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.

 

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.

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. 

Sirocco

As I mentioned in this post about a Sirocco feast, I was pretty excited to be sent the book by the publisher – especially as I had no idea it even existed. I’m planning on cooking more from it this week, but I thought I would make some observations about how things are going so far…

UnknownSalads and vegetables:

Carrot, tahini and hazelnuts salad: made for Spit Roast #2; I subbed in almonds and pine nuts. I think next time I might steam the carrots, just a bit – having them raw was a bit surprising and I think it detracted from the flavours.

Prawn, broccoli, feta and almond salad: I accidentally put the dressing ingredients on the prawns – not THAT different from the marinade, I just had to add harissa, but it’s rather a measure of how my brain was going. I’ve also just realised I forgot the dill, so I’m feeling a bit annoyed. Nonetheless it was fine; prawns and broccolini was a bit odd, but not terrible.

Turmeric and spice-marinated cauliflower: it seemed to have heaps of spices on the cauliflower (turmeric, cumin, coriander, ginger, paprika)… and then to have a tomato sauce with it. I didn’t feel like you could taste the spices through the tomato, which made me sad. I liked frying the cauli though.

Crushed new potatoes: also made for Spit Roast #2. I blanched the spring onions too hard (shouldn’t have put the lid on for any of the two minutes), but overall this was excellent – roasted taters, spring onion, peas and and dill.

Mains:

Chickpea, butternut, preserved lemon and harissa tagine: delish. Even if I did have a cold when I was making it so I may have over-compensated on the harissa, since I couldn’t actually smell it…. I also didn’t add nearly as many dried apricots because my beloved is not a huge fan.

Aubergine, pepper and tomato stew (aka eggplant, capsicum and tomato): whoa this was awesome. Really easy – it’s basically like ratatouille – and it really does get better over time. So easy. So easy to eat for a few days in a row.

Georgian chicken stew: I’ve already made this twice. Chicken thighs are a miracle meat with the way they react to cooking for two hours. Chicken, onion, garlic, tomato and some spices – cover with water, simmer for two hours. Ta dah.

 

This book is definitely staying with me and being used over and over. Ghayour says she hopes the book “will get covered in oil splatter and food stains and remain close to hand” – I mean I TRY to avoid the splatter, but sometimes it’s just not possible… .

Spit Roast Experiment #2

Spit Roast Experiment #1 was in aid of Spit Roast Experiment #2, because we’d invited people over for #2 on the basis that we’d get all our issues sorted out from one test run.

Right?

Aim: Produce a good outstanding (let’s be honest) meal for friends using the spit roast.

Equipment:

  1. Spit roast
  2. Nino’s and Joe’s honeymoon roast – lamb with N&J’s homemade pork sausage stuffing (this could be apparently be construed as A Bit Rude but I don’t know what you’re talking about because MY MIND DOESN’T WORK LIKE THAT)
  3. Salads from Sabrina Ghayour’s Sirocco
  4. Tart from Andrew
  5. Friends

IMG_3767.JPGMethod:

  1. Learn from previous attempt and start the chiminea fire a bit earlier.
  2. Attempt to put the roast over the fire tray… have a bit of an accident and destroy the fire tray, so use the fire pit instead.
  3. Occasionally move more coals from the chiminea over to the fire pit.
  4. Admire the roast. And the fire.
  5. Construct two salads:
    • Potato, pea and spring onion: roast the baby potatoes and then smash them a bit; add dill, blanched then grilled spring onions, and peas. (I over-blanched the spring IMG_3769.JPGonions which was a bit sad, but it was ok nonetheless.)
    • Carrots and tahini: carrot, red onion, mint and meant-to-be-hazelnuts (I used pine nuts and almonds, because I forgot) with a dressing of tahini, lemon and oil.
  6. Serve with two bottles of 2006 shiraz.
  7. Have excellent conversation.
  8. When everyone’s done with main, serve a tart made by Andrew – a variation on a frangipane with alternating pear and raspberry on top.
  9. Bask in the glow of having accomplished your Aim.

Results:

IMG_3773.JPGYep; hotter and longer is the key to spit roast. Good to know. Also this was an excellent piece of meat to do in this way and we could definitely fit two onto the spit. Also very good to know. The meat cooked for about 3.5 hours; J thought this was too long, I thought it was fine, he’ll do it a bit shorter next time anyway.

Spit Roast Experiment #1

Aim: to recreate our spit-roast experience from earlier in the year c/ camping friends

Equipment:

  1. A new spit-roast ensemble
  2. A Bannockburn chicken
  3. Masterfoods All-Purpose Seasoning
  4. Kipfler potatoes
  5. Chiminea
  6. Wood
  7. Shovel
  8. Meat thermometer

Method:

  1. Buy the spit-roast and have it delivered to your door and get VERY EXCITED.IMG_0969.JPG
  2. Buy all groceries.
  3. Start a fire in the chiminea to get coals.
  4. Season the chicken.
  5. Spike the chicken and put it onto the spit.
  6. Use the shovel to move coals over to the spit-roast tray, being careful not to burn yourself.
  7. Lower the chicken over the coals and turn on the rotisserie function.
  8. Wait. Drinking wine and staring dreamily into the fire are optional at this point.
  9. Having salted and oiled the potatoes, put them in the handy cage and place that on the spit too.
  10. image1.JPGMore waiting. Drinking wine becomes less optional at this point.
  11. Using the meat thermometer, check the chicken’s progress.
  12. Add more coals to the tray because it’s clearly not hot enough.
  13. Get impatient, figure it’s SURELY done by now, and take everything inside to carve and serve.

Results:

Unfortunately we probably were a bit too impatient, and we probably didn’t have enough hot coals under the chicken and the potatoes for long enough. One end of the chicken IMG_3759.JPG(closest to the pole, in the picture) really didn’t cook at all. The breast meat was mostly fine but we were a bit leary of the thighs so most of the chicken has gone into the freezer to be made into stock whenever I’ve got time. The potatoes looked good but also weren’t as cooked as we had hoped and wanted. We didn’t realise that the cage thing came as part of the ensemble, and hadn’t intended to get it; when camping we’re more likely just to do them in the dutch oven in the coals proper. However, it was very pleasant to sit outside with the fire and this was, as stated, our first experiment.

Conclusion:

More coals are needed. Next time we will probably do it over the fire pit rather than the tray to get a bit more heat happening. If it’s windy the coals needs more attention. The potato cage may not be worth it. We like fire.