christmas Eve and raced over to the brasserie to collect my turkey to be greeted by a kitchen of chefs, cooks and dish hands, all intoxicated by the smell of roasted turkey. My one-legged bird smelled absolutely scrumptious! In the taxi on the way home, the cab driver offered me a couple of hundred bucks for my turkey! I politely refused. Then when I walked into my apartment, I was immediately mobbed by Cheech and Chong, eager to pick up where they'd left off with my turkey. It was clear to me that my turkey was not safe anywhere in the kitchen.

I took the turkey to my room and placed it on the book shelf. The small space was quickly overwhelmed by the aroma of roasted bird. Driven mad myself, I placed the turkey inside my wardrobe, slipped into bed and turned off the light. But I hardly slept a wink! I was hounded all night by the sound of little paws hooking under the crack of the door, desperate to snag a tasty morsel. When I rose on Christmas Day, I stepped out in the hallway, nearly squashing both cats in the process - they had kept a vigil all night!

It wasn't until six months later that my flatmate told me the full details of the turkey's encounter with Cheech and Chong. Jessie had come home and tried to open the front door but couldn't - something was stuck behind it, forcing it shut. She gave an almighty shove and heard a crack - the sound of my turkey's rib cage breaking. Cheech and Chong had dragged the bird off the top of the fridge, out of the kitchen, across the lounge room floor and had finally wedged it behind the front door where they chewed through three layers of plastic to get at the partially frozen drumstick! Jessie had shooed them away, picked the poor victimised turkey up off the floor, wiped up the incriminating trail of juices and placed it back on the fridge top. When I heard the full story I nearly wet myself laughing! The ironic thing was, once the bird was roasted we found the remaining turkey leg was so overcooked, we had to feed it to the cats anyway!

all the dripping, juices and fat from the turkey roasting tray
1oz butter
2 dessert spoons plain flour
1.5 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup red wine
3 tblsp red currant jelly
1 tsp whole green peppercorns, crushed
extra water

1. Combine the turkey juices (et al), butter and plain flour in a saucepan over a medium heat on the stove top. Stir until combined and allow to heat until the mix begins to bubble. Allow to cook for one full minute.

2. Reduce heat and add chicken stock. Stir vigorously with a whisk to combine, ensuring lumps do not form.

3. Add red wine and stir to combine. Then add red currant jelly. Stir until jelly melts.

4. Add green peppercorns a little at a time, checking the flavour as you go, to ensure you season your sauce to your own taste.

5. Add extra water if you find your sauce is a little thick. You want it to be a nice pouring consistency.

6. Serve with roasted turkey, honey baked ham, and all your other Christmas goodies.

Friday, December 03, 2004

The Design Diva Is Back!

It's been such a long time since I wrote, but it's Christmas - one of my most favourite cooking seasons, and I have lots of Christmas stories and recipes to celebrate the occassion.

Although I'm not Christian, I would like to remind everyone that Jesus is the reason for the season! So lets rejoice the tradition one man has spawned! Lets eat, drink, spend lots of money, fret about being broke, and breathe a heavy sigh of relief until we do it all again next year!

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Coconut Roughs

As a little kid, my one true passion in life was the pursuit of lollies (that's candy to all the folks in America).

When either of my parents paid a visit to the corner shop in the evenings, my sister and I always hoped they would return with a little extra something for us. Quite often they did, but there were also times when they did not. These were very disappointing occasions indeed!

Control over my lollie supply became a reality when my mother began paying my sister and I pocket money. I was paid a grand some of twenty cents a week (I do believe my sister got fifty cents, which after a couple of years of protest, I was awarded as well). With that twenty cent piece in my hand, my first thought was what lollie I could get for my money? My favourite chocolate bar at the time was Chokito - a very expensive proposition, at twenty five cents a bar - and certainly out of my price range.

The more attractive option for me was a Golden Rough - at twelve cents each, I was left with eight cents to purchase a bag of mixed lollies, usually on my way to school, as soon after breakfast as possible! Mixed lollies were in fact great value for money then - many were priced at two for one cent, so with my limited budget, it was possible to get quite a good stash.

When I was ten years old, my neighbour, Vera Mudford, hired me to walk her five year old charge, Michael, to school each day. Michael was in infant's school - he was a bit of a brat, but not intolerably so. It was easy to put up with him for the fortune I was paid at the end of every week - fifty cents!!! With this money in my pocket, Chokitos were within my grasp!

On my first pay day, I told my sister I was off to the corner shop to buy two Chokitos - one for me and one for her. She was delighted. I hot footed it up the street, cut behind the local library, then down the block to Dunny's corner shop (it seemed a mammoth journey back then, but these days, I'd probably be able to walk it in five minutes flat). I purchased the precious Chokitos and headed for home. But the thought of having those Chokitos in my hot little hands was too much for me to bear - all that money had given me a feeling of immense power (at least in my own eyes). Suddenly I was capable of buying a grown up's chocolate bar without anyone controlling my purchasing power. It was almost too much for me to handle. I rapidly scoffed one of those Chokitos on the trip home and found it impossible to part with the other.

That purchasing power certainly grew to be a terrible monkey on my back. Years later as an adult, I never failed to collect one or two chocolate bars on the way to work each morning, and usually had consumed them both by 9.30am! It has taken many years to iron that terribly bad bug out of my eating habits. These days, I mostly choose rice crackers to snack on. But there is still the odd morning when I'm tempted by a Coconut Rough... I try not to feel too guilty about it when I give in to temptation. Old habits, it seems, die hard.

125g dark cooking chocolate
65g copha (vegetable fat solids)
100g shredded coconut

1. Melt chocolate and copha in microwave oven. This should take about four minutes. Check chocolate at two minutes, thirty seconds - it should be melted. Stir copha into chocolate, encouraging it to melt, but return to microwave for further heating to complete the process.

2. Lightly grease a mini muffin tin with olive oil spray.

3. Pour melted chocolate and copha mix over shredded coconut. Mix until coconut is completely coated with chocolate.

4. Spoon teaspoon-fulls of mixture into mini muffin pans. You can make the coconut roughs as thick or thin as you like!

5. Refridgerate for ten minutes to solidify chocolate.

6. Lightly twist each coconut rough to loosen from tin. Store in airtight container in fridge. Makes about 40 coconut roughs.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Chili Garlic Spirali

There have certainly been times in my life where funds were less then adequate and I've really had to put my thinking cap on where food is concerned. Back in the late eighties, being the exuberant and perhaps a little impetuous young woman I was, I up and quit my job without bothering to find another one to go to first. Not the best approach to maintaining a stable life. Never the less, in the weeks it took me to get myself gainfully re-employed, I concocted a number of meals that could be made out of the supplies I already had in my kitchen cupboard.

The first was pancakes - easily done, thanks to a good supply of flour, eggs and milk. I had these for breakfast virtually every day (feeding a number of friends, also out of work at that time), served with maple syrup (until that ran out) or honey (until that ran out too). In those days I still drank orange juice, so I'd splurge the two dollars to buy a litre of Daily Juice - everyone started the day happy with a full belly.

Another great povo meal was steamed vegetables. Sweet Chili sauce was yet to hit the big time back then, so I used to eat my steamed potatoes, carrots and zuchinnis with a big dollop of sour cream - if I shopped right and didn't invite anyone to dinner, steamed veggies and sour cream could last an entire week.

But on one occasion I did make the mistake of inviting friends to dinner. I put my thinking cap on then scoured my cupboard, trying to work out exactly what I could feed my guests. I had nothing that would really do except a big bag of spirali pasta. I couldn't afford the mince to make a bolognese sauce. Instead I grabbed my (almost empty) purse and headed off to the fruit a veg market. I spotted garlic - twenty cents for one whole bulb. I grabbed that, then spied the fresh chilies section. They were pricey - if you were going to buy a whole kilo, which I was not. Turned out five little fresh chilies cost in the vicinity of eighteen cents. Whoo-hoo! On the way out the door, I snagged a bunch of fresh coriander for fifty cents, and set off home.

Of course pasta is never good without the cheese, so I stopped at the supermarket, grabbed a bag of shredded parmesan, and then I was set.

Back at home, I threw everything together as quick as a flash. Before I knew it my guests were knocking on the door - to my delight, one had a French bread stick under one arm, the other was carrying a bottle of chardonnay. The house was filled with the aroma of garlic, fresh chilies and coriander. I served up a massive bowl of pasta and let everyone help themselves - it was one of the best dinners parties I've ever hosted. And of course it immortalised Garlic Chili Spirali for me as a gourmet delight - not the povo food I'd originally considered it to be.

1 cup spirali pasta
30g butter
2 whole cloves of garlic, peeled and minced 2 fresh chilies, sliced (remove the seeds if you don't like them too hot)
1 whole bunch fresh coriander, chopped
2 tblsp shredded parmesan cheese

1. Boil the spirali in a heavy bottomed saucepan for about 10 minutes or until cooked to al dente.

2. Drain the spirali and set aside. Reheat the saucepan and melt the butter.

3. Add the minced garlic and reduce the heat - do not let the garlic burn.

4. Add the chopped chilies and stir to combine.

5. Then add the coriander and stir for about half a minute to release the beautiful aroma of the herbs.

6. Add the spirali back into the saucepan and stir until the garlic, chili and coriander has coated the pasta.

7. Finally add the parmesan and stir. Serve in a pasta bowl with crusty French bread and a glass of wine on the side. Garnish with a little extra cheese if desired.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Old Fashioned Hot Cakes

It is a sorry fact that the age old tradition of afternoon tea has fallen by the wayside. Thanks to the proliferation of cafes, restaurants, brasseries and even pubs, not too many people entertain for afternoon tea anymore.

Yet is was something that used to happen in our house all the time when I was a kid. An aunty and a bunch of cousins would call to say they were coming over for afternoon tea, and my mum would quickly get to the kitchen, whipping up any one of her classic afternoon tea favourite - sponge cake and cream, a batch of scones or even some humble old pikelets. Whatever it was, it came together quickly, and was on the table in time for the arrival of the guests, served up with a big fresh pot of tea.

That's POT - not mug. We actually used to make tea from leaves, a fine art, I must say, which I spent my childhood developing, that seems to also have fallen by the wayside. There is nothing like a cup of tea poured from the pot - the water is boiled fresh (as opposed to reusing whatever was left in the kettle from the last time you boiled it), the teapot has been warmed before hand, the tea leaves falling to the bottom in anticipation of their imminent rehydration. Once the water is add, still on a rolling boil, the teapot lid goes on and the brew is left to draw for at least five minutes to extract all the flavour out of the tea leaves. A cuppa brewed from a soggy old teabag just can't compare. The tea tastes fresher, the flavour is far superior, and somehow, sipping from a cup instead of slurping from a mug seems so much more civilised.

I held an afternoon tea for friends last year, and everyone commented on how it was a shame nobody took time for afternoon tea anymore - at least, not in the comfort of their own home. Sitting around the table, snacking on something sweet (or savoury!), sipping tea, chatting with friends. Honestly, there's nothing quite like it.

2/3 cups breadcrumbs
3 tblsp self raising flour
1 tblsp sugar
1 cup warm milk
2 eggs, separated

1. Combine the breadcrumbs, flour and sugar in a large bowl.

2. Warm the milk in the microwave for 90 seconds - do not allow to boil.

3. Whip the egg whites with an electric mixer until firm peaks form.

4. Stir the warm milk into the breadcrumb mix.

5. Beat the egg yolks, then fold through the breadcrumb mix.

6. Now fold the egg whites through the breadcrumb mix and set aside for 10 minutes.

7. Heat a fry pan or a skillet - I found my old Sunbeam electric skillet worked best - and coat with olive oil spray.

8. Pour one third of a cup of mixture into the hot pan. When bubbles appear on the surface of the uncooked side (there won't be many), gently lift with an egg lifter and flip to cook other side. Hot cake is cooked when springy to the touch.

9. Repeat until all mixture is used - yields approximately 10 hot cakes (more if you make them smaller). Serve with butter and honey, golden syrup or jam. OR if serving for breakfast, serve with a tablespoon of sweetened ricotta cheese and fresh strawberries.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Triple Chocolate Cookies

On the first day of High School, my father took me to the school hall, and much to my horror, he left me there by myself! Never the less, I was thrilled to be at high school - my last year of primary school had sucked big time, thanks to a last minute switch of horses (so to speak). High school was my chance to start over - a whole new bunch of kids, some from my old school, but many from other schools besides. I was thrilled when no one from my sixth grade class landed in my Year Seven class leaving the way clear for me to make a whole new group of friends.

Standing alone amongst the crowd was one girl, Kathy Dent. She seemed odd, which was attractive to me because I felt odd. We latched on to each other like castaways adrift in the sea, and pretty much stayed friends for the rest of high school.

Kathy was actually a super-brainy kid. I considered myself to be 'smart', but Kathy was intelligent. My quintessential failing was maths and science, whereas Kathy excelled in those subjects. We did, however, have a meeting of mind on English, art and last but not least, music. Not the kind they taught at school - I'm talking about the kind that came on flat black vinyl discs approximately seven inches wide. By the end of Year Seven, my dad had bought a pretty good stereo, but Kathy's dad - well his stereo was far superior. I liked to take my seven inch singles over to Kathy's and crank up the volume while enjoying the sounds of Prince, David Bowie, and of course Duran Duran (did Kathy really like them? She indulged my obsession, at least!).

Kathy arrived at my place one weekend; I can't remember whether it was for a study session, for music enjoyment or just to hang out. In her hand was a brown paper bag, and in the bag were four of the most magnificent cookies I've ever tasted in my life. Her mother had baked them and thought I might enjoy them! Big, fat, round chocolate cookies, jammed chock-a-block with choc chips, sandwiched together with luscious chocolate frosting. Those cookies were the bomb!

I often think about Kathy - I know she's married and has three kids (maybe more now!). I haven't seen her since high school, her third baby arriving a week or two before the reunion I held in 2002. I certainly have never forgotten those cookies - I sat down in my kitchen some years back and attempted to recreate them. These ones are not quite the same as Kathy's mum's cookies, but they come pretty damned close.

125g butter
1 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
2 tsp vanilla
1 egg
2 tsp ground mixed spice
1 cup plain flour
2 cups self raising flour
1/2 cup desicated coconut
2/3 cup milk
250g chocolate chips
1/2 cup cocoa

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Prepare baking trays by covering with a sheet of thick baking paper.

2. Cream butter and brown sugar in the large bowl of an electric mixer. Add vanilla and egg, continuing to mix until thick and creamy.

3. Add mixed spice and plain flour. Mix until well combined. Add half the milk and continue to mix on a low speed. You may wish to switch from regular beaters to dough hooks at this stage as the mixture is about to get quite heavy.

4. Add coconut and cocoa and mix again until all ingredients are well combined. Add half of the remaining milk and continue to mix on low speed.

5. Add one cup of self raising flour and mix. Add chocolate chips and mix again. Now add the remaining milk and flour and continue to mix until all ingredients are well combined. The cookie dough should be quite stiff at this point. It will also be a little shiny and wet looking. Allow to stand for 15 minutes.

6. Roll teaspoons of mixture into balls, and position on cookie tray - make sure you leave a good amount of space between each. Flatten each cookie with the palm of your hand (you might like to flour your hand a little so that the cookie dough doesn't stick). Raw cookies should be about the size of a fifty cent piece (an Aussie one that is!). Bake in moderate oven for 12-15 minutes or until cookies are slightly crisp on the surface. Allow to cool on trays for five minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool and harden.

65g butter
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup icing sugar mixture
2 tblsp cocoa
1/2 tsp instant coffee powder

1. Beat butter and vanilla in the small bowl of an electric mixer until butter becomes light and creamy.

2. Gradually add cocoa and icing sugar until all ingredients are combined. Frosting should be quite thick. Add coffee powder and continue to mix until combined. Icing sugar should be a stiff spreadable consistency - you may need to add a little extra icing sugar if your frosting isn't thick enough.

3. When cookies are completely cold spread one teaspoon of frosting on the bottom of one cookie and sandwich it together with another cookie. Pair up cookies of similar size and shape to create the best effect. Allow about half an hour for frosting to set then serve. Makes about 28 complete cookie sandwiches.

Note: you will notice I never include sifting of flour or icing sugar in any of my recipes. I did away with sifting years ago as I got sick of washing the sifter then having to leave it out for days afterwards to dry! Sifting is actually an excellent way to lighten the texture of cakes and cookies. If you want to be a prize winning baker, then absolutely, sift your flour! Sifting should definitely be adhered to when making delicate items like sponge cakes (some recipes call for the flour in a sponge to be sifted three times before being added to the eggs). However, where everything else is concerned, the decision is entirely up to you.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

I've only had two dogs in my life - Derek, my current canine and love of my life, and Tina, aka Scrunch, the dog of my childhood, whom we treated like people.

When Scrunch arrived on the scene, I would have been three years old. She was a little black and tan bundle, supposedly my mother's dog, but absolutely devoted to my dad. Scrunch had a pretty good life as a dog - she first took up residence with us in Newcastle and then in Penrith, both houses having fairly decent back yards for a dog to roam around in. She didn't necessarily do much of that - her thing was sun baking. Scrunch wore a small round patch in the grass near the clothesline where she curled up to catch some rays every day while we were off at work, school or whatever.

Our yard in Newcastle had a vegetable garden in it, in which Mum liked to grow all manner of things. I mostly remember the fresh mint, parsley and chives because I was often sent out to pick a bunch of one or the other (or all three) to add to something Mum was cooking at the time. But Mum also took a shot at growing beans and strawberries, which turned out to be most interesting to Scrunch. Mum arrived home from work one day and headed down the back yard to check on her produce. She was horrified to find all the tiny strawberries gone, and the remains of the beans hanging in shreds off their stalks - Scrunch had eaten them all!

The dog was a gourmet! I don't ever remember her being fed dog food (although I could be wrong). She was people - and she ate people food. Roast beef, spaghetti bolognese, barbecued chicken - it was all an everyday part of her palate. And she didn't just eat anything either - she'd pick onions out of meals she was served, leaving them strewn on the newspaper placemat under her dish. She could also sniff out a box of chocolates from fifty paces. I remember receiving many a box of chocolates for my tenth birthday, all identified by Scrunch well before they'd even been unwrapped. And the thing Scrunch liked the most - a chocolate paddle pop. We always saved the last bit for her, which she diligently licked off the stick in a most people-like manner. (I was utterly shocked when I offered Derek his first paddle pop - he chewed it! I attempted to teach him how to lick the thing off the stick, but thus far he's never gotten the hang of it, and at eight years old... well, you know what they say about teaching old dogs new tricks!).

incidentally, when we put the house in Newcastle up for sale, the real estate agent was mortified by our vegetable garden, which fallow at the time. "Get rid of it!" he told my mother in no uncertain terms. "It looks like a grave!". Little did he know it had been Scrunch's daily source of gastronomic delights!

125g dark cooking chocolate
30g copha (vegetable solid)
1 punnet of strawberries

1. Break the chocolate into small pieces and place in a microwave proof bowl with the copha. Heat on high in microwave for approximately three minutes. Chocolate retains its form in the microwave even once it's melted, so check periodically by stirring with a spoon. Copha takes a fair bit of heat to melt, so don't microwave the chocolate until the copha melts! Instead, stir the solid copha into the melted chocolate until both are well combined.

2. Pour choc-copha mix into a small container big enough for deep dipping.

3. Wash strawberries, leaving on their green caps. Pat dry with absorbent kitchen paper.

4. Carefully hold single strawberry by green stalk and dip into chocolate, leaving a few millimetres of red skin exposed at the top. Allow excess chocolate to run back into the container, then lie strawberry on one side on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Repeat until all strawberries are coated with chocolate.

5. Place baking tray with strawberries on it in refrigerator and leave for 10 minutes. Chocolate will harden and develop a beautiful semi-matte sheen. Carefully peel each strawberry off baking paper and present on plain white plate to guests who will be stunned by your culinary skills!

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Warm Ride

When I first arrived in Hong Kong, I was lucky to land myself a job in a brasserie called Post 97. It was part of a group of three food and beverage outlets on Lan Kwai Fong, the main nightclub district on Hong Kong Island.

I took up working as a waitress to keep the cash flowing while adjusted to my new way of living (squished in with six million other people on a rock hardly big enough to swing a cat). During day shift we had no bar tender, so the two waiting staff (there were rarely more at that time of the day) had to prepare drinks as well as serve customers. Having a fully stocked bar at my disposal made me feel like Queen of my little dung-heap for some strange reason. Believe me when I say there is immense satisfaction in pulling a beer!

At night the bar was managed by Alan, a prize winning cocktail maker, no less. His winning drink - vodka martini. He made it for me one time when I'd finished a Friday night shift. I was totally unprepared for the fire that raged all the way down my throat and continued to smoulder in my belly! I don't what the hell I thought a martini was made out of, but it sure wasn't like any of the sweet confections they conjured at Dominque's at home in Penrith Panthers!

Back in Australia two years later, my sister decided Christmas should be characterised by an endless procession of cocktails. I was thrilled to take up her challenge. I found myself standing before the blender on Christmas Day, liqueurs lined up on the counter, wondering what wonderous thing I could produce with the limited ingredients we had. I tossed in a bit of this, a bit this, added an extra splash of something else, dropped in some crushed ice and turned the blender on. The scent of something wild filled the air. I poured the creamy goop into two glasses, passed one to my sister, and took a sip. I was immediately overtaken by a warm sensation, my arms turning numb, my jaw, I'm sure, going slack.

"What's this called?" my sister asked. There was no other way to describe it.

"Warm Ride," I said. She took another swig then sank into her chair, circles of red emerging on her cheeks.

30ml brandy
30ml amaretto
30ml Kahlua
60ml fresh cream
crushed ice
extra coffee powder

1. Half fill the blender with crushed ice. Pour all the liqueurs over the ice then add the cream.

2. Blend until mixture resembles constency of a thick shake. Pour into a martini glass. Decorate with coffee powder and straw, then serve.

Refreshing Pineapple Crush

When I was about fourteen years old, the greatest thing happened: my dad was awarded a prize for being the number one salesman at the transport company he worked for. The prize was redeemable in overseas travel, and having just returned from a sales conference in Singapore (Dad's first ever trip overseas), my father was keen for the rest of the family to take a trip on a plane. He decided it was time for a family holiday.

There was much debate over what our destination would be. My mother was keen on America, but the budget wouldn't stretch that far. I was keen on London, mainly because I was stark raving bonkers about Duran Duran at the time. I can't remember what my sister's preference was, but I think Dad was seriously considering New Zealand at one point. I don't know what made him about face, but one night, he finally announced that we were heading to Fiji.

The flight there was absolutely shocking. Nobody told me they airconditioned the cabins to the same temperature as our tucker box freezer. All I remember of that trip is being chilled to the bone. But Fiji - it was a tropical paradise. We stayed at the Fijian Resort, which I believe still stands today, albeit a bit weather beaten and somewhat aged. On our arrival we were served an icy cold glass of pineapple juice, freshly squeezed and sweeter than anything I've ever tasted in my life!

Crushed pineapple juice became the standard drink for all of us on that trip. We drank it at breakfast, at lunch, and at dinner - you name it, we pineappled ourselves to within inches of our lives. One afternoon, after a hot and perilous trip to Suva (on the exact opposite side of the island to where we were staying) we returned to the resort parched and desperate for a juice. We sat down in the open air brasserie and ordered our pineapple crushes - the waiter shocked us all by announcing they had run out of pineapples!

We were gob smacked! No pineapples? What the hell did they expect us to drink? My dad immediately ordered a Fiji Bitter. I foolishly decided I would have nothing until the next load pineapples arrived - what if that had taken a week? Lucky for me, it was only a half hour wait. The pineapples were straight off the truck (probably from the market at Singatoka) and warm. The waiter loaded our glasses with crushed ice then began shoving the pineapples through the juice extractor right by our tableside. I was thrilled! Pineapples were back in town!

1 fresh pineapple, any size
1/2 cup ice cold water
small handful of mint
1 tblsp sugar
crushed ice

1. Peel pineapple. Contrary to popular belief, you do this with the pineapple's spike still attached! Use it as a handle to get a grip on while you carefully slice the spiky skin off, ensuring all remnants are removed.

2. Cut the pineapple flesh through the middle lengthways. Then cut it again into quarters and again into eighths. Carefully slice the core from the edge of the pineapple pieces and discard.

3. Fire up your juice extractor and feed the pineapple wedges through one at a time. If you don't have a juice extractor you can use a blender. Chop the pineapple flesh into small pieces and blend in two or three batches, using the water to help the blender blades turn.

4. Pour all the pineapple juice (and water if you used a juice extractor) into a large glass jug, one third filled with crushed ice.

5. Wash mint leaves, roughly break in half and sprinkle over top of pineapple juice. Stir in with wooden spoon or large swizzle stick.

6. Pour into a glass, insert a straw and drink! You can hang a paper parasol off the side of your glass if you want to feel like you're on holidays while you sip!

Note: if you're drinking this at party time, add 30ml of white rum to spice up your life!

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Humming Bird Cake

In my final year of high school there was a ten day period before exams called Stu-Vac. This was a very important time in an Aussie student's life - it was either spent catching up on study that had slipped through the cracks throughout the year, or it was spent bunking off in full knowledge that there was no chance of ever hoping to catch up.

One thing I was particularly good at in school was exams - it was everything to do with strategy, which in my opinion had to include eight hours sleep, eight hours study and eight hours play. Unfortunately for me, at the beginning of my Stu-Vac my sister's boyfriend decided he should move house. At the time his household included Lady the snooty Australian Terrier who was heavily pregnant, Ben the big dopey bloodhound who had been rescued from starvation, and a cockatoo (if he had a name I don't remember it) who enjoyed providing a running commentary on the goings on of both dogs.

My bedroom was at the back of our house, my window looked out onto the yard. I sat down at my desk and prepared to immerse myself in the rotten goings on in Denmark, which featured in Shakespeare's immortal play, Hamlet. Wouldn't you know it, Lady decided to go into labour! She searched furtively around the house for a 'nest' to bed down in while she squeezed four enormous puppies out of her tiny little body. Thankfully Mum managed to coax her into a box lined with newspaper which she'd set up in a corner in the dining room. Meanwhile Ben was running around the back yard like a complete hooligan, sounding off single 'WOOFs' in his deep rounding bark at regular intervals, the cocky all the while turning somersaults in his cage with his yellow comb fully extended, screeching "Arrrkkkkk! Arrrkkkk! Arrrrkkk!"

It was a bloody mad house! What I thought was going to be a quiet week and a half at home had turned into a veritable menagery. Once Lady's puppies had arrived she got very protective of the area around the box. I'd hear my dad in the kitchen shouting "Get back to your puppies Lady!", then the cocky in the yard would start shouting, "Laaaady! Laaaady!" I wanted to throttle that bird! He was an absolute menace.

Eventually my sister's boyfriend got settled into his place and came to collect his animals. We actually kept one of the puppies - the little girl who was also the runt. We fed her with a doll-sized baby bottle, her little belly full to the brim so that all she could do was lie on her back and sleep. I persevered with my studies, training myself to do forty minute essays in less than thirty minutes, then taking them back to my teachers at school and asking them to assess them for me. It turned out to be a very successful approach - I scored perfect marks on most of my English and Ancient History essays. It seems the animal mad house turned out to be a good thing after all.

125g butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1.5 cups self raising flour
2/3 cup milk
1/2 can crushed pineapple
2 squishy bananas, mashed
1 tsp mixed spice

60g butter, melted
250g cream cheese
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
juice of half a lemon
shredded coconut to decorate

1. Place butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour and milk in the large bowl of your mixer. Mix on low speed to combine, then increase speed to high. Continue to beat until mixture becomes glossy and thick. This should take about seven minutes.

2. Reduce mixer speed to low and carefully add crushed pineapple, mashed bananas and mixed spice. Continue to mix until combined. Don't over mix!

3. Poor batter into a greased and lined 20cm square cake tin. Bake in a moderate oven (180 degrees celsius) for 50mins or until cake springs back at the touch (you can also test it by inserting a skewer into the middle of the cake - if it comes out clean, the cake is cooked).

4. Run a knife around the edges of the cake to separate it from the tin. Turn onto a wire rack then flip so that cake is seated right-side up. Allow to cool completely.

5. For the icing, place the cream cheese in the small bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on low speed until cheese is softened then increase speed to medium. Add melted butter, lemon juice and vanilla then continue to mix until well combined.

6. Gradually add the icing sugar a half a cup at a time. Continue beating - icing should begin to thicken. Once all icing sugar is added, mix for a further two minutes.

7. Spread cream cheese icing over top of cold cake then decorate with shredded coconut. Cake yields about 14 slices and keeps in the fridge for four days.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Marinaded Barbequed Chicken

Barbeques. They are at the heart of every good Australian family's social activities.

According to some, barbeques are just an excuse for men to drink beer and light fires. This, to some extent, is absolutely true. Certainly, barbies are the realm of men - women may prepare the food and may bring it to the fireside, but they may not put it on the grill, or take it off, for that matter. Nor should they stand in close proximity and give instructions on what to turn and when. Never mind that Aussie men cook no other meals at any time throughout the year! Once the fire is lit, they are the Kings of the Outdoor Kitchen!

When I was little there was a period in my life when there was a barbeque in our backyard every Sunday - not because we were devotees of crispy chared sausages and over cooked onions - it was because there was a serial on the radio called the Story of Elvis which played weekly after Sunday lunch. My Dad loved that radio series. Those Sunday barbeques were organised with military precision so that all cooking and eating was done in time for the blanket to be spread out under the banana tree so Dad could recline on it while we listened to that radio show.

I don't remember much of the show. I just remember the itch of the blanket (a prickly old brown one which I'm sure Mum still has in the closet), the warmth of the sun, the blueness of the sky, and my parents sending me inside to make them yet another cup of tea. I leapt to my feet, grabbed their coffee cups and headed towards the back steps. I remember those coffee cups distinctly. There were four - one blue, one green, on brown and one mustard yellow. They were cheap chunky stoneware bought from Flemmings, glazed in muted colours. There was no such thing as a designer coffee mug back then. At least not to my knowledge!

On one ocassion I decided I would swing my arms around in overarching circles as I walked up the path from the clothesline to the house. It felt good, the wind whistling unders my arms, the weight of one cup gripped in each hand seeming to make my arms swing faster - until they met before my chest with a resounding crack! I was totally shocked! It never ocurred to me that my arms didn't swing around in perfect circles (rather than pivot in their sockets). Luckily neither of my parents saw what I did - or heard it either, they were so engrossed with the Story of Elvis. I made them their tea, brought it back out to where they were still reclined on the rug, and prayed they wouldn't notice the chips in the enamel. I don't think they ever did.

2 tblsp sweet chilli sauce
2 tblsp soy sauce (Tamari is excellent)
1 dstsp honey
1 tblsp barbeque sauce
2 cloves crushed garlic
4 chicken thighs (deboned)
2 chicken breast fillets (cut into four pieces)

1. Combine the sweet chilli sauce, soy sauce, honey, barbeque sauce and garlic in a bowl. Stir until all ingredients are thoroughly combined.

2. Sink the chicken pieces into the marinade then cover with Gladwrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

3. When the barbeque is all fired up and ready to go, remove the chicken pieces and cook over the open grill. IMPORTANT: do not turn and turn and turn and turn the chicken pieces (or anything else on the barbeque for that matter). Cooking on a barbeque is no different to cooking in a frying pan or over the stove top. Allow the chicken (or meat) to seal completely on one side before you even contemplate turning it. This is usually about four to five minutes for chicken. That's four to five minutes EITHER SIDE.

4. Marinade should caramelise the outside of the chicken, as well as give a delicious spicey flavour. Serve with Crazy Salad, baby beets and a healthy-sized hunk of garlic bread. Oh! And don't forget the beer!

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Tuna Pasta

If memory serves me correctly, the first dinner party I ever attended as a bonafide grown up was one put on by my friends, Neil and Bruce.

Bruce was a big fan of baked dinners. I'd mentioned to him once that I loved a good baked dinner but hadn't really had one since I'd left home (I was nineteen at the time and had only left home that year so I wasn't THAT deprived!). Bruce decided he would put on a dinner, the feature being his very special roast lamb. It never ocurred to me that there'd be more than one course for the meal, so when I arrived to find the place settings decked out with cutlery for not one but THREE courses, I was absolutely delighted.

It was the late eighties and the whole low fat fashion hadn't totally taken over our dinner tables or tastebuds yet, so it was still open slather on cheese and cream. I asked Bruce what was for entree and he said pasta. No problem - that was something I could easily enjoy. But when Bruce presented the first course to us, I was overcome with the stink of cooked fish mixed up with cream and melted cheese - it was more like a tuna bake!

"What is this?" I asked Bruce, trying to be as polite as possible and not succeeding. Tuna fettucine, he declared. I was mortified. I had to apologise profusely - I was still in the throes of my anti-fish period, and there was absolutely no way I could attempt the congealed yellow mass on the plate without gagging and thereby irrevocably disgracing myself.

Neil was a Godsend - and a big eater. He snatched my plate out from under me and scraped the food onto his own, then consumed it all in record time. I was relieved not to have to eat the pasta, but I will never forget the wounded look on Bruce's face. Shame on me - I should have learned to love dairy coated fish before I left home!

250g spiral pasta
2 tbslp olive oil
180g canned tuna in springwater
1 onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 can tomatoes, crushed or pureed
8 fresh basil leaves
1 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
pinch dried chilli flakes
2 tblsp red wine - whatever you've got lying round (but not port!)
1 tblsp tomato paste
2 bay leaves
Salt & pepper to taste
Grated parmesan to garnish
Extra cracked pepper

1. Boil a saucepan of water, adding one tablespoon of the olive oil while the water is cold. Add pasta on the rolling boil. Cook for 10 minutes or until al dente (or just pick one pasta out and eat it to test!).

2. In a separate saucepan, lightly sautee the onions and garlic over a medium to hot heat, being careful not to burn either.

3. Add the tomato puree and stir with a slotted spoon. Then add the basil, parsley, chilli flakes, bay leaves, red wine and stir to combine. Allow a few minutes for the spices to infuse their flavour in the tomatoes then taste. Season with salt and pepper as desired.

4. Add tomato paste to sauce - this will thicken the sauce, helping it to coat the pasta.

5. Drain tuna and add to sauce. Stire until tuna is completely broken up and combined into the sauce. Taste again - add a little more salt and pepper if you wish. Remove from heat.

6. Pour the cooked pasta into a collander to drain. Do not rinse. Tip the pasta back into the saucepan then pour the tuna sauce over the top. Stir with a pasta claw to combine thoroughly. Serve immediately, garished with shaved parmesan and extra cracked black pepper. A nice crusty piece of Italian bread on the side would not go astray!

Note: this recipe should produce about four serves. They can be easily frozen and reheated later for a quick lunch or dinner.

Chocolate Tart

When I was about eight years old a miraculous thing happened at the local Flemmings supermarket: they introduced a weekly serial of recipe cards published by the Australian Women's Weekly.

These recipe cards couldn't have arrived at a better time in my life - or my mother's for that matter. It was right when Mum was discovering international cuisine, and I was demanding to be taught how to cook. Every week when we did the grocery shopping, Mum faithfully purchased a new set of cards - about twenty-four in all, which covered everything from Favourite Cakes to Light n' Lovely Cool Desserts to Traditional Roasts. I would pour over the glossy cards, admiring the pictures, as Mum created delight after culinary delight in our kitchen.

Amongst those cards featured a plethora of flavour revelations: they contained the original chocolate caramel slice which in the twenty-five years since has been worshipped by many a cafe goer, yet hardly ever reproduced in a fashion faithful to the original. There was also a section on confectionary which included a recipe for sherbet cones. As a teenager I ditched the cones and just made up bowls of sherbet for an afternoon snack.

But the piece de resitance in that monumental library of taste-bud tantalizing treats was the Coffee Liqueur Chocolate Mousse. I watched Mum make it many times, and decided it was something best left to the experts. She had to melt this, mix that, and quite often one component had to sit momentarily in the freezer because it was just too darned hot in the kitchen to work any other way. The resulting mousse would be served at the fanciest of dinner gatherings. My sister and I would skim our long-handled teaspoons across the surface of the mousse, gathering a sampling to be sucked and savoured... there was NEVER any scoffing where that mousse was concerned. We took our time to enjoy its rich chocolatey flavour.

Ah! What a memory! That mousse is untouchable in my mind.

Then something odd happened last year - I was browsing a summer furniture catalogue when I noticed a recipe for chocolate tart obscured on one of the pages. I thought I'd give it a shot and was astounded to discover when the filling was complete that it was a near immitation of the Recipe Cards Chocolate Mousse (albeit with the liqueur left out). The startling thing was this: it took five minutes to make! I started to mess with that recipe immediately: more chocolate, less cream, liqueur in, liqueur out... then I impressed everybody with a thick but tiny portion of mousse mud at Christmas dinner. Yay! Still, the chocolate tart idea is good. Makes mousse access much easier!

1 large sheet shortcrust pastry
250g dark cooking chocolate
1 cup castor sugar
3 eggs, brought to room temperature then separated
200ml cream, whipped

1. Pre-heat oven to 220 degrees celcius. Grease a tart case tin with butter then line with the shortcrust pastry. Fill case with pie weights and cook until edges are golden brown. (Check pastry cooking instructions for recommended cooking time).

2. Remove pie weights and leave tart in tin to cool on a wire rack.

3. Break the chocolate into pieces and place in a large cooking bowl. Add sugar and microwave for approximately 2mins 20secs or until chocolate has melted. Do not over cook! Stir chocolate and sugar to combine.

4. Whip cream while chocolate is melting. If you have a stick blender, they are ideal for this - very effective and very quick at the same time.

5. Add lightly beaten egg yolks to the chocolate and sugar mix AS SOON AS IT COMES OUT OF THE MICROWAVE. The heat of the chocolate will cook the eggs, thereby eliminating any yolky flavour. Allow the chocolate mixture to cool for five minutes.

6. Gently fold the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture. Continue to fold until cream is completely combined with chocolate.

7. Immediately pour mousse filling into cold tart case. Place tart case and tin on a baking sheet and position on bottom shelf of fridge. Allow to chill for at least two hours before serving. Mousse will become quite solid and cuttable.

8. Remove tart case from tin and present on a gorgeous cake plate. Slice into wedges and serve with fresh berries. Depending on the size of your tart case, you should get about 10 servings from one tart.

Note: you'll most likely have some filling left over - pour in into ramekins and save it to eat later!

Friday, September 10, 2004

Carrot, Coconut & Beetroot Salad

When the Olympics were on in 2000, for some strange reason we all believed it would be a major debacle. So many of us made plans to leave town to avoid the chaos we thought would be foisted upon us.

My destination of choice was the Vipassana Meditation Retreat located at Black Heath in the Blue Mountains. The hysterical thing about my choice was that it was totally the opposite to the Olympics - a 12 day retreat where one takes a vow of silence for 10 days and does nothing but meditate for something eleven hours a day! I thought this was a great idea, mainly because I wanted to lose some weight and get a big bliss out. Boy was I there for all the wrong reasons!

Despite my natural talkative nature, I found undertaking the vow of silence was easy. I discovered human beings say an awful lot when sometimes saying nothing is far superior. I also discovered that I could live without a soy latte and almond friand every day. And I was completely happy to hand the responsibility for my food over to someone else.

At the retreat they served a strict vegetarian menu, which I understand is very Hindu in its nature - lots of chick peas and tofu and carrots and cauliflower and spinach (blech!) and so on. There is a big old cook book in the kitchen, I hear, and the meals are prepared by volunteers who wish to serve the meditators. This is called dharma service - very noble, and of course attracts merits (in the next life, I assume). I also understand the volunteers aren't necessarily experienced cooks. The recipes are supposed to be fool proof so no matter how unskilled the volunteers, they still come out good 'n tasty!

We were meant to conduct ourselves as if we were alone in that place, but that never stopped the stampede from the meditation hall to the dining room at breakfast time. Imagine trying to jostle to get your bread into the toaster without being able to tell somebody "Hey! Your bloody toast is about to catch fire!". And of course the bananas in the fruit bowl were coveted by all - yet there were never enough for everybody. Last in was not best served!

At the end of the retreat I promised to vacuum the dorm room I'd stayed in, but I was overcome by a desperate need to get the heck out of there. I could see my car through the trees, and when no one was looking, I made a mad dash for it through the bush. Unbeknownst to me there was a thin wire fence around the boundary and I got hopelessly caught up in it, much to my chagrin. I had to head back to the room with my tail between my legs and perform the promised chore before I could exit like an adult through the front gate.

When I returned home I was immediately overtaken by the excitement of the remaining week of the Olympics. On one hand I was sorry I missed it. On the other hand, I knew I'd experienced something at the retreat that was invaluable to me (and I don't mean constipation!). I figured out how to be still - very important when one lives in a busy cosmopolitan city.

2 large carrots, peeled
2 large fresh beetroots, peeled (remember - put gloves on to do this!)
1/4 cup desicated coconut
1 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp natural yoghurt
1/4 cup sultanas

1. Grate the carrot and beetroot into a large bowl.

2. Sprinkle the coconut over the top.

3. Add the olive oil, natural yoghurt and sultanas then stir all the ingredients until they are well combined. The beetroot will stain everything, but don't worry about that! It looks pretty!

4. Serve immediately. Unfortunately this salad will not keep. If you find you have too much salad to eat in one sitting, reduce all ingredients by half the next time you make it. This salad is an excellent compliment to barbecued meats, accompanied by a nice green salad (or even a serving of Crazy Salad!).

Friday, September 03, 2004

Chicken Rice Wrap Rolls

In my early twenties I lived in an illegal structure on the top of a building in the middle of downtown Lan Kwai Fong, Central Hong Kong.

I will never forget the night I arrived in Hong Kong - I was wearing a navy blue suit and the minute I stepped out of Kai Tak airport into the humid summer night I began to swelter. I peeled my jacket off, got into a red taxi cab and proceeded to head from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island. The radio blarred "Thieves In The Temple" by Prince as we sped past the walled city, which has since been knocked down. My eyes were assalted everywhere I looked by neon lights, and to my great surprise, the majority of the signs illuminated the virtues of smoking! Cigarette advertising had long since been banned in Australia, and it was bizarre to be accosted by it again, even if I was in a foreign place.

My apartment was in the middle of the night club district in Central Hong Kong. In the bottom of my building were two very popular restaurants - one which ran by day, the other by night. The day restaurant was managed by Vietnamese immigrants who sold all manner of meals for HKD$14 - the equivalent of $2.30, Australian. Their menu was in Cantonese, but thankfully they had pictures of everything they served so I was able to make my choice based on the visuals. My favourites were satay beef and rice (a dry yet spicey version of the Indian delicacy), shredded chicken and rice and of course the cheapest meal on the menu - rice noodle rolls.

At sundown the Vietnamese packed up shop, leaving their cranky dog, Sai Fai, to hang out with the man who arrived at around 7.00pm to cook congee on a rickety tressel table. The irony of Sai Fai was that her name translated as 'Little Fat'. She was far from little, nor was she fat. She was a mongrel, rusty in colour, quite dingo like in my opinion. Perhaps the reason she was so cranky was because she was half starved to death. She was surrounded by food day in, day out, yet she was as skinny as a rake. She would wait by the congee cook's feet hopeful that morsels would fall off the table and into her mouth. It rarely happened. It seems the Chinese are far less indulgent with dogs than we Westerners are. As a result, Sai Fai never failed to snarl at me whenever I made my way home from work in wee hours of the morning. Sadly, I always at my boot at the ready in case she picked that occassion to lunge at me.

I was in Hong Kong for two years and when I came home I brought a deep love of Chinese food with me - not the stuff you get at the lunch time takeaway counter. It was more the idea of its simplicity that appealed to me. Thank God Australia is crowded with Asian immigrants - they've made it so easy to get hold of the ingredients that are staple to the cuisine. At dirt cheap prices!

250g chicken breast mince
1 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp oyster sauce
1 tblsp tamari soy sauce
handful chopped shallots
pinch dried chili flakes
1 packet glass noodles
2 lettuce leaves (butter lettuce is great!)
bunch of mint
12 round rice noodle wrappers
1 large carrot, grated
2 tblsp crushed peanuts
sweet chili sauce to season

1. Heat frypan on stove top. Add olive oil and chicken mince, stirring with slotted spoon to separate chicken bits while it browns. Make sure the chicken does not ball together in clumps. Add oyster sauce and soy sauce and continue to stir. Add shallots and chili flakes and stir again until all ingredients are combined. Remove chicken from stove when cooked and allow to cool completely.

2. Put glass noodles in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to soak for approximately two minutes, or until noodles are softened. Drain and set aside.

3. Slice hard vein out of middle of lettuce leaves. Cut each leaf into pieces approximately four inches by three inches square. Don't sweat if they don't look neat! You should get four to six pieces from each leaf. Set aside.

4. Flood a dinner plate or round platter with water. Carefully slide a rice wrap round into the water, ensuring it is fully emersed. Allow to soak for about one minute or until it becomes soft. Gently lift out of the water by the edges, allowing excess water to drain off. Lay rice wrap out flat on clean benchtop.

5. Place one mint leave leaf face down sideways on the rice wrap. Position it in the bottom third of the round closet to you. Lay a piece of lettuce over the top and arrange a small tangle of glass noodles on it. Sprinkle approximately one dessert spoon of chicken mince over the noodles. Add two pinches of the grated carrot and a pinch of crushed peantus, then finish by drizzling a little sweet chili sauce over all.

6. Fold the left and right sides of the rice wrap up over the filling - they probably won't connect in the middle. Don't worry about that! Fold the side closest to you up over the top then gently begin to roll the wrap, squishing the ingredients as you go to compact the filling. Hopefully you'll end with the edge on the opposite side to the mint leaf which should be visible through the rice wrap top.

7. Don't panic if your roll comes out a bit wonky on the first go! Practice makes perfect with rice wrap rolls. Try positioning things off centre, try squishing tighter as you roll, in fact just experiment until you get the effect you want. To serve, see if you can get hold of a banana leaf. Cut it into a nice rectangular shape to cover your dinner plate, arranging the rice paper rolls on top. Rice wraps will last for two days in the fridge.

Important! ...Handling Rice Paper Sheets
Your sense of touch will be the most important tool you have when it comes to handling the rice paper sheets. The water you soften them in need not be hot - but luke warm is nice because your finger tips will be wet during this entire assembly process. They don't have to be cold too!

Slide the rice paper sheet into the water, guiding the edge down to the bottom of the plate. This will fully submerge the sheet. If it floats, don't push it down - you could break it. Just wait for it to moisten and sink.

I place all my finger tips on the rice paper sheet and sway it a little under the water, feeling it as it hydrates. There is a point between totally dry and too soft that is perfect to work with. You will still be able to feel the imprint of the pattern on the sheet. The sheet itself might feel a little glutenous.

To pick the sheet up I carefully slide it out of the water on the side of the plate furthest away from me. I spread my fingers wide as I lift and press the sheet lightly against the heel of my palm. I let most of the water cascade off the sheet then position it on my chopping board so that it's as flat as possible. Be gentle at this stage! Tears develop easily in the sheet.

When folding the rice wrap over the filling, I find if the two side pieces touch in the middle they help seal the roll and hold the filling in place. Things can look quite fragile when you lift the side closest to you over the two connecting sides - don't worry! Just gently squish (compress) the filling as you roll and everything will be fine. If it's not, eat the failure and start again!

I've found the secret to rice wrap rolls is the leaf you use as the base. The shape and texture of the leaf will determine how well your roll will hold together so please, don't underestimate the imporance of your leaf preparation. A soft leaf with little or no hard spine is best - butter lettuce is my favourite choice.

If you have any difficulties with this recipe, please don't hesitate to post a comment - I'm happy to share what I know about making these babies turn out great!

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Tasty Tuna Sandwich

I've already told the story some weeks ago about my fish issues and how they stem from my dad's maniacal fishing obsession... but what I haven't talked about is how I got over my aversion.

It was back in 1994 when I was on a well being program which involved hiring a personal trainer. Guy was his name - he had me on a high protein diet which helped me reduce body fat and gain muscle mass. It was a great time in my life, training with Guy. Not only did I peel off stacks of kilos, I also started to look like Miss Hard Body 1994. I don't ever remember feeling that well or that physically capable before or since!

But what I didn't like was the amount of beef Guy's eating program had me consume. I had to eat 125g of animal protein a day. I actually think I ate twice that, which would explain why I was able to lift 125kgs on the leg press! I went Guy and told him that I thought I was eating too much beef. I was also eating chicken, turkey and eggs, but no fish. Guy's answer was simple: eat tuna.

I don't know what else I thought he'd say! I had seen Guy eat tuna and rice - it was disgusting! A pile of glutenous rice with the tuna straight out of the tin sitting on top. No salt. No pepper. No love and kisses! I complained about it to my friend, Cameron, and he immediately tried to convince me that canned tuna was absolutely delicious. I thought back to the days in primary school when my best friend used to turn up with fish paste on her sandwiches. Eew! She'd take the lid off her lunch box and a pungent aroma of over ripened fish would waft out, scattering us in all directions. Shockingly, she always ate the sandwich anyway and suffered from fish breath for the rest of the afternoon.

"They don't make fish paste out of tuna, do they?" I asked Cameron. He said no. Then he asked me over for lunch, saying he was going to show me just how tasty a tuna sandwich could be. When I arrived, Cameron showed me a tin of Greenseas Tuna in Springwater. Forget the one in oil, he told me... too fatty. He then proceeded to make me the most scrumptious tuna sandwich I've had in my life. I integrated tuna into my diet and I've never looked back!

90g tin of tuna in springwater (dolphin friendly please!)
1/2 red onion, finely diced
1 tblsp low fat whole egg mayonnaise
several lettuce leaves (minionette or coral are excellent choices)
3 slices ripe red tomato

1. Lightly toast the bread. This is very important and absolutely crucial!

2. In a bowl, combine the tuna (drain the springwater first tho!), onion and mayonnaise. Stir until all ingredients are well combined.

3. Heap the tuna mix onto one slice of bread. Arrange the tomato slices and the lettuce leaves over the top. Cover with the other slice of bread and either cut in half on the diagonal or leave it uncut if you prefer! Eat while still warm!

Note: for extra falvour, try adding chopped black olives to the tuna mix. You could also try a couple of capers!

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Delicious Doggy Dinner

Just briefly, I've had my recipe for dog food published on the Australian Woman's Day website. You can check it out here:


Sultana Scones

My Grandmother was a prize winning scone maker.

I've been told this from a very early age, and for some strange reason I have felt that this should have ordained me as a prize winning scone maker too. Unfortunately, every time I go to make scones I always have to ring my mother and be reminded of the darned recipe. "What's in scones again?" I ask her. Well you know what? I've decided I don't care what was in Nana's scones or Mum's scones for that matter. Despite my impeccable scone pedigree I've got to stand on my own two feet where scones are concerned.

Therefore, hereby recorded for posterity, is my version of scones!

1 1/2 cups self raising flour
1/2 cup corn flour
1/2 cup bicarbonate of soda
2 dsps sugar
1/2 cup sultanas
65g butter
1 1/2 cups of milk

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius. Combine self raising flour, corn flour, sugar and bicarb soda in a large mixing bowl. Stir to combine all dry ingredients. Then stir through sultanas.

2. Melt butter in the microwave. Don't over do it! Pour over flour mixture and stir through with a fork. Use the fork to fluff the flour as you combine the butter to resemble fine bread crumbs (that's right - no rubbing the butter in here! This recipe is arthritis friendly!).

3. Add the milk to the mixture and stir to combine all ingredients until a nice wet dough forms.

4. Sprinkle a handful of extra flour onto your bench top and turn the dough out onto it. Flour both your hands and pat the dough out until its about 2cm thick. Do not knead the dough or be overly rough with it! This will cause your scones to be tough.

5. Cut 5cm rounds out of the dough with a cookie cutter. Arrange on baking tray covered with a piece of baking paper. Position scones up against each other so that their sides touch. You should get at least 12 scones out of your dough mix.

6. Brush the tops of the scones with a little milk to help them brown.

7. Bake in a moderate oven for 15 minutes or until tops have browned to a light golden colour. You'll be able to smell when the scones are cooked!

8. Serve immediately with jam and whipped cream and a nice cup of tea. Try not to scoff the entire batch in one sitting.

Note: you can exchange the sultanas for finely chopped dates. Or if you don't like fruit in your scones, leave them out altogether!

Grilled Chicken & Crazy Salad

In the early nineties I was very fortunate to live with a girl called Kristina who taught me a thing or two about the joy of urban living. We lived in a big old apartment in Edgecliff, and when we first moved in Kristina declared we would paint the place from top to bottom in nothing but white. I had never painted a darned thing at that stage of my life. I'd certainly watched my mum do it often enough. But I had always been relegated to the role of chief snack provider, serving my mother copious cups of tea accompanied by all manner of cakes, biscuits or slices.

The first weekend of painting with Kristina, I assumed my normal role, pumping out savoury scones and pots of coffee while Kristina transformed the lounge into a white wonderland.

"When are you going to start your room?" she asked me on the Sunday afternoon.

"Um," I said, stunned that my game was up.

"Look, here's what you do," she said. "You put some paint in a tray, you dip the roller in it and you slap it on the walls. That's all there is to it!"

The following weekend I donned my oldest t-shirt and shorts, dragged the step ladder into my room and set about slapping the paint onto the walls exactly how Kristina said. I've been a happy domestic painter ever since!

Painting aside, Kristina also taught me how to cook for friends without a whole lot of fuss. Her favourite Thursday night meal was a good cut of meat, chicken or fish, served with what she called Crazy Salad. Basically you threw whatever you had in the crisper into a bowl, dressed it with whole egg mayonnaise, seasoned it with cracked pepper and rock salt and voila - dinner for ten!

250g organic chicken breast fillets
handful of baby spinach leaves
big handful of mixed salad leaves (leave out radicchio - it's far too bitter)
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
10 slices of telegraph cucumber, cut into thin strips
1 carrot, grated (or shredded if you've got a nifty grater that does that)
4 pitted kalamata olives, quartered
4 sun dried tomatoes, chopped
8 snow peas, trimmed and halved
1 ear of fresh corn (see below for cooking directions)
fresh dill (broken into small segments)
2 heaped tblsps whole egg mayonnaise
Salt & pepper to season

1. Trim the icky bits off the chicken breast fillets and feed them to your dog (I've said this before and I stand by this as a bonafide cooking procedure!). Heat a fry pan on the stove top and coat it with a little olive oil spray. Add the chicken breast fillets to the pan and seal them on both sides. Then remove them and using a carving fork and knife, slice the fillets into 1cm wide pieces, cutting at a diagonal through the meat. Return the pieces to the fry pan and continue to cook until tender.

2. Wash spinach and lettuce leaves and place in a large salad bowl. Add cherry tomatoes, cucumber, carrot, olives, sun dried tomatoes, snow peas and fresh dill, then toss lightly.

3. Cut the ear of corn into rounds so that the kernels and cob look like wagon wheels. Steam for three minutes in a steamer - corn will be semi-translucent when cooked. Emerse in cold water to bring back to room temperature. When cold, add to salad.

4. Drop the tablespoons of mayonnaise on top of the salad in big dollops. Don't attempt to mix it in!

5. Serve four or five pieces of grilled chicken per plate (you should have enough for two or three people). Place the salad bowl on the table and let people serve themselves. The great thing about this salad is it's really like a lucky dip - you just don't know what veggies will end up on your plate. And if people want a little or a lot of mayo, they'll scoop it off the top themselves. Yum!

Cheesey Vegetable Pie

I remember the exact moment when my mother acquired a French cookbook. I was in my early teens, and had already been enjoying the benefits of Mum's various forays into international cuisine for some years by that stage.

It was the eighties, and God bless her, she couldn't help but be attracted to the recipe for quiche Lorraine. Quiche was incredibly popular in then - it was available on the menu of every cafe worth it's weight in salt, and was even adopted by the Queen of the supermarket freezer section, Sara Lee. But Quiche Lorraine, the genuine article in Mum's French cookbook, was unlike any quiche I've ever tasted. It was loaded with full fat cheese - and not just one cheese, it had four different kinds of cheese! Add to that was full fat cream and delicious chunks of bacon, all of which were included with every last skeric of their fat left on! And this paradise for the palate sat in a pastry that was to die for. If you've ever been to France you'll know they don't like to skimp on butter there. Quiche pastry is no exception to the rule - a delicate shortcrust, made with buckets of butter, why Quiche Lorraine was a minor revelation. And a one way ticket to a cardial infarction!

Years later, I've had to say goodbye to genuine French quiches. Instead I make egg pies. And believe it or not, egg pies can be quite good for you, depending on what you put in them. Here's a recipe for one I particularly enjoy. You can switch the ingredients round to suit your own tastes, but my one piece of advice is this: never leave the onion out!

1/2 half red onion, finely diced
1/4 red capsicum, finely diced
1 zuchini, grated
4 rashers bacon, fat removed, finely diced
125g low fat cottage cheese
5 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste
2 sheets puff pastry

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius.

2. Combine red onion, capsicum, zuchini, bacon and cottage cheese in a large mixing bowl. Crack eggs over vegetables and stir with a wooden spoon until all ingredients are very well combined. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Line a greased loaf tin with puff pastry. You'll find one sheet will cover the bottom and the two long sides of the tin nicely. Cut the second sheet in half, then cut one piece in half again and cover ends of loaf tin, pressing overlapping pieces of pastry together to seal.

4. Pour egg and vegetable filling into pastry case. Place on middle shelf of oven and cook for one hour. Slide a skewer into the middle of the pie to check if it's cook (filling should be firm to the touch). If it comes out clean it's time to take the pie out of the oven. If not, another ten minutes should do the trick.

5. Carefully turn the pie out onto a wire rack. Turn it right side up, being careful not to break the pastry. Serve with mixed salad. Makes at least five good sized servings.

Some other filling combos
- 2 cups cooked baby spinach and 125g chopped fetta
- 125g chopped sundried tomatoes and 100g fat reduced hot salami
- 125g strips of smoked salmon and 65g capers

Remember - never leave the onions out!

Friday, August 20, 2004

Red Velvet Hearts

Several years ago I met a guy from Miami on the internet via a dating website. He seemed like a really decent guy, and according to his profile, was planning to visit Australia the following month. With the intention of meeting him on his trip, I struck up an email correspondence with him, in which I asked him what his favourite kind of cake was. He told me he preferred Red Velvet Cake above all others.

I'd never heard such a thing! So I set about digging up a recipe for this mythical beast on the internet (oh, great library of cyberspace!). I came across several different instructionals but struck one that seemed quite reasonable. I discovered that red velvet cake was a chocolaty-butter cake which was coloured a deep red by no less than seven fluid ounces of red food dye.

Red food colouring, in my opinion (and the opinion of many scientists) can set off an episode of hyperactivity in normally sedate kids. That's why people with ADD kids should keep them away from raspberry cordial, red lollies or red iceblocks at all costs! The food dye sends them off their tree. I downloaded the recipe and put it in my file, afraid of what the consequences of creating such a scientifically incorrect cake would be. With so much red food dye in it, I'd have to ask everyone to sign a waiver before putting a single crumb to their lips, basically indemnifying me against untypical fits of mania or lapses into extreme states of hyperactivity which could ensue as a result.

Never the less, I went in search of the red food dye. In my heart, I knew Pillar Box Red was the one I was after. But in the city where I live, no supermarket was so insane as to stock such an item. They sold rose pink and cochineal, but no Pillar Box Red could be found. It wasn't until I paid a visit to my family in the Western Suburbs of Sydney that I struck gold. Red gold, that is. There on the shelves of Coles was an unending supply of red food colouring. Were they stupid, I asked myself? Then a thought occurred to me: city kids have a low incidence of ADD. Yet there is a high concentration of kids that suffer from the disorder and its more manic sibling, ADHD in the outer lying suburbs of the greater Sydney area. Why then was a food product like red food dye so easy to get in the very place where it could be deemed as having the most detrimental effect?

I bought the red food dye, I took it back to my home in the Eastern Suburbs, and put it in the cupboard. I let the Red Velvet Cake recipe languish.

But when a friend asked for a special Christmas cake, the image of a blood red cake covered in crispy snow white icing, decorated with green sugar leaves immediately sprang to mind. I asked my friend was anyone in her family allergic to red food colouring? She said no. And with that, I embarked on my first Red Velvet Cake.

Like all recipes, I found it flawed - for no reason other than it took four bowls to create the darned cake, which when you don't have a dishwasher, is annoying to say the least. I've modified that recipe substantially. And I now make the cake in miniatures, which does a lot to ease my conscience.

By the way - that guy from Miami never came to Australia. Turned out his profile was out of date by more than a year. He'd already BEEN here when we met - sheesh!

125g butter
1 cup castor sugar
2 eggs - as fresh as possible
2 cups self raising flour
1 cup milk
1/4 cup cocoa
1 bottle red food colouring (7 fluid ounces)
1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Prepare 15 individual sized heart shaped cake tins (available from any good department store) by greasing and arranging on two cookie trays.

2. Place butter, sugar, eggs, flour and milk in the small bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on low speed until all ingredients are roughly combined. Then increase speed to seven (three quarters of the way to high if you don't have a Sunbeam Mixmaster) and beat for five to seven minutes. Mixture should become creamy, glossy and thick.

3. Pour red food colouring into a 1 cup Pyrex jug. Add cocoa and mix together until cocoa and liquid form a thick red paste. Be patient - you need to do this slowly, mainly because it takes a while to wet the cocoa, but also because if you flick the food dye onto anything it honestly WILL look like someone was murdered in your kitchen. And be careful - it stains!

4. Scoop red cocoa paste out of jug and add to cake mix. Beat on slow to combine, then increase speed to ensure colour is evenly distributed throughout. Use a scraper to ensure no white mixture is left on the sides or bottom of the bowl. Then add bicarbonate soda and mix thoroughly for another minute.

5. Drop one tablespoon of mixture into each of the heart shaped cake tins. Tin should be no more than half full, otherwise you'll end up with an over risen and possibly misshapen cake.

6. Bake in moderate oven for 30 minutes. When done, run a knife around the edge of each tin, then loosen each cake by hand and turn out of tin onto wire rack. Allow to cool completely.

7. To make filling, combine 65gs butter with 1 and 1/2 cups of icing sugar mixture and 1-2 tblsp of milk in a small bowl. Beat with an electric mixture until ingredients are completely combined and mixture is pale and creamy. Filling should be thick and have the spreading consistency of butter.

8. Cut each cake in half crossways. Spread top half of cake with 1-2 tsp of filling. Sandwich onto bottom half of cake. Continue until all are filled. Dust tops with extra icing sugar to create a snowy white effect. Makes 15 cakes which keep for five days.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Roasted Beetroot

When I was a kid my nana came to stay quite often. At least once a year - which was often enough for me, since it was always me who had to give up my bed to accommodate her.

Nana was a salad nut in those days (she still might be, but I'm not sure what's on the daily menu at the place where she lives). And the essential ingredient to any salad, as far as Nana was concerned, was beetroot. Now, any sensible Australian know beetroot definitely belongs on a good hamburger. But in salad? Sliced or whole, the beetroot invariably wees it's red juice on everything it touches.

I never bent to Nana's love of beetroot in salad. Never the less, I'm aware that beetroot is somewhat of a superfood. Toss a fresh beetroot into your juicer with a carrot and an apple and you've got a veritable feast, albeit in a glass. But it seems to me that the best thing to do with a beetroot is roast it. Looks impressive on the plate, tastes delicious on the palate!

fresh beetroots (one per person)
olive oil

1. Put on a pair of latex gloves. I promise you, you'll thank me for this later!

2. Cut the stems and leaves off the top of the beetroot and discard. Trim off the pointy end of the root at the other end of your beet. Then hold the beet in the palm of your gloved hand and peel it. Repeat with each one until all are peeled.

3. Preheat oven to 200 degrees celcius.

4. Arrange peeled beets in a baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil then season with salt and pepper.

5. Roasted in oven for 90 minutes. Serve with Chicken Pot Roast or Roast Beef.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Chicken Pot Roast

As a teenager there were three major periods when my dad was in between jobs. The first one came at a time when I was very used to cooking the family meal every night, therefore guaranteeing I got to eat something I would enjoy. But when Dad was home, for some reason, he decided he should take over kitchen duty, making major - er - discoveries during each sojourn, which we were subjected to five nights a week until he started his next job.

The first time round, Dad discovered Maggi Cook-in-the-Pot. This was basically a packet mix which you added to your pot roast - albeit it beef, chicken, lamb or whatever (thank God it was never tripe!). At the time I loathed pot roast because all too often it turned out like stew and I simply couldn't abide by the indiscriminate way ingredients blended in stew. I like the foods on my plate to be clearly defined. I wouldn't go so far as to demand that nothing touches on the plate - but I do want to know what's what.

Dad and his darned Maggi Cook-in-the Pot was a major confront to my sense of culinary order. On one occasion I thought I would ambush his efforts by arriving in the kitchen ahead of the normal dinner-making schedule and undertake to prepare the meal myself.

"Na, na, na, na" Dad said, bolting to the kitchen from the back verandah (an important place of contemplation). "I'm cooking tonight," he asserted.

"But I'd like to cook tonight!" I said, miffed at being thwarted. Dad didn't answer. I knew there was no chance of changing his mind. And for dinner that night we had... Maggi Cook-in-the-Pot. AGAIN!

So when I was looking for a different way of cooking chicken for a warm winter gathering of friends, I was a little reticent about the recipe I found for Chicken Pot Roast. I read the ingredients, and thought maybe there was a chance to reunite myself with Pot Roast. After all, we'd had a 20 year hiatus. But I liked the idea of something cooked in the oven with little or no involvement from me. It would leave me time to tend to my guests. Here's what I came up with...

4 x 125g chicken breast fillets
1 large leak
Pinch of salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
200ml chicken stock
2 tblsp olive oil
3 tblsp water
1 dstsp cornflour (corn starch)

1. Cut all the icky bits off the chicken breast fillets and feed them to your dog. For me, that's quite a bit of the chicken, so I buy ones that are a little bigger than prescribed. Arrange the chicken in a casserole dish, preferably one with a lid. If you haven't got a casserole dish, you can use a regular baking dish (ceramic or glass is best).

2. Slice leak into 6mm rounds, ensuring you use all the tender white section and most of the lighter green section. Don't use the tough dark green section. Arrange the slices of leak over the chicken breast fillets. Season with the salt and pepper.

3. Cover with cling film and refridgerate for 24 hours. The chicken will take on the gorgeous flavour of the leaks and the seasoning during this time. You can just go straight to the next step if time is limited, but I highly recommend this "dry" marinating period for extra flavour.

4. Combine chicken stock and olive oil in a glass jug. Stir vigorously to combine then pour over marinated chicken.

5. Place casserole dish (with lid) in middle shelf of oven, pre-heated to 180 degrees Celsius. If you're using a baking dish, cover completely with aluminium foil. Roast for 1.5 hours. Because there's so much liquid in the pot, the chicken will effectively poach itself. Don't worry, despite being white, it's definitely cooked - and deliciously tender.

6. Heat a medium sized frypan on the stove top. Coat with a light spray of olive oil. Add pot-roasted chicken pieces. Brown on both sides to give the chicken some colour - do not over do! This is for appearance only, since the chicken is already cooked.

7. Add the leaks and chicken stock from the casserole dish to the frypan. Combine water with cornflour and mix until smooth. Add to chicken stock and leaks, stirring constantly to prevent lumps from forming. Continue to stir until sauce thickens and comes to the boil.

8. Place chicken pieces back in sauce and allow to reheat. Serve on a bed of wilted baby spinach with side serving of roasted root vegetables, spooning the sauce carefully over the chicken pieces, ensuring everyone gets several pieces of leak.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Beautiful Beef Burger

When I was on holidays in Cairns last year, I ate out with my hosts quite a lot. Often I found the most uncomplicated thing on a restaurant or cafe menu was the beef burger. Having become an expert in making beef burgers myself, I frequently chose the beef burger, convinced that the restaurant version would be as tasty and healthy as my own. Instead I was shocked at how many times I was presented with a catering disaster that wasn't fit to feed my dog.

Time after time, burgers came out with oversized, under toasted buns, tough and tastless buns. Sandwiched between the two bits of miserable bun was a rissole - not a burger - made of poor quality (dare I say porky-tasting) beef which sat two inches high, yet failed to reach the edges of the bread. If I asked for cheese on the burger, more often than not I got a greasy piece of tasty cheese caked onto either the top or the bottom of the bun, smeared with tomato sauce, or plastered to a piece of limp lettuce.

Shameful! And I said so every time I was confronted by such a monstrosity. It is not hard to make a great burger. And now I'm going to tell you exactly how.

1 hamburger bun
125g lean beef mince
1/2 brown onion, thinly sliced
BBQ sauce - as much as you want
1 slice Kraft cheddar cheese (or Bega Superslims for a low fat option)
three slices ripe red tomato
three slices of beetroot
one large lettuce leaf, broken into bun-sized pieces

1. Slice hamburger bun in half and set aside.

2. Take beef mince in palm of hand and stand over your kitchen sink. Squeeze the beef together, shaping it into a sphere. Continue squeezing it together (some juice may run out which is why you're standing over your kitchen sink), then pat it down with the palm on your hand, reshaping it into a rough round where cracks form at the edge. Flatten it to roughly the same size as your bun. Place in a preheated fry pan, sprayed with olive oil spray.

3. Flatten burger further with an egg lifter. Allow to cook for two minutes then flip. Flatten with egg lifter again, then DO NOT TOUCH AGAIN. Cook for a further two minutes or until well browned on both sides. Remove from pan and set aside.

4. Add onions to frypan. Sprinkle with a little water to accelerate cooking process. This will also help lift the beef juices from the bottom of the pan, adding vital flavour to your onions. Cook until brown and tender.

5. While onions are cooking, toast both sides of both pieces of your bun. Do not over toast!

6. Squirt BBQ sauce onto bottom piece of bun. Place beef burger on bun. Pile onions on top of beef burger then add more sauce (if you like!). Cover with slice of processed cheese. You can slide back under the grill at this stage if you want your cheese very melted. Otherwise just let the heat from the burger to the work.

7. Transfer semi-assembled burger to serving plate. Layer tomato pieces over cheese, then balance beetroot pieces on top of tomato. Finally, add lettuce leaf pieces, cover with bun top.

8. Now eat!

Notes: I know many people think processed cheese is sacrilege, and in many ways I agree. But it honestly is the best cheese for burgers because of the way it melts. Also note there's nothing added to the beef mince to bind it together. No egg, no bread crumbs and definitely no grated carrot (revolting!). If you do the squishing process properly, you don't need any binding agents. Besides, if you've bought good beef, why spoil its beautiful flavour? I promise you this will be the best beef burger you've tasted in your life! What's more, it's seriously low in fat, so I say boycott the mass burger chain, and start making your own - as often as you like!

Apple Crumble

When I was a kid my mother's culinary speciality, in my opinion, was dessert. She was raised on the Common Sense Cookery Book, which featured such traditional delights as bread and butter pudding, cottage pudding and baked custard. There were also travesties like junket, tapioca pudding and sago pudding amongst her repertoire, which I refused to eat point blank. Blech!

But my favourite of all was apple crumble. There is something altogether comforting about the fragrance of fresh Granny Smith apples, their green skin peeled off in one continuous snake-like coil, sliced, cored then tossed into a pot to stew with three or four whole cloves.

Indeed apple crumble holds a special place in other people's hearts too, as I discovered one time at a dinner party I held a couple of years ago. It was my grandest effort ever - dinner for nine, with chocolate almond cake as dessert. Only my best friend, Jeannette doesn't eat chocolate. So I made a single-size apple crumble especially for her, and brought it out with the first two servings of chocolate almond cake. My guests became positively overcome with excitement when they spotted the lone apple crumble.

"I know how this works!" one of them squealed. "It goes, cake, crumble, cake, then I'm getting the next crumble!"

I was mortified! The chocolate almond cake was my piece de resitance! Seated in a white plate, decorated with strawberry coulis and finished with a dob of clotted cream, I couldn't understand why anybody would want apple crumble instead of my wonderful creation! When I said there was only one apple crumble, everyone thought I was joking. How could I make just one, they demanded? Easy, I told them. As a single woman, I knew how to make a world of food in individual serves.

I served them all the bloody chocolate cake, which they ate, and begrudgingly enjoyed. But I know deep down inside they were wishing it was apple crumble.

4 Granny Smith green apples, peeled, cored, sliced into 16ths
two whole cloves
1/2 cup coconut
1/4 cup brown sugar
1.5 cup self raising flour
60g butter

1. Place the apple slices and cloves in a pot and cover with water. Bring to boil on stovetop, then simmer until apples are soft (about three minutes). Do not over stew or apple pieces will turn to mush!

2. Drain excess water from apples and transfer to a baking dish. Preheat the oven to 18 degrees Celsius.

3. In a mixing bowl, combine coconut, brown sugar and self raising flour.

4. Melt butter in microwave oven (should take no more than 45 seconds on high). Add butter to coconut, sugar and flour then stir with a fork until all ingredients are moistened and mixture appears crumbly. Spoon onto top of stewed apples.

5. Bake uncovered in oven for approximately 20 minutes or until crumble is lightly browned on the top. When a delicious smell of caramel wafts through your kitchen, that's usually when the crumble is perfectly cooked.

6. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Serve in dishes with icecream or whipped cream (or both!).

Note: there are many variations of crumble that are equally as good as this one. I tend to make a 1.5 size batch of crumble because the more crumble the better. You can exchange rollled oats in place of the coconut (or keep the coconut too and add a little extra butter). You can also add a teaspoon of ground cloves to the crumble mix, which my mother tells me is absolutely heavenly.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Fettucine Bosciaola

Back in the 80s, creamy sauces reigned supreme! I had a friend named Mark who dared to open his own cafe, The Workshop, in Darlinghurst, which featured numerous dishes swimming in creamy sauces. It was in this cafe that I first tasted fettucine bosciaola. What a taste sensation! Having been raised on spaghetti bolognese, I never knew pasta could taste so good.

The Workshop Cafe became a regular hangout for me and my dance party-loving cronies. We congregated there several nights a week, whether it was to dine or simply to grab a coffee and listen to the latest house music release. We were still buying records then - and by that I mean twelve inch wide pieces of shiny black vinyl with little grooves going round and round in concentric circles. We'd snap up the latest dance floor hit down at Central Station Records, dub it onto cassette at home, then arrive at The Workshop, commandeer the tape deck and pump up the volume regardless of whether there were regular customers in the place or not.

Mark struggled to keep The Workshop Cafe afloat. Apparently it's not easy running a restaurant. The pressure of the day to day desperation to break even, combined with the back breaking hard work took its toll on Mark. When he found out he was HIV positive, it all became too much and he decided to bow out of life all together. Our little community was stunned. Mark's departure shattered what we might have called our innocence. Life sure wasn't the same after that.

But Mark's legacy to my culinary development is plain: creamy bosciaola sauce. It's making a comeback, thanks to Carnation Light and Creamy milk. Here's Mark's recipe, albeit fat reduced. I'm sure he'd be delighted that I've chosen to share it. In a way, his bosciaola has guaranteed his immortality. Can't ask for more than that!

4 rashers shortcut bacon (ie rind removed, fat trimmed)
2 cloves garlic
olive oil spray
1 dessert spoon cornflour
125ml Carnation Light & Creamy Milk
100ml fresh cream
12 button mushrooms
Pinch of black pepper
Pinch of salt
3/4 Packet Fettucine
1/4 cup white wine
Parmesan cheese to garnish

1. Place fetuccine in boiling water. Cooking on high simmer for about 10 minutes.

2. To prepare the sauce, slice the bacon into strips about 4mm wide. Spray frying pan with olive oil spray then add bacon, cooking on a medium high heat. Do not allow bacon to become crispy!

3. Add crushed garlic and stir until garlic is browned. Add cornflour and stir to coat bacon.

4. Add Carnation Milk and stir until cornflour has dissolved.

5. Thinly slice mushrooms and add to pan, stirring to combine. Add fresh cream and white wine, stirring again. Reduce heat to low simmer and leave to cook for about five minutes. Mushrooms will become tender and will reduce in bulk. Add salt and pepper to taste.

6. Tip cooked pasta into a colander and shake to drain excess water. (Do not rinse! The glutinous starch on the pasta helps the sauce to stick to it.) Place back in saucepan.

7. Pour sauce over pasta and stir until pasta is completely coated.

8. Serve in warmed plates. Garnish with extra freshly ground pepper, grated Parmesan and a sprig of parsley. Serves 3 people.