Luke Mangan’s Sharing Plates: the food

Unknown.jpegWhen you have friends coming over for dinner, it makes sense to experiment on them with recipes from a book called Sharing Plates (sent to me by the publisher, Murdoch Books, at no cost; discussion of the book itself).

Rosemary popovers: these are in the Bread section of the book. You make a batter of flour, eggs, milk and rosemary, and then pour it into a muffin pan to bake. These were ok; they popped right out of the muffin holes (maybe mine were deeper than the 60mL specified in the recipe), which was amusing. I found them a bit too eggy to really enjoy like a bread roll, which is what I was assuming they would be like. The recipe calls for it to be served with seaweed butter (adding dried seaweed); I neither have easy access to an Asian grocery nor the inclination to try seaweed this way at home. I put thyme into some butter instead, which is still in keeping with the book as it does say you’re allowed to experiment with other herbs. I made 8, so they certainly count as ‘sharing’ food.

Salad of roasted pumpkin, chorizo, chickpeas, quinoa and blue cheese: from the Snacks and Salads section. I’ll be upfront and say I am made a few alterations to this. I don’t like blue cheese so I used a very good Persian feta instead; I left out the roast capsicum because I couldn’t be bothered; and I didn’t make/use the cabernet sauvignon dressing because I thought the chorizo left enough oil to dress the quinoa, and the chorizo and seasoned pumpkin and feta together all seemed to add enough zing. I did like the combination here of using quinoa and a few chickpeas with the chorizo and roasted pumpkin; the walnuts on top added a good crunch, and the preserved lemon a piquant tang. In the past I have made similar salads with couscous; I think quinoa is a bit lighter, and I’ll tend towards it from now on (remembering to not let it burn in the pot…). I guess salad counts as a sharing food?

Chermoula lamb: I wanted to use the salad, above, so I mixed n matched with the Chermoula lamb with pumpkin couscous, from the Meat section. Perhaps you can buy chermoula somewhere in Australia as a marinade, but I’ve not noticed it. I assume this because the ingredients list says “30g chermoula; 6x80g lamb loins…”. I’ve used chermoula before so I was happy to go make it, but I was really surprised to see if referenced here as something you would just buy. The chermoula/lamb combo was fine. To be honest I don’t really see how this counts as a ‘sharing plate’ since there’s nothing more ‘sharing’ about this than with any other recipe that serves 4-6 people.

Bounty bars: from the Sweets section. I was pretty excited about making these – the ingredients are straightforward (butter, sugar, condensed milk (!!), coconut, chocolate) and I love a Bounty. And yes, they were very tasty, and of course licking the bowls was lovely. However the instruction that “Using two forks, dip a bar into the melted chocolate and roll to coat all sides. Use one fork to remove the bar from the chocolate and the other to wipe off the excess chocolate” (p213) is deceptive. That process was far more difficult than implied: the bars had been in the freezer, to solidify, so the chocolate just stuck to them really quickly – removing excess was hard. And just getting them into and out of the chocolate was a process. Perhaps I need to use a wider-mouthed bowl, but that’s not specified in the instructions. In the end, because of how annoying the process was and because of just how much chocolate was ending up on each bar, I gave up on covering the whole thing and went with fairly serious drizzling instead. This was far easier and still, I think, deposited a good amount of chocolate on the bar. Having learnt this trick I would be happy to make these again. I did indeed make the 15 suggested by the recipe… they do count as a ‘sharing’ plate in that respect, although given that they are meant to last for a week in an airtight container, you could just as easily not share them…

At other times

Sumac-spiced pork and vela meatballs with fontina mash: the meatballs were great, although I couldn’t pick up the sumac, which was sad and perhaps not surprising since you put in the same amount of ground coriander, and then some allspice, paprika, and pepper as well. The recipe calls for you to have bacon in the mix, which I think is intriguing, as well as pork back fat… which I couldn’t find, so I just left it out. Not sure what difference it would have made, of course; perhaps smoother texture? I thought they were fine, anyway. The tomato sauce had anchovy in it, which I like for the salt and umami flavour. The potato mash was intriguing – milk, cream, butter, parmesan, and fontina. I did not add cream, because I don’t tend to have it just sitting around, but I did go out and buy some fontina specifically. Fontina is not a cheese I would willingly eat, being much stinkier than I enjoy… but I was intrigued by its addition to the mash, and I quite liked it. Having said that, I don’t think I’ll go out of my way to source fontina for future mash: it’s not that easy to find, and it’s not particularly cheap, either. I’d be happy with either more buttery mash, or adding parmesan. The meatballs and the tomato sauce were very nice. Once again, unconvinced that this really deserves the moniker ‘sharing plate’; yes you can share it, yes it would be a nice cosy dinner party meal, but… it’s not something other than that.

Lamb empanadas: certainly count as sharing plates, and these were delightful. However, the info bar at the top said it made 10 empanadas; the ingredients list specifies 4 sheets of puff pastry; and the instructions say to use a coffee mug or glass to cut “10 rounds from each sheet”…

Things I haven’t cooked but give a sense of what the book is like: the first recipe is Quail eggs benedict with chilli kale on mini muffins; the final recipe is Soft Swiss meringue with berries and almond anglaise (actually the very last recipe, in the Basics section, is Wasabi Dressing).

Julie Goodwin’s Essential Cookbook: the food

Julie Goodwin's Essential CookbookThis book was sent to me by the publisher, Hachette, at no cost. It’s out now; RRP $39.99.

Yesterday I talked about the book as an object; today I will discuss some of the recipes I’ve followed.

Because this is aiming to be an ‘essential’ for the Australian family, I thought I should make some things that I was already pretty familiar with, to be able to see how these compare with things I’ve already made.

Savouries

Osso bucco. I don’t always – in fact, never – brown the meat before throwing in the slow-cooker, but I did this time. The recipe isn’t specifically for a slow cooker but it is suggested as an option at the top of the recipe.

Cheesy meatballs: stuff a piece of mozzarella inside straightforward meatballs (3/4 pork, 1/4 beef) that already have parmesan in them too? Oh heck yes I am there for that. These were great, and easy.

Chicken and chorizo paella: very tasty, very easy. Not Goodwin’s fault that I kept itching to stir it because I have way more experience with cooking risotto.

Cannelloni: stuffed with ricotta and peas and pine nuts, wrapped in fresh lasagne, baked with a tomato sauce. These were fantastic; I’ve not used fresh lasagne sheets before and it’s a great idea (cut in three, width-ways).

Sweet

IMG_1431.JPGScones! I have made scones before, and have recently discovered that the point is to mix them very lightly. Goodwin makes this point strongly. They weren’t perfect but that’s my fault: I didn’t turn the oven on early enough so it wasn’t as hot as it should have been, and my guest was arriving soon… so I had to cook them for longer than prescribed. Nonetheless they were quite tasty, and as light in texture as I had hoped. I am intrigued by the notion of adding lemon zest; I didn’t add as much zest as suggested (three lemons’ worth) partly because I wasn’t going to make the curd (next time, Gadget) and partly because I didn’t want the lemon to overwhelm the jam I was going to use (it was Kate’s jam, so you know… gotta let stars have their moments). The zest was definitely an excellent addition and I’ll be adding it from now on.

Apple crumble slice: I had to leave out the almonds because I was taking them to a nut-free venue, but nonetheless this was very tasty and successful. They kinda tasted like blondies, so I’m tempted to add white chocolate next time; I would also add more apple, as “three Granny Smiths” is not specific enough.

Overview

The recipes are easy to follow and those I’ve tried are great. This falls under what I guess would be “modern Australian” cooking: Beef Wellington, apple crumble, Victoria sponge and lamb sausage rolls; Greek chicken tray bake, coq au vin, Vietnamese fish curry, and Lebanese chicken… I have no hesitation in recommending this to someone just starting out in cooking, or someone who wants a good all-round home cooking book because they have plenty of speciality books already.

25 years of Nebbiolo

IMG_1436 copyI enjoy wine, but I am by no means a connoisseur. For me, going to an event like this (with friends Gillian and Andrew), is an interesting exercise – doing a vertical tasting of the same variety of wine to see if I can actually taste a difference in them. It’s also usually more about the food and company though.

Organised as part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, this was a celebration of Pizzini Wines having made wine, and especially nebbiolo, for a quarter of a century. We didn’t get to drink any of that first vintage because they drank it all…

IMG_1437.JPGIn the first bracket, I was a bit embarrassed to admit that I really didn’t enjoy the 1993, although it did actually improve with some air (I’ve always been a bit sceptical of this claim). The 1995 was definitely my favourite of this trio, although the 1997 was also fine. The 21st century wines, however, were far more to my liking. The 2004 in particular was very drinkable… we later discovered that this vintage was stored in new oak, which basically equates to sugar in wine-making terms; thus, no surprises. The 2006 was fine – I would drink it although it wouldn’t be my choice; I found it too dry – and and 2011 was a bit meh, although it too improved with some air; it didn’t have quite the flavour of the 2004. The last pair were intended to be a bit special, and they certainly were. Sometimes I have tasted wine that’s meant to be all ‘this is the reason we have a top shelf’ and I’m all ”I’d pay $25 a bottle”. The 1998 magnum was quite tasty. The 2004 Coronamento, though, was definitely the best wine of the evening. I don’t have the training to use all the proper wine-snob words, so all I can say is: it was very, very tasty.

The vertical tasting was definitely worth it in that sense – the same grape tasting different based on growing conditions and time in bottle and all those sorts of things. It was a good education in that.

…well, the Coronamento was the best nebbiolo, anyway. Because not listed here was the final wine we tried: we tried it out of a cask, because it hasn’t actually been bottled yet. I don’t know if it has a name but it’s made from trebbiano grapes, is a dessert wine, and whooooaa. A. Maze.

The food was provided by Project 49, in the restaurant which isn’t officially open yet. The first course was a wee plate of four types of mushrooms, accompanied by a white bean puree and truffle paste with dehydrated/rehydrated mushrooms and was spectacular. Next was a risotto of pine nut, pear, pear, ash… and rabbit. And it was also amazing. Then main was two thick slices of a pan-fried sausage, which was a bit like chorizo and all caramelly from the frying and delicious, with lentil and pickled radish. So good. Dessert was fig-leaf pan cotta and rhubarb, with a hazelnut shortbread. Overall, I enjoyed the food more than the wine (except for the trebbiano); this is no reflection on Pizzini and absolutely a reflection on me!

The event was well-organised, with quite a small number of people and tables fairly well spaced – it was still a pretty loud environment, thank you concrete floors, but it was bearable. There were four members of the Pizzini family present (it’s family owned and run), with one at each table, and they were pleasant and generous with their time and knowledge. Papa Pizzini should have been made to use notes, though, when he spoke… The Project 49 staff were delightful, and the food as noted was excellent.

Experiment!

The question posed: can I take a meatball recipe and, rather than cook the meat in balls in a sauce, cook it all together so it’s like what I would call a bolognese-type sauce, and which Americans might call something like chilli?

Let’s find out!

I decided to use a recipe from Saffron Tales only because I had loved it recently and I had prunes to use up; I intend to try this with the meatball/kofte recipes in Jerusalem, too. The meatballs there are stuffed with barberries and walnut and prune, and simmered in a sauce of tomato and onion and prunes and so on. Oh and the meatballs have cooked rice in them.

So I made the sauce pretty much to spec, and then just… put in the mince, and all of the other ingredients (except the walnuts, which I added at the end) (oh and garlic because I ran out; how even does that happen?). I didn’t pre-cook the rice, just threw that in too, and added a bit more water to compensate. And let it simmer for maybe an hour or so? For the meatballs it said to simmer for 50 min; I figure bolognese sauce is always better when it’s all been cooking down together, so the same principle seemed to apply here.

And the verdict was: yes! This is a good option! I won’t stop making meatballs because there is definitely a place for that, but the place for THIS is in the dehydrator and making me ever more interesting food to take camping. I am very pleased with the results.

Istanbul Cult Recipes: the recipes

unknownWhat I thought of the book itself.

Now, the recipes!

Things I’ve made:

“Lady’s thighs” – these are kofte (uh, not softie, autocorrect) that are apparently meant to be shaped like lady’s thighs? Or something. Anyway, steak and rice and some spices – very simple, very tasty.

Beef dumplings – ‘manti’, “the unmissable little Armenian dumplings”. Simple dough (flour and oil and a little water); a spoonful of minced beef and onion into the middle of 6cm squares, fold them up into boats and bake in the oven with some broth around it. SO good. I plan to experiment with spices… and they freeze brilliantly.

Zucchini fritters – zucchini, eggs, dill, parsley, feta. Fry. Delight.

Lentil balls – my one failure so far. They tasted fine… but they didn’t become balls. They wouldn’t stick together, so I used it as a basis for meatballs. Still: lentils and burgh and garlic and chilli paste and parsley and spring onions…

Shortbread – actually the first thing I made, for a church fete. They got a good rap because, as someone said, they’re not toosweet. They’ve got flour and almond meal (the ground walnut option is intriguing), and only 80g caster sugar for 500g other dried ingredients. Easy to make, easy to eat.

Things I want to make:

Milk buns with feta kneaded through… :O

Lentil soup – so easy! red lentils and tomato…

Stuffed vine leaves – I’ve always been dubious of my ability to make these, but you can use silverbeet! instead of vine leaves! and somehow that seems more accessible.

Borek – filo (although given where I leave I might be able to access yufka pastry…) with feta… sounds awesome.

Almond helva – although making my own helva could be a deeply dangerous thing to do HOW GOOD WOULD THAT BE?!

Things I won’t make:

I can’t come at tripe. Uh, no. I also don’t think I can access mutton so I guess I’ll try some stuff with lamb instead…

Internet recipes

… because what can go wrong?

Mexican tortilla casserole

Look, as an Australian I am deeply confused about the naming of this dish. Casseroles are meant to be far more liquidy (although not soupy); although it does include tortillas I think the Mexican aspect is all about the tortillas and the corn, and the suggestion of corn and coriander.

ANYWAY, I made it… or a version of it at least. Instead of going the veg option I used rehydrated dehydrated bolognese (still had some left from camping shenanigans); I used silverbeet instead of spinach; I used wraps instead of, strictly speaking, tortillas. But the final result was HECK YES I will be making this again, and I may even follow the actual recipe next time.

 

Custard and apple teacake

So firstly I made this in a round tin because I don’t have any square tins… maybe I need to invest in one. ANYWAY I made it and the tin was a bit small I think because this ended up being a remarkably tall cake. I was very excited about the custard aspect and the apple aspect; I used apples that I’d stewed with cider vinegar ages ago and froze, and custard, man. Custard. In the end the cake itself was nice enough, being quite moist; but I didn’t feel it was either custard-y or apple-y enough. I would add more of each if I made this again.

 

Salted caramel sesame cacao bites

I have very big issues with anything that’s advertised as ‘guilt free’ but salted caramel sesame cacao drew me in nonetheless. And the short version is yes, these are delicious and I really enjoyed them. However… perhaps it was because the only dates I had were not medjool, but there was no ‘processing until finely chopped’ – my dates didn’t get that fine. And I did not end up with a mixture that was at all smooth when I added the tahini and coconut oil; I ended up shaping the mixture into balls instead because I didn’t think that pressing it into a slice would work. I then also had problems dipping the balls into the coating (cacao powder, coconut oil and maple syrup). So they ended up looking pretty substandard, but darn they’re tasty.