It’s not easy being green

I have a  confession to make.

I’m not so good with the green leafies.

Rocket? Oh yes, my favourite salad leaf of all time.

Baby spinach? Sure, great in a salad. Baby spinach and strawberries and feta and balsamic!

Mature spinach? Um, sure. You can wilt it, right? Use it with lentils? … add it to breakfast if you have to?

But then there’s silverbeet. And kale. oh gahd, kale. These are not things I would buy for myself. But my Ceres box has contained them rather frequently.

What to DO??

Unknown-1.jpegSo, kale. Turns out kale is ok if you mix it with garlic and crispy potato. Thank you, Stephanie Alexander, for Elizabeth Schneider’s Baked Curly Kale with Potato, Olive and Garlic (this recipe is very similar), you have saved my kale from just being automatically given to the worms. Who would have loved it but I would have felt bad. Not exactly my choice of dish but perfectly fine when it just… turns up…

Unknown.jpegAnd silverbeet? Well, once you discover that it’s also called Swiss chard, it gets easier to find recipes. (Do not get me started on foods with more than one name. EGGPLANT AND ZUCCHINI I AM LOOKING AT YOU. AND YOU CORIANDER.) So my current Swiss chard has mostly become Ottolenghi’s Plenty: Swiss chard, chickpea and tamarind stew. And it was really quite good. I liked the tamarind; also I added some cured lemon paste mixed with some Greek yoghurt, which of course makes everything delicious.

I still don’t love these greens but at least I have things I can do with them now when they inevitably turn up in my Be Healthy box.

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.

Family feasting

I had the opportunity to cook for part of my family this weekend – which doesn’t happen very often – so I decided to experiment. Which is perhaps dangerous, but that’s How I Roll.

9781743368565Dinner #1: Indian Made Easy

Chana Masala – chickpea stew basically. It was ok, although not as large as I had hoped. So it’s a good thing that I also made…

Stuffed potato and pea cakes – mashed potato with spices, wrapped around pulsed peas and paneer and more spices, lightly fried. 110% would make again. So good.

UnknownDinner #2: Saffron Tales

Chicken with walnuts and pomegranate – I’ve looked at this a couple times but been put off by the amount of time required with the walnuts. You need to cook the blitzed walnuts with water for two hours, so that it turns into a porridge-like consistency. But you don’t really need to do anything with it, just stir it occasionally, so if you’re home anyway it’s pretty easy. Then you add chicken (or eggplant) and pomegranate molasses and leave it for another 40 or so minutes and… absolute culinary delight; my sister thought it looked like mole (she’s just back from Mexico). Can’t wait to eat this again. Served with…

Coconut rice (because I couldn’t be bothered with proper Persian rice with saffron etc), and a play on salad shirazi (we removed the red onion and added avocado).

But wait! You’re all saying. What about dessert?! My sister made Nigella’s boiled mandarine cake. Which was good… after, um, a slight mandarine+saucepan malfunction. Probably the less said about that the better, if I want to stay on her good side…

Two kitchen failures

I’m feeling a little glum.

To be fair, they weren’t complete failures – like, they were edible, eventually – but still. Sad.

First: if you crowd chicken and potato together in a too-small container, the potato doesn’t cook completely. I thought I was doing the right thing putting it close-ish together because I was roasting it all with a couple of lemons, but it turns out that nope. Bit more space is important for potatoes. NOTED. (Ended up nuking the potatoes briefly, which was a bit humiliating.)

The second was a cake failure, which WOUNDED me. It was an apple butter cake. I made the ‘apple butter’, not completely following the recipe I’ll admit – that was an accident but it didn’t turn into a failure, because it was still tasty, a very concentrated apple. Anyway I decided to make the cake in a ring pan, because that makes it easier to cut up for sharing. I tested it, and the skewer came out clean… I turned it onto a rack after a bit, and then a bit after that I noticed that it had SUNK. It was still doughy! So I put it back in the oven for a bit. It seems ok now. At least it hasn’t sunk again.

Wah.

The Saffron Tales #2

Yesterday I talked about the book itself; today, it’s the recipes.

UnknownThey, too, are great.

Sweets

Sour cherry and dark chocolate biscuits: the first time I made these I couldn’t find sour cherries; that has since been rectified. That first time I used dried blueberries, and they were ok. I really like them with sour cherries – these are some new favourites.

Persian love cake: even though I had no rose water, so I used orange blossom water, this was fantastic. And as Khan herself notes, the cake keeps quite well – I think we ate it over about five days and it didn’t go stale just under plastic wrap in the fridge.

Mains Continue reading “The Saffron Tales #2”

Wholefood from the ground up

This book was sent to me by the publisher, Allen&Unwin, at no cost. The RRP is $39.99 and it’s available 9781743365373.jpgfrom today (May 25).

Recipes I’ve tried

Potato and celery salad with celery leaf pesto

My darling isn’t a huge fan of basil pesto, as a rule, so I was curious to see how he felt about this one. It’s made with the inner celery leaves (the yellowy ones), parsley, capers, pine nuts and pecorino (I used parmesan) plus the other normal pesto bits. And the answer was that he really liked it – as did I. It’s a lot subtler than basil pesto (which I do love), but still very tasty. This recipe puts the pesto with boiled potatoes and inner celery stems. I served it with those and chicken, and ate the leftover chicken with leftover pesto the next day. Very nice.

Baked spicy cauliflower, chickpeas and fresh dates

First change: no fresh dates, so used dried ones. Anyway – cauliflower with cumin and coriander and garam masala, baked; always lovely. Cook onion and add chickpeas, then throw those on top of the cauli and add the tahini which you’ve mixed with orange juice and zest and a bit of sweet. I served this by itself but would definitely make it again to serve with other salads. Very tasty and I enjoyed the mouthfeel of cauli with tahini. I suspect this may become a favourite pairing.

Pocket pie: moroccan-spiced pumpkin, silver beet and goat’s cheese

Look, it’s fair to say that this recipe caused some anguish. This is probably largely on me, because Blereau’s recipe calls for shortcrust pastry to be made from spelt and barley flour, but the two places I tried – the supermarket (I live in a hipster and immigrant area, so it’s not that ridiculous) and a bulk-food place – did not have barley flour. So I subbed in ordinary flour. I did not do the research into whether or how barley flour deals differently with butter compared with ordinary flour. The pastry was very short and I found it very difficult to deal with. There might have been some shouting. Still, with the soothing hands of my beloved we did end up making them, and they were tasty enough; it seemed like a lot of butter, because they went very crispy. The filling was ok – roasted pumpkin with coriander, cumin, and fennel.

Split pea, fennel and winter vegetable soup

Again, neither of the places I checked had green split peas. The supermarket had a spot for them, but they were out of stock. So I used a normal soup mix. This is a very nice soup but it’s not anything out of the ordinary.

Creamy fresh corn polenta with refried black beans

I think I’ve made polenta maybe once, and that was to cut it up into squares and bake it (which was nice). This recipe recommends cooking the polenta in a fatty stock, and I realised that I had a lamb ‘stock’ in the freezer from ages ago – I think it was liquid I drained off some dish and couldn’t bear to throw. So I used that to cook the polenta, and it was delicious. The refried black beans were also really nice, with capsicum and coriander and a little too much chilli for my tastes (c/ beloved being a little heavy handed). We didn’t add the corn to this because we’re not huge fans; I didn’t think the dish suffered for its lack.

I ignored most of the section on ‘basics’, like using kefir grains in… stuff… and preparing and cooking beans, lentils, and grains.

The book itself

It’s a well presented book, as you’d expect from Allen&Unwin; it’s one of those big cookbooks, with what feels like a solid spine, and generally appetising photos throughout. Each recipe has dietary info about whether it’s dairy or gluten free, vego or vegan, and other allergy stuff. However the recipes, while nicely set out on the page, sacrifice font size in favour of white space, which makes reading from a distance something of a struggle – not great from the other side of the stove.

I have two main issues with the book. One is perhaps obvious from comments above: there are ingredients in here that were not easy for me to find. I do not know what kombucha or kefir grains are, nor where to find them. I live near the city, in a hipster area. Probably I could find these things, and I know I could find them online, but the point remains that this is not an easy, automatic book to cook from – and that’s not acknowledged anywhere, as far as I could find. Connected to this is the reality that this is not a book for the economically poor, nor the time poor. This is not necessarily a problem, if you’re buying for yourself and willing to put in the time and money, but it is something that should be acknowledged. Blereau is all in for pre-soaking beans and grains and then cooking for however long, so you need to be prepared for that if you want to follow the recipes precisely. And of course being prepared for the time it takes to make cultured cream and so on with your kefir grains.

And then there’s the wholefoods thing. I am not on the wholefoods bandwagon. I am all in favour of cooking food from scratch if you have the time, I understand some of the issues with overly processed stuff, and so on. But when I read the introduction to this book, I ended up getting out a pencil and making annotations in the margins because I got annoyed with it. For instance, there’s the suggestion that industrialisation of food in Australia started in the 1960s and 1970s, and grossly generalised statements about ‘traditional cultures’ that enjoy ‘good health and happiness’ all understanding that our physical bodies are ‘formed of and governed by the forces of nature’… whatever that means. And then there’s her suggestion that she grew up with a ‘strong, intact food culture’ and that many people today are ‘without a strong grasp of food culture.’ Maybe ‘food culture’ means something really specific that I’m not aware of, but I think that is bordering on offensive. (Do not get me started on the idea that herbicides and fungicides are ‘derivative of nerve gases left over after the early wars’ – my note in the margin says “what, Persians? Assyrians?”)

In the end, I think that this book has some interesting recipes in it, but if you’re not completely on board with wholefoods you might find it more annoying than not. That said, if you ARE into wholefoods (which is totally fine I would just rather have a more scientific discussion about it), this may well be the book for you, especially if you’re just starting out and are interested in exploring different sorts of grains and how to actually use them in meals.

It’s available from Fishpond.