Sunday, November 6, 2011

Become a vegivore!

I love it when I discover a new word. Recently I learned an excellent one which I plan to try and popularise far and wide. I especially love it because it describes me, and lots of people I know: Vegivore.

What’s a vegivoreIt’s not someone who eats solely vegetables, and it’s not a vegetarian. The term – which seems to have originated in the USA – means someone who passionately loves vegetables, and gives them a starring role in their meals. A recent New York Times article entitled “Why Vegetables are the New Meat” describes it thus:
“For the vegivorea vegetable can occupy the centre of the plate, with meat adding flavour or functioning as a condiment.”
The same article details how top New York chefs are going crazy for vegetables in their menus, and this is reflected in booming turnovers as customers respond positively.

I was so thrilled to see this, because for some time now making vegetablesequally as important as meat has been my approach to cooking, and also to the recipes we feature in Healthy Food Guide magazineThis is not yet, I believe, a focus for all chefs and food writers. But I reckon that’s going to change, especially if we vegivores demand it.

Being a vegivore doesn’t mean changing what you eat. You can still enjoy all manner of delicious meat. It just means changing your focus. Maybe have a couple of meat-free meals a week; or use less meat and more vegetables thancalled for in the recipe you’re using. Think of the vegetables first when you’re planning your meal, rather than basing your meals around the protein component. Spring’s here, so this becomes much easier and cheaper to do.Cover half your plate with a delicious toss of blanched asparagus, courgette ribbons, green beans and rocket leaves with a little olive oil and shaved parmesan and serve alongside a piece of fish or steak. Roast cherry tomatoes, capsicums and courgettes and toss through crispy roasted potatoes and baby spinach leaves to serve with grilled chicken. Mash peas and canned white beans together with garlic, mint and olive oil for a vibrant green alternative to mashed potato. There are only so many ways you can cook a piece of meat, but vegetables have endless possibilities – they’re super inspiring for keen cooks.

The same philosophy applies when we’re eating out. I challenge the chefs of New Zealand to follow your NYC counterparts. Start making vegetables central to your dishes rather than a small add-on to the main event, or a token side dishI bet the punters will love it, if you give them the chance.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Rugby world cup final match report

Wow..... home sweet home after about 4 hours sleep.... but what a night!

I thought you might like a bit of a match report today.

Sandy says this was the most important day in our history... I'm not sure about that, but I think it was certainly a once in a lifetime experience. An awesome day and night.

We started the night in Ponsonby; our day had been spent mooching around filling in time really, waiting for game time! Sandy's friend Dave offered us his empty apartment in Herne Bay to stay in; it was really quite palatial and a brilliant base for our big weekend in the city, so we were really lucky. Much better than driving home after the game like we have been doing.

We had an early dinner at Prego, where everyone was wearing black and All Blacks attire, and the place was packed with game-goers. Everyone (including us) was wearing silver ferns on their faces, and quite a few others had the same T-shirt as I was wearing (Keep Calm, Piri's On). The mood was excited and filled with anticipation.

We left Prego around 7 to join the fan trail from there to the ground. We thought the fan trail was amazing last week, but this was even more incredible. There were thousands and thousands of people walking along towards Eden Park along Great North Road and down Bond St; every single person wearing fan gear. People were dressed up in crazy outfits; there was a Star Wars storm trooper with a "welcome to the dark side" banner; there were people in sheep outfits; people with light-up silver ferns on their heads; farmers and full rugby gear and bucket heads and flags, flags, flags. It's hard to describe the mood - it was so joyful and excited; everyone anticipating a great event and feeling pride and support for their team. All along the trail there was entertainment - buskers and bands and stilt-walkers and kapa haka groups. Fantastic.

We got to the ground about half an hour before kick-off and found our seats - at the other end of the stadium from the other games; in the corner. We had a pretty good view. Beside me were a couple of Scotsmen, one in a kilt. Behind us were a couple of Irish guys - one kept offering us nips of whiskey from a hip flask he'd managed to get in, because he could see how nervous we were! (We declined). They were good company throughout the game though; especially the Irish dudes. They were frustrated at the kiwi fans for not yelling and singing more, but I think everyone was just too tense. They had some interesting little made-up songs; one went something like "Oh Corey Jane, you're the love of my life, Corey Jane, I'd let you f*** my wife, oh Corey Jane...." etc.

I can honestly say I did not enjoy the game at all; except for about 5 minutes - when we scored our try, and the last 2 minutes. The rest of the time I was soooo nervous - I felt like I do when I have to make a speech... just a huge knot in my stomach. Especially as Sandy was extremely tense as well, and I was thinking about how devastated he would be if we lost.... the Scottish guy next to me asked Sandy how his leg was at half time, because I'd been gripping it so hard with my fingers. We were yelling like crazy, but then in the second half the crowd went really quiet, when it looked like maybe we might lose. The thought of that was so terrible. And France looked really good. The French fans were going crazy, too. But in the end, after what seemed like a super-fast 40 minutes, it was all over. Then everyone went absolutely nuts. Everyone hugged everyone; I hugged and kissed complete strangers all around us; Sandy cried. It was extremely emotional, a mixture of joy and relief. Our Irish friend said to me "You guys are going to have such a good night!" and made the universal hip-thrusting shagging movement!

No-one left the stadium until all the presentations were over, and the ABs had been around the field and acknowledged the crowd, and we all went crazy again and again; when Richie was being interviewed; when Ted was being interviewed; when Brad Thorne came down to our end of the field and shed a tear.

We walked the fan trail back, all the way to the bottom of town. The crowd was ecstatic; everyone was mates. Spontaneous singing and chanting and hakas breaking out. The further we got along the trail, the more people we saw, and the more people who hadn't been at the ground, but who'd been partying in town. Cars were driving up and down bedecked with flags and tooting and hollering. Queen Street was a sight; I don't know how many people there were but from one end to another it was just covered in bodies, people of all ages and stages and colours and nationalities. It was crazy.

Little moments stand out like little snapshots: French fans getting spontaneous hugs and good wishes from ABs fans; a guy coming out of the toilet at the ground holding a rubber chicken and saying "I found a cock in the toilets!"; two ladies in nun costumes with signs saying "We abstained for the game"; a middle aged lady sitting astride a police motorbike getting her picture taken, then jumping off guiltily and confessing to the cop who hadn't seen her, who just laughed it off cheerfully.

All I wanted, I'd said before the game, if we won, was a glass of really good champagne. Every bar everywhere had queues to get into it, but we decided to head towards the viaduct and take our chances; we figured if all else failed we'd just go home. But we lucked out by walking all the way to the end of Princes wharf, where we found a little bar that had no queues, and lots of friendly revelers. We ordered two glasses of French champagne and sat down, with a huge amount of relief after about two hours of walking. That champagne tasted amazing! And the nice waitstaff even gave us a free refill.

We eventually started the long walk back to Herne Bay about 3am. There were no free taxis anywhere so we were resigned to dragging our exhausted bodies home up the hill, but thankfully a lovely taxi driver stopped for us on Wellesley St. We had the feeling the partying was going to go on for many more hours in town.

So tired today, and my feet are very sore, but very very happy and proud for our country. It's only a game but it means so much to so many people, and I think this is so good for us.

Everything is 'victory' today. Sandy's wearing his victory shirt, we had our victory breakfast, then our victory drive home. I will need my victory nap soon.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, September 23, 2011

Spring scallop salad with lemon ginger dressing

This is a pretty light salad with some zingy flavours. We had it as it is for dinner tonight, because it's Friday and this was about all the cooking I could cope with. We'd also already eaten quite a bit of smoked salmon with crackers, etc. I think this would be a nice starter for a special dinner. Or to make it more substantial, you could add some carbs in the form of sautéed potato slices.

Serves 2

2 cups baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup mungbean sprouts
8 asparagus spears, blanched and cooled under cold water
1/2 avocado, roughly diced

2cm piece ginger, finely chopped
Zest, finely chopped, and juice of 1 medium lemon
2 tablespoons avocado oil
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce

12 scallops, roe on
1 spring onion, halved lengthwise and sliced into chunks

1 kaffir lime leaf, thinly sliced, to garnish (optional)

Combine spinach, sprouts and asparagus in a large bowl and mix well. Combine dressing ingredients in a jug and mix well to combine.

Heat a little avocado oil in a pan over a medium high heat. Add spring onions and scallops and cook for 1-2 minutes, turning scallops. Meanwhile, dress the salad and toss well.

Remove scallops from heat. Divide dressed salad between 2 plates. Add avocado chunks. Divide scallops between plates and garnish with kaffir lime leaves if you have them.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

My Pad Thai

I love this rustic Thai noodle dish as a quick weeknight meal. I know it's not authentic, but I can't help adding veges when I make pad thai, otherwise it's a vege-free zone. So my version has 2+ serves per person, and the veges make it go further and taste delicious. 

FODMAPs note: if you're eating for low FODMAPs, only use the green parts of spring onions, and take care with the broccoli (some people are fine with it, some not. I seem to be OK, yay!). 

Serves 2-3

200g rice noodles

1/4 cup tamarind water
1 tablespoon sweet chilli sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup water

2 eggs
1 cup broccoli florets and sliced stalks OR 1 cup edamame beans
2cm piece ginger, finely sliced
2 spring onions, white and green parts, sliced lengthwise
1 cup shredded cooked chicken
1 tablespoon chilli paste with soya bean oil (I used Pantai brand) 
10 raw prawns, shells and tails removed
1 cup mung bean sprouts
2 cups baby spinach leaves
2 tablespoons roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
dried chilli flakes, to taste
1 lime, quartered

Cook rice noodles according to packet directions. Drain and toss with a little sesame oil. Set aside. 

Combine tamarind, sweet chilli sauce, fish sauce, lime juice and water in a jug. Mix and set aside. 

Heat a large pan or wok over a medium-high heat. Break eggs into pan and stir to break up. Cook until a thin omelette forms, turn over and cook other side, then remove from the pan and slice roughly. 

Add a little more oil to the pan. Add broccoli, spring onion and ginger and stir-fry for 5 minutes. Remove and set aside. 

Add chilli paste, prawns and chicken to the pan. Stir-fry until prawns are coloured. Add noodles to pan and stir to combine and coat noodles in pan flavours. Add back egg and vegetables and mix. Add sauce mixture and sir-fry until liquid is absorbed. Add spinach, bean sprouts and peanuts and stir to combine. 

Serve garnished with chilli flakes and coriander, if you have it, and limes for squeezing over. Some people may like to add extra fish sauce at the table, too. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Carrot & feta fritters

I said I’d take a starter to dinner at Trish’s new house in Matakana. I really wanted to do something substantial, and a bit different from my usual delicate nibbles, and for some reason I was really fixating on fritters – specifically courgette and feta fritters. Courgettes are pretty far out of season though, and in a moment of inspiration before I’d quite woken up on Saturday morning, the idea of carrot and feta popped into my head. These took a bit of experimenting to get right, but I’m really pleased with how they ended up. The sweetness of the carrot, the saltiness of feta, subtle spice and a spike of chilli all came together in a tasty little orange package.  I served these with a yoghurt sauce made with Dairy Collective’s gorgeous plain yoghurt and a little mint and coriander pesto. Then I served them again tonight as a side dish (just two per person) with a seared lamb fillet. I suspect they'd also be perfect in wee tiny versions as a canape. Enjoy. 

Carrot & feta fritters

Makes 24 fritters

4 large carrots
150g feta
2 teaspoons pesto (optional)
½ teaspoon chilli flakes
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
¼ cup cornmeal flour (or use plain flour)
Pinch salt
2 eggs

Grate the carrots and roughly crumble the feta. Place in a large bowl and add all the other ingredients except the salt and eggs. Taste the mixture for seasoning and spices and adjust to your taste, adding salt if needed (feta can be really salty, so taste it first). Then add the eggs and mix well.  

Heat a large pan over a medium heat. Spray with a little oil. Form dessert-spoon sized portions of the mixture into fritters. Fry in batches, turning as they brown.

These can be made ahead and re-heated in the oven.They are gluten-free and FODMAP-friendly, too.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Chicken and pumpkin stir-fry curry

Here's the recipe I did with Kerre Woodham on Newstalk ZB yesterday morning. This is a stir-fry style curry with a fresh, non-creamy sauce. It is really adaptable, and gluten-free. Eggplant, broccoli, beans and courgettes are also nice additions and substitutes for pumpkin, and you can use beef or lamb instead of chicken (or leave the meat out altogether).

Serves 2
Time to make: 30 minutes

200g pumpkin, cubed
300g chicken thigh fillets, skin removed, sliced
1 tablespoon red curry paste (check it’s gluten-free)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
1 red chilli, finely sliced
2cm-piece fresh ginger, peeled, finely chopped
1 tomato, chopped
2 kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon fish sauce (check it’s gluten-free)
1 tablespoon gluten-free soy sauce
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 lime, juice
¼ - ½ cup water
2 handfuls spinach leaves (use baby spinach or frozen spinach, defrosted)

Steam or microwave pumpkin for 2 minutes, until just tender.

Meanwhile, spray a non-stick pan with oil. Heat to high and stir-fry chicken for 3 minutes. Add curry paste. Stir-fry for 2 more minutes or until cooked through. Remove from heat and set aside.

Add oil to pan. Add garlic and spring onions and stir-fry until golden. Add chilli, ginger, tomato, lime leaves and fish sauce. Stir-fry for a few seconds until tomatoes soften.

Add pumpkin to pan. Add soy sauce, sugar, lime juice and water. Simmer for 2 minutes. Add chicken back in and heat through. Add spinach and stir until warmed and wilted. Serve with rice, garnished with kaffir lime leaves and lime wedges.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Coming up - cooking demos

I'm looking forward to doing a fun cooking demonstration on Tuesday evening at Taste in Warkworth. I'll be demonstrating three great dishes for entertaining, that are impressive enough for guests, but also healthy (and a couple of gluten free as well). This one's sold out, but there's another one coming up in July. See their website for details. 

Monday, May 30, 2011


Several weeks after writing that last post, I’m thinking there might just be something to this FODMAPs thing. Not that it is an easy thing to do.

I’ve never restricted the food I eat before. I’ve never been on a diet. Although this isn’t a weight loss thing, the same principle applies: dieting messes with your head.

Despite all this, after the first week of the elimination phase of the diet, I start to feel better. Actually better than I have in a while; hardly any symptoms. This seems hopeful.

It’s tricky when you have to start thinking about food in terms of what you can’t have. Especially as a professional eater – I am used to eating a (sometimes wildly) varied diet from day to day.  I might attend a lunch of Malaysian food one week; a launch for a range of diet products the next; in between doing tastings of soups or crackers or noodles or any number of recipe testings. Not to mention the myriad of food products that get delivered to my desk each week, demanding tasting. Now I have to think about whether I can try them or not.

The range of fruits and vegetables that are OK during the elimination phase is quite limited. I’m getting very creative with carrots, courgettes, tomatoes, capsicums, lettuce and spinach. But also quite bored. After a short time I find I’m craving broccoli, caulifower and cabbage. Missing onions and garlic, too, although I’m making liberal use of the allowed garlic oil and the green bits on spring onions. Thank goodness I can have ginger and chillies, two of my favourite flavours; and spices are OK too, in moderation. And citrus, so I can use lemon and lime juice for flavour. Harissa has become my new best friend; because it’s made from chillies and peppers and tomato, and doesn’t have onion, it works to add an intense burst of flavour, especially to my work lunches. I’ve never been a sandwich girl, and sandwiches of gluten-free bread are pretty depressing. So I’ve been eating a lot of sort of warm rice salads, like the one below. I take the ingredients and make these up in the kitchen at work, but you could easily put it together at home the night before work.

Lunch rice salad
¾ cup cooked brown rice (I’m loving the Sun Rice quick cups – great for a desk drawer)
handful spinach or rocket leaves
1 small pepper (I’m using the little ‘vine sweet’ ones) or ½ red capsicum
1 small carrot, grated
piece ginger, grated
½ red chilli, chopped
1 small can tuna, salmon or sardines, drained
lemon or lime juice & olive oil, to dress

Heat rice if you like, or eat cold. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, toss well, add dressing and enjoy.

Use your imagination – but some things I’ve added include:
Nuts – almonds, walnuts, cashews
Soy sauce (gluten-free)
Grated parmesan
Grated courgette
Chopped tomatoes
Lemon zest

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Tedious acronyms and inner workings

There’s a character in the Tom Robbins book Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates, who is so squeamish about the goings-on of his insides that he prefers to think of his digestive system as a ‘ball of white light’. I must say I can relate. I’d really prefer not to think about my inner workings; once my food has passed my lips I don’t think I should have to think about what happens to it.  You can keep your toilet humour; fart jokes do nothing for me; even the word colon makes me clench a little bit.

Unfortunately I’ve recently been forced to contemplate my bowel a lot more than I am comfortable with. It’s because of IBS. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (even the full name is a bit Too Much Information for my liking). But it can’t be helped. Because I’m embarking on something I’ve been putting off for about a year. It’s not cleaning out the garage. I wish it were that easy. It’s an elimination diet to finally get to the bottom (so to speak) of my IBS.

Anyone who’s suffered from IBS will have no need of an explanation of the symptoms (and the rest of you are probably switching off right now). It’s pretty much as the name suggests – I’ll leave it to your imagination. It’s something that’s been with me for years, on and off, and for years I’ve tried, half-heartedly, it must be said, to figure out what sets it off.

IBS is a diagnosis of elimination: other possible causes of the symptoms (some of which are serious) need to be eliminated first. So over the years I’ve had a series of delightful tests including but not limited to: a colonography, a colonoscopy, tests for Coeliac disease and ultrasound scans for ovarian cancer. What all this has shown is that I don’t have any serious conditions, fortunately; so what I’m left with is IBS. It’s not debilitating, but it is inconvenient, uncomfortably painful and occasionally embarrassing.  And in this I am not alone; a surprisingly large percentage of women, particularly, experience IBS in varying degrees.

It’s not all the time, for me. Sometimes I’m good, and other times I’m not. I know that stress is a trigger; so not ideal for someone in a business with constant deadlines. I know that too much alcohol isn’t good, and too much coffee can be disastrous. I know a lot of onions are not a good idea, likewise beans. But beyond that I can’t explain why one day I have the runs, the next nothing’s going anywhere, and the next I wake up with such a bloated stomach it causes a re-think on what I was planning to wear that day. When my gut started to get in the way of my wardrobe choices, I knew I had to do something.

I’ve been privy to much of the research into IBS due to my job at Healthy Food Guide. For several years now it all seems to be honing in on foods: specific foods that people who suffer from IBS have trouble with. I’ve been putting all this off because I know that the standard way to find out which foods are the problem ones, is to embark on a scientific process known as ‘elimination and challenge’. It’s how food allergies and intolerances are diagnosed. It involves, as the name suggests, first the elimination of all possibly problematic foods, followed by individual food ‘challenges’. It’s a tedious and long-winded process, not to mention anti-social. It would turn me into one of those whiny people of whom I have been myself, quite intolerant: the people who ‘can’t’ eat things. Get over yourself, I usually want to shout. Just eat the damn bread.

However, the ball of white light theory just wasn’t working for me any more. Something had to be done. So, I find the blueplan for an elimination diet, formulated by American dietitian Patsy Catsos, and outlined in her book  IBS  - free at last (terrible name; even worse cover, trust me, but actually very scientifically sound and rigorous within). After running it past our HFG nutritionist, I’m ready to give the IBS elimination diet a go. It involves, first, eliminating all the FODMAPs.

FODMAPs – like many things in nutrition - is a very un-catchy acronym. It stands for Fermentable Oligo-, Di- and Mono-saccharides and Polyols. What they actually are, are different types of carbohydrates: lactose, fructose, fructans, polyols and galactans. (I know, it gets no better with the names). These are found in groups of foods which are the subject of emerging research, much of it coming out of Australia, and much of it focussed on IBS. Some people (possibly me) can’t fully digest one or more of these FODMAPs in food, leading to the symptoms we know as IBS. The diet is a process to try and figure out which, if any, are causing problems for me. It’s not something to stick to long term; rather a learning exercise. Which is good, because I’ve never been on a diet in my life, and I’m not sure how I’ll do on one now. Plus, I really really don’t want to be one of the intolerant people.

Before I start the diet, I psyche myself up. During my ‘baseline’ week I binge on things I won’t be able to eat for a few weeks: I make sourdough bread; braised lentils; broccoli and blue cheese soup; apple pie. Quite a lot of the FODMAPs foods are ones I’m pretty fond of: onions, garlic, broccoli, beans, chickpeas, bread, pasta, honey, yoghurt, milk and quite a few different fruits. How will I cope? I try and time it so I can start during a week without potentially problematic eating out occasions. I buy lots of the things I can still have and make a bit of a menu plan, promising my husband he won’t feel deprived (he’s worried I’ll turn into a whiny person, too).

On the plus side, there are quite a few foods that are fine on the elimination diet; I won’t be surviving on a diet of rice milk and bean sprouts. One bright spot is that I can still have wine – a couple of small glasses a day. Thank goodness for small mercies.

And so I start. I am hoping that, at the end of this, I’ll have a better idea of what upsets my rebellious bowels, and I’ll be able to take it from there. I can’t see myself ever eliminating whole food groups. How could I, as a professional eater? It depresses me more than words to think of myself ever saying “Oh no, I can’t eat that,” when faced with some new delicious thing. But at least if I know what it is that makes my insides grumbly, I can choose what to do about it – limit, eliminate or compensate. Fingers crossed. I will keep you posted. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Harissa-spiced lamb fillet with roasted beetroot puree and quince sauce

I don't usually do cheffy-style plating of my dishes at home; mostly because I'm not a chef, and I like to leave that sort of thing to the experts. Mine never look quite as good! 
But I must have been inspired by a couple of dishes I've eaten recently at events, involving beetroot puree. It is such a pretty thing on a plate, with its gorgeous bright purple colour, and I love the earthy flavour. So I had a little play, and came up with this recipe for tonight's dinner. The earthiness of the beetroot is really brought out by roasting them before pureeing, and it complements the spicy lamb really beautifully. The quince sauce was inspired by my recent endeavours with kilos and kilos of quinces; it makes a tangy, sweetish sauce that brings everything together pretty well, if I do say so myself. 
I served this with some of our second suprise crop of Maori potatoes; we thought we had harvested them all months ago, only to discover a whole lot more lovely wee gems hiding under the soil last weekend. Bonus! They are creamy, flavoursome little nuggets that even I - not a big potato lover - think are fabulous. But you could serve with any spuds. It strikes me this whole thing would work really well using duck breast, too. 

Harissa-spiced lamb fillet with roasted beetroot puree and quince sauce

2 x 200g lamb loin fillets (I used Silver Fern Farms) 
1 teaspoon harissa paste (I used Alexandra's) 
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 medium beetroots, washed and halved
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1-2 tablespoons hot water
1 cup beef or chicken stock
1/2 cup red wine
1 tablespoon quince paste
small knob butter
Green beans & potatoes to serve

Preheat the oven to 200C. 

Combine harissa paste and olive oil in a shallow dish. Add lamb fillets and coat with mixture. Set aside. 
Place the beetroot in an oven-proof dish and roast for about 40 minutes, until tender. Remove from the oven and cool. Puree using a blender, adding olive oil and water to make a smooth puree. Set aside. 
While beetroot is roasting, combine stock and wine in a pot over a medium heat, Bring to the boil, then simmer for 20 minutes or until reduced to about 1/3 of the original volume. Add quince paste and stir through until dissolved. REmove from heat and set aside. 
Heat a griddle pan or barbecue grill to hot. Cook lamb fillets for about 3 minutes on each sire, or until done to your liking. Rest for 5 minutes, then slice into diagonal slices. 
Reheat sauce, adding butter and stirring through. Warm beetroot puree in microwave or over a low heat on the stove. Place a smear of beetroot puree on each plate, place lamb on top and drizzle with quince sauce. Serve with green beans (or another green vege of your choice) and small potatoes. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sydney on the side

The best things I ate in Sydney last week were the side dishes. These are the ones I can’t stop thinking about. Considering some of the places I ate, that seems a little weird, but there it is. Maybe it’s because the side dishes are often the ones us non-chefs have a chance of re-creating.

The first dish to be photographed (which I consider normal restaurant behaviour these days, but some of my dining companions thought was hilarious) was a tapas dish at Bodega in Surry Hills.  ‘Salad of fried cauliflower, chickpeas and silverbeet’ sounds so plain on a menu, but this was so delicious that we ordered another plate of it. I’m a huge fan of the humble cauli, especially when fried or roasted so the edges go crispy and caramelised. This was tossed in quite a lot of olive oil, which no doubt enhanced its flavour. It instantly reminded me of another fabulous cauliflower dish I enjoyed at Melbourne’s Cumulus.Inc, which also had fried cauliflower, served spiced with goats’ curd. These are both lovely, simple dishes, and absolutely delicious. See my version below, destined to be a winter favourite for me. 

 The second standout side was at Toko, also in Surry Hills. This is a super-stylish space, full of buzz, and apparently also a celebrity hangout, although if there were any there on the Friday lunchtime we visited they were b-grade Aussie ones I didn’t recognise.

Anyway, there was no need to be gazing round in search of celebs when the food put on such an amazing show. Everything we ate here was sensational: the soft-shell crab with wasbi mayonnaise, the duck with sancho pepper and marinated nashi, even the edamame in a super-moreish chilli sauce. But my favourite was dengaku nasu; enigmatically described as ‘eggplant with sweet miso’. It looked like something that shouldn’t be eaten; like it had been varnished and could be used as a table decoration. Digging into it though, we discovered meltingly soft, creamy, roasted flesh, topped with a sweet, savoury miso paste/glaze – quite hard to describe, but very, very easy to eat. I’m working on how to do this one – if anyone has any bright ideas, I’d love to hear them.

Finally I had a fabulous dinner at Rockpool Bar & Grill with my friend Kirsten. This is an absolutely stunning space, very ‘Sydney’, in an old deco bank building in the CBD. It was absolutely packed (apparently the recession has not hit Australia). 

My favourite thing about this dinner was actually the gorgeous company. But my second favourite thing was the very simple salad of green beans ‘with creamy anchovy, chilli and lemon dressing and toasted almonds’. The description pretty much tells you what it was, although I’d love to know what exactly was in that dressing. Again, I’m working on it. It went beautifully with my seared king prawns with goats’ cheese tortellini, burnt butter and pine nuts. And Kirsten’s lobster thermidor.

Warm spiced cauliflower salad

Serves 4

1 head cauliflower, chopped into florets
1 x 400g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Spray oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
4 cups silver beet leaves, stalks discarded
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons crumbled goats’ feta
Salt & pepper to taste

Step 1 Preheat the oven to 200C. Put the cauliflower and chickpeas on an oven tray , spray with oil and sprinkle with cumin, tossing to coat. Roast for 20-30 minutes, until cauliflower is browned and tender, with some crispy dark brown edges.

Step 2 Blanch or microwave silver beet for 1-2 minutes, until tender.

Step 3 Combine cauliflower, chickpeas, silver beet and olive oil in a large bowl. Mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving plate and sprinkle over goats’ cheese.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

new recipe - Lamb & eggplant curry

It's not that I haven't been cooking lately...... more that I haven't been writing things down! 

But last night's effort was too good not to. 

I really enjoyed this combination of flavours, concocted after one of those 'what's in the fridge' adventures. Eggplants seem to be pretty cheap right now, which was why I had this one sitting there looking at me. Its earthy flavour goes really well with lamb; add in a bit of chilli, ginger and kaffir lime and you get something pretty snazzy.

Lamb & eggplant curry
(with 3 serves of veges per serve!)

Serves 2

200g lamb stir-fry
1 tablespoon red curry paste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 eggplant, cubed
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
2cm piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely sliced
1 tomato, chopped
2 kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon shrimp paste
1 tablespoon soy sauce
juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 cup water

Spray a non-stick pan with oil, heat to high and stir-fry the lamb for 2 minutes. Add curry paste and stir-fry 2 minutes more. Remove from heat and set aside.

Add half the vegetable oil to the pan. Add the eggplant and stir-fry for about 5 minutes, until golden and tender. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add the remaining oil to the pan. Add the garlic and spring onion and stir-fry until golden. Add the ginger, chillies, tomato, lime leaves and shrimp paste and stir-fry for a few seconds, until tomatoes are soft. Add the eggplant back to the pan, along with the soy sauce, lime juice, brown sugar and water. Simmer for 2 minutes, then add the lamb back in just to heat through. Serve with rice, garnished with kaffir lime leaves.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Holiday salad!

It's funny how some of the yummiest things come from those what's-in-the-fridge rummages. I've just finished giving the pantry a huge clean out (yes, these are the fun things I do in my holidays). This is a yummy salad I just threw together for lunch - and definitely will do again. Perfect for a super-hot day. 

Salmon, brown rice, rocket and beetroot salad

Serves 1

3/4 cup cooked brown rice
handful rocket leaves
1 small beetroot, grated
1 radish, grated
good chunk ginger, grated
1/2 chilli, sliced
100g (ish) of hot-smoked salmon

sesame oil
lemon juice
dash soy sauce

Mix it all together, and enjoy!