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.

 

Feasting

mmccthefeast.jpgI received a copy of the Monday Morning Cooking Club’s book The Feast Goes On from the awesome Alisa for my birthday, and I’ve got a plethora of tags sticking out already because there’s a heap of things I want to cook. (For starters, look at the cake on the front.) This weekend I took the opportunity to cook three of them.

Mains was slow-cooked beef with ras el hanout. I went with chuck steak, and I used the slow cooker, which was awesome. It’s got onion and garlic, I did grate the tomatoes although I’m not convinced it was necessary, and I chucked in all the right spices for the ras el hanout. I used the cured lemon that I made courtesy of Palomar and I think it really was better than preserved lemon. It was… smoother, somehow (I mean yes it is a smooth paste, but even the taste seemed smoother). It cooked in about 6 hours, I think, and it has gone straight to the top few recipes of How To Impress Without Too Much Effort. I served it with yoghurt and some more cured lemon.

(I can’t find a recipe online for cured lemons like in Palomar. At any rate, it’s layer the lemons with salt and canola + olive oil; leave for three days then strain out the oil, blitz the lemons with some chilli and add some oil until it’s smooth.)

On the side I did a potato and onion gratin, with a big bunch of thyme and rosemary (the recipe called for one or the other, but why not have both?). I layered this too densely so I IMG_1301.JPGended up having to cook it for longer. Which was fine but I felt stupid. I will make this again and I will use a bigger dish.

For dessert I kinda committed sacrilege. In my family, Mum’s lemon delicious is almost holy. So to make mandarine delicious, and to make it in individual ramekins, and to follow someone else’s recipe – ! They were quite lovely. They had quite a different texture from the lemon delicious I have made in the past; not sure if that’s the recipe or the individual ramekin or if I made some mistake. But they weren’t as sponge-y; they were a bit more gelatinous, and they didn’t have much syrup underneath – it was more on the inside. Nonetheless I will be making these again, too… even though it did mean I had to blitz a mandarine in the wee processor and then strain the juice through a tea strainer.

 

Palomar: the food

This book was sent to me by the publisher. Go here for discussion of the physical product.

4the-palomar

There’s some nice basics in here: harissa, watercress pesto (which I used to make snow pea pesto, and it was quite good), labneh and tapenade. I have prepared the cured lemons – one thing I do not lack is lemons – which the book promises will eliminate a “bleach-y taste” they claim preserved lemons carry. I haven’t noticed. I haven’t turned them into cured lemon paste, yet, but I definitely plan to. These things are in “The meal before the meal,” along with other dips and felafel and such.

The next section is “Raw beginnings” and I haven’t made anything from this section… and I’m not likely to. I’m allergic to scallops so that’s a few recipes gone, and I’m just not the sort of person who will ever come to steak tartare. There are one or two salads that might get a look at.

I have mostly cooked from “The main act.” The book has two shakshuka recipes; I’ve made the “New style” one with cauliflower, zucchini, garlic and chilli and coriander – then eggs cracked over. It was ok – I was perfectly happy to eat it – but not completely brilliant. It was one I had altered, taking out the eggplant because my beloved isn’t a huge fan… but since the recipe has a section called “Variations,” telling you to “reinvent” it every time, this shouldn’t have been a problem. I am intrigued with making it with chorizo and/or olives, feta… or, they promise, “any old stew or cooked vegetable you have as leftovers from yesterday’s main meal.” So I’m not quite giving up on this.

Polenta Jerusalem style: I admit I used instant polenta, which the author of the book would abhor, but that’s what I have. This involves making polenta; putting “mushroom ragout” on top (mushrooms cooked in butter), and then blanched asparagus. Garnish with Parmesan. I mean yes, it was tasty, but it’s not all that miraculous. Maybe ‘real’ polenta makes a huge difference?

Aubergine and feta boureka: ok these were quite cool. Bourekas are made by cutting butter puff pastry into four triangles, then brushing with egg, sprinkling with sesame seeds and cooking for about 18 minutes at 200C. Then you halve them and throw stuff on top – again, I omitted the eggplant, but the swiss chard stew with bacon and feta was really good. (This recipe also looks awesome.)

Papi’s spinach gnocchi: was a disaster. I’ll wear this one because I didn’t want to simmer them in goat’s yoghurt (too hard), so I simmered them in water instead. They just fell apart. I didn’t drain the spinach enough? Who knows.

Right in the middle there’s a series of pictures showing octopus – both cut up and not cut up. It’s my least favourite part of the book.

Cod chraymeh: I didn’t use cod, because that’s too hard in Australia; I think I used ling. This was … well, not flavourless, but really not worth the effort. It has red capsicum, garlic, spices, harissa… I was surprised how much it didn’t work.

Chicken thighs in green olive and tomato sauce: this was quite nice – the chicken with the olives worked really well.

IMG_1293.JPGLabneh kreplach tortellini: probably my favourite recipe to date. Kreplach are “the Ashkenazi Jewish version of Italian ravioli, Chinese wonton or Russian pelmeni.” Palomar suggests making IMG_1294.JPGthem like choux (choux? I can totes make choux) – flour into boiling water, into the processor to add more flour and egg yolks (which means making meringues later), then leaving the dough til the next day to roll and fill. As the name suggests, these were filled with labneh (yes, homemade) mixed with za’atar. I then simmered them in borscht (made with some of my own beetroots, EAT YOUR HEART OUT Katering Show). It was awesome. (I’m interested that a number of online recipes, like this one, call for whole eggs – no meringues! – but very excited that it points out that like dumplings, kreplach can of course by frozen. EXCELLENT.)

IMG_1295.JPGVerdict: I’m not sad to have experimented with it, but I wouldn’t be rushing out to buy it for all my friends. Possibly I’m spoiled by Jerusalem plus my two Sabrina Ghayour books, and The Saffron Tales, which basically cover these sorts of recipes – the ones I’ve enjoyed anyway. That said, I am looking forward to trying the date roulade, and their version of pitta bread.

Camping food

So we went camping for about ten days recently, and we managed to make dinner on the fire every night. Which was ace. We’d done a lot of prep beforehand, which stood us in good stead.

We did a few pretty normal things: eye fillet and lamb backstrap on the grill. A whole lot of roast potatoes. We’d marinated some lamb with onion, garlic, and ginger and then vac-sealed it; we cooked that with a tin of peas and it was quite good! We took many tins of vegetables – easier to transport, especially when our trip involved running the quarantine regulations of travel between Victoria and South Australia. We had some that were just boiled, and they were just… average. So I decided to change it up by warming them in a pan with some butter and herbs. Herbs were courtesy of a Gewurzhaus gift from a friend and they really lifted the veg.

In terms of dessert, we did two experiments. One, I discovered that you can buy packet mug cake! Which is so wrong but so awesome. And we decided to make them in the sandwich maker and they worked brilliantly. Two, we decided to try and make a proper cake too. My beloved was convinced that we could do it in a cast-iron cauldron. I thought we should put alfoil in the bottom. And… well, the bottom burnt, which was sad, but probably not a surprise. We still ate the cake, and it was ok – I mean, it was cake in the middle of the Flinders Ranges – but it did have a burnt tang. Which was sad. Next time we might try a pot-inside-a-pot… or just take a cake tin with us. Or, easiest, just rely on mug cake packets.

Breakfast was mostly pancakes and bacon and egg wraps. There was also a lot of tea and aeropress coffee. Lunch was wraps, or occasionally using the sandwich maker for its actual purpose.

Stock and pesto

I’ve had several chicken carcasses in the freezer for ages, so I decided today was the day for making stock. This included the chicken from our first ill-fated attempt at spit-roasting said bird, which meant that it was a particularly meaty stock. Most of the birds had some sort of seasoning on them, from memory, and there was at least one lemon inside, and I don’t have any carrots or celery as recommended by Nigella. So I just added some parsley and thyme and simmered it all together for something more than three hours. It looks like it’s made a pretty good amount of good-smelling stock, so I’m letting it sit in the fridge for a while – I’ll skim it tomorrow and then freeze it…

Today I also made pesto. Initially I thought I might have invented a New Pesto, but on checking the internet no, of course I haven’t. This pesto was inspired by the delivery of a bunch of snow pea shoots in my fruit and veg box. I checked online and the suggestions were stir-fry (not a fave of my darling) or salad. OR, I thought, pesto! Yum! And this time I will freeze some! So garlic and walnuts and parmesan and snow pea shoots. I had some for lunch with avo on toast; delightful.