What’s for Dinner?

This book was provided by Allen&Unwin at no cost. Available from April 2016; RRP $34.99.

Unknown.jpeg The book itself

This is a book produced out of recipes from the website My Food Bag, which I hadn’t come across before receiving the book – so it is kinda one big ad. Despite that, I have come down in favour of the book.

The recipes are all designed for weeknight cooking, so there’s generally a minimum of fuss involved. The recipes come from a range of cuisines (harissa to haloumi to coconut rice to steak); there’s a variety of meat, seafood and vego dishes; they’re divided into seasons to help you figure out fruit and veg availability. Every recipe comes with a little circle indicating whether it will take less, medium, or more time, and also whether the recipe is gluten and/or dairy free (or how to make it so; the index also lists all dishes that are GF or DF, as a distinct category). Plus, each recipe also lists the amount of energy, carb, protein and fat in it (… if you follow the recipe…).

Each double page is nicely laid out with the recipe on one side and a picture of the dish on the other. The pictures aren’t too overwhelming – they’re mostly trying to look like they’re on the dinner table – although mine tended not to look like the perfectly plated dishes. Of course. Each dish that I have made was straightforward; I didn’t have to puzzle out any instructions.

One quibble: although this is an Australian book, it refers to kumara (sweet potato) and courgettes (zucchini). I find this really bizarre.

To be honest, this isn’t the sort of book that I buy any more; I’ve become more of a fan of the single-cuisine cookbook that I fall pretty hard for. That said,  I know exactly the sort of person I would give it to: someone who is straight out of home, and/or someone who is just starting to cook for themselves. The recipes aren’t intimidating and they do offer a variety of tastes, spices, and skill levels. If you know someone in that category, or want to revamp your own weekday cooking, this could be a good addition to your repertoire of recipes.

The recipes 

I treat this sort of cookbook a bit cavalierly. Sometimes I will follow a recipe to the letter, other times I will pick and choose bits to go together.

Thai pork patties with coconut rice: friends, I have now boiled rice FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY LIFEI followed the instructions in the book about how to do it with coconut milk (3/4 coconut and 3/4 water to 1 cup water), valiantly resisted the urge to lift the lid, and it was excellent. These pork patties (with ginger, sesame oil, fish sauce, kaffir lime leaves and coriander) are also very tasty.

Herb-crusted lamb: unexpectedly good, and I didn’t even have the Dijon mustard to act as the initial layer.

Tomato and bean salad: meant to go with steak but I used it with something else; toss cherry tomatoes for a minute or so in a pan, add cannellini beans and add some chimchurri – or, if you’re me, a handful of herbs. DELISH.

Open lasagne of courgette (!), artichokes, goat’s cheese and pesto: OMG. This is green and fresh and so, so tasty. If you were intimidated by the idea of trying to stack everything you could easily just use pasta and use this as a stir-through sauce. Will be making again.

Haloumi in filo: where have you been all my life turns out there is something else you can do with haloumi HALOUMI IN FILO.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised and am happy to have this on my shelf.

It’s available from Fishpond. 


Cypriot cooking

UnknownI’d been wanting this book for quite a long time when I finally saw it on sale and cracked. I like that it doesn’t just have the standard ‘Middle Eastern’ countries that I think Anglo-Australians think of when they think of food; it’s got Armenia, The Gulf States, Yemen…. So my thought was to try and do a week or two of mostly cooking from on country. Obviously that’s going to be harder or easier depending on season, as to what we feel like; and some ingredient will make things hard. But I figure it’s a good way to try new things and make my way through bits of the book.

So my first foray was into Cyprus. It’s not the first country in the book – that’s Greece – but I thought starting with Greek was cheating because I already know at least some Greek food.

The very first recipe is for haloumi. I am intrigued by the idea of making haloumi but I can’t imagine every actually doing it. Unless I hit some holidays and I get really adventurous… which may well happen, not going to lie.

I also don’t think I will be marinating or frying brains (appetisers). Yes, I happily own to being a culinary coward.

Page-wise, the first recipe I tried was the Kolketes (pumpkin pies; appetiser). This was a bit harder than I had expected. Making the filling of pumpkin and bulgur and spices was a cinch. But the pastry wasn’t nearly as easy to deal with as I had expected, and I got a bit frustrated. This was compounded by the instruction to roll the dough out “about the thickness of a normal pie crust” which is not at all useful if you’re not accustomed to making pie crusts. As I am not. So I just had to guess. Ultimately I managed to make the IMG_0885pies; they were quite tasty. However the pastry has made me leary of trying them again.

Next was haloumi bread. Yes yes yes and yes. I can also imagine just making the Kouloura bread dough by itself.

Further on we hit vegetables, and I made Yemista – stuffed vegetables. I can’t quite imagine stuffing eggplants and my love isn’t a huge fan, so I just went with tomatoes and capsicum. I’d seen some American cooking show where the woman did ‘deconstructed’ stuffed capsicums – don’t worry, she was being sly about and knew this was entirely the cheat’s way of making them – and I had every intention of making the filling (mince, rice, tomato) and then piling the capsicum and tomato on top or something. But in the end I actually properly stuffed them (and how organised is this, I made that bit the day before and just had to cook them the next day for dinner!). They were quite tasty, although I think either the stuffing or the sauce (which was a very basic tomato sauce) needed something a bit richer. Possibly just more tomato.

Then there’s Afelia, which is apparently anything with cracked coriander seeds. I made mushrooms with coriander – fry them off, add some red wine, add coriander – and given I love coriander in all its forms I liked it. I would have liked more ideas in this section about what sort of food it should accompany, though. I also made the pork version, which was quite a Moment for me since I’m not sure I’ve personally cooked pork more than… once before? Basically it just tasted like coriander, though; I didn’t think the pork came through at all. Maybe that’s just pork.

Finally, fish: Psari Savoro (fish with rosemary and vinegar). I used Australian rockling. We went through a bit of a fish phase a few years ago but haven’t been back in ages; I’ve just not found a convenient and good fishmonger. There’s apparently one a bit north of where we are, though, that I’ll have to try – I think this cookbook is likely to have some good seafood recipes. Anyway: salting the fish was an intriguing suggestion, and then coating with flour of course made it crisp up a bit and leave flour to thicken the sauce. My love cooked the fish and did it very well. The sauce was made up of garlic, rosemary, vinegar (we used cider instead of brown) and white wine. It thickened up heaps more than I expected, and was basically tasty although too heavy on the vinegar for my taste. One I will quite likely be revisiting.

Starting with Cyrpus was an … interesting choice. It wasn’t an overwhelming success – I didn’t love everything – but there wasn’t anything that I hated the taste of. I’ll be a bit more cautious as I go further into the book as I’ve not always found Mallos’ instructions to be as straightforward as I’d like. With both the pork and the fish, she says to fry until ‘just cooked through’ – but no instructions about what that looks like. It’s surely not hard to say ‘until the pork is white through’ or ‘until the fish is white and flakes’? Even expert cooks aren’t going to get annoyed by a few extra words, are they?

None of these were particularly photogenic, hence the lack of pics.

Squeaky cheese

Some time back I discovered that thanks to the glories of online shopping (I do not enjoy grocery shopping), I could purchase a 1.5kg container of haloumi. The price was way better than the little individual serves, and it lasts for months in brine, so I thought – why not?

When it arrived, I discovered that the store had been out of the 1.5kg container of haloumi. So they made a substitution.

For a 2kg bucket of haloumi.

I wasn’t sad.

When I announced that this had happened, someone innocently asked: what was I planning to do with haloumi aside from pan-frying it?

To which I said “… why would I do ANYTHING aside from pan-frying it??”

IMG_0884.JPGA colleague at work, with Greek-Cypriot connections, tells me that Cyrpiots will eat (non-fried) haloumi with watermelon. I’ve not tried that. What I have tried, now, is haloumi bread, or haloumopsomi. And friends, it is delightful.

The bread is from Tess Mallos’ book Complete Middle Eastern Cooking, which I’ve just started to explore. I’ve been going through the Cypriot section, which I’ll report back on in a day or two. Anyway, the recipe asks you to make bread according to the recipe for Kouloura dough and then instead of turning it into a bread IMG_0885.JPGring, you push it out into a rectangle; dot it with 250g of haloumi; then roll it up and tuck in the ends. TA DA.

The recipe suggested sesame seeds but I adore nigella seeds so that’s what I went with. It was fairly large, as you see, so this served to accompany two dinners for two of us… because we managed not to be incredibly greed the first night. Came up fine the second night after a little while in the fridge to take the chill off.

The only hard part is the kneading, and at least some of that could just be done in the mixer if I’d thought far enough ahead. Still, kneading is a cathartic experience…