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Thursday, 29 March 2007

plane food

Some people have a strange little love affair with plane food -- something to do with the romance of getting a meal that looks like a mini version of a prison tray. The rest of us know that plane meals are wrong on every conceivable level. This week I have used my skyving time at work to find out just how wrong.

Before it reaches you, your little meal has been cooked, cooled, stored, transported (from somewhere miles away) and reheated. If you're in the northern hemisphere, it has probably come from Germany or Switzerland -- home to the world's two biggest commercial suppliers of airline food. Together they account for over 260 airlines, with the German one, Sky Chef, preparing a million meals a day. With an average per unit cost of between 70 cents (US) and US$1.30 a unit, I think we can safely assume they ain't cooking organic.

Then there's this from ex-air hostess and author, Diana Fairechild:

"Working over 10 million miles as a flight attendant, I have prepared and served countless airline meals... I have been there when: food that had been dropped on the floor was served to passengers; ovens were inoperative so that the food served to passengers was not cooked properly; passengers and crew members have gotten sick from food poisoning. For these and other reasons, I recommend that passengers abstain from eating on board."


On her website, she also points out all the biological changes going on at high altitude, meaning certain types of food are better than others to minimise jet lag. Apparently it's not just your feet that swell up; your intestine is dehydrating, lacking oxygen and ballooning at Elvis-like speed.

Miss Diana advocates fasting. Given I am flying non-stop for 22 hours, I beg to differ. So I'm making my own food; taking on board her and other people's advice that small, carb-heavy snacks are best as they place less strain on your freaked out digestive tract.

So here's what Adam and I will be taking in our airplane lunch box tomorrow...

Bean Salad

Haven't packed so writing this in a hurry... blanch beans then dry fry em with some lemon juice and sea salt. toast almonds. Do the kidney beans (soak overnight then boil the crap out of them till they're tenderised). Discard carrot peel then use the peeler to make ribbons of the rest of it. Toss it all together with a little sesame oil/ lemon juice/ balsamic/ dill/ whatever you've got.

Risotto Balls

These are great if you have leftover risotto from the night before (see recipe here). Roll your balls (add some flour to the risotto if they're a little wet... or egg if they need binding). Coat the balls in bread crumbs then finely grated parmesan then sesame seeds (my balls were wet, man.) Fry your balls till they're golden, turning once, then get the outer skin crunchy by popping them in the oven (200c) for a bit. (20 mins maybe). Mmmmmm, crusty salty balls.

Have a happy easter to y'all. I'm going home! (Eating beans and farting all the way.)

Diana Fairchild's website.

home sweet homefries

Ahhh. How I love you April and March - a time where there are more bank holidays than you can poke a stick at. What better time to read the paper and chow down on a big breakfast that will fill your heart with the joy of living.
Here's an easy addition to your breakfast spread that I became OBSESSED with when I was in New York. The dudes at B&H dairy (127 2nd Avenue, NYC) do it best. And while you're there, try the excellent home-made soups and challah french toast; or anything else on their menu because it's ALL vegetarian.

Chop up some waxy potatoes (like desiree) and boil until soft - I never peel them. While that's happening chop up some onion.

When you can poke a fork through the potatoes - drain, and run under a cold tap.
Get a frying pan really hot and pour in a few good lugs of olive oil.
Fry the onion for a minute then add the potato. Stir. Let the potato burn a little then stir again. Repeat a few times. The skin will go crispy, the crumbly bits will go crunchy.
Season with salt and pepper. Serve with the usual breakfast suspects - spinach, eggs, avocado, baked beans etc...

Monday, 26 March 2007

Bad smells be gone!

I have a confession to make.
For the last decade, I have been cutting onions and garlic with a knife and fork in order to avoid stinky hands. My skin just sucks up those acids and my hands wind up reeking for weeks after and... I don't like it, m'kay?
This was the topic of some lively conversation at the pub a few weeks ago, and some very good friends infomed me that if I rubbed my hands on some stainless steel after cutting up any members of the onion family, no smells would remain.
I just tried it tonight and IT WORKS.
This has changed my life. I can now slice garlic and dice onion with reckless abandon.

Does anyone out there know why this works? I NEED TO KNOW.

Purple sprouting broccoli

I bought these at my local farmer's market over the weekend.
Choose your purple sprouting broccoli as you would asparagus. Crisp and snappy - good. Bendy and stringy - bad. Sadly, the batch I bought resembled the latter. I just chopped it up into 2cm bits and it was still pretty good, despite the fact it was probably older than Keith Richards.

I enjoyed this dish with Lily's delicious dill and potato concoction.

What you need
a few big handfuls of Purple sprouting broccoli cut into pieces
about a tablespoon of butter or olive oil
2 cloves of garlic - crushed
a handful of pine nuts
optional - Parmesan

Place broccoli in saucepan and pour a kettle of boiling water over the top. Boil for 1 minute. rinse with cold water and drain.
In a frying pan, dry roast the pine nuts until light brown. set aside.
Add butter or oil and garlic. As garlic begins to brown add the broccoli. Stir for 1 minute. add pine nuts. remove from heat. If you like you can grate some Parmesan on top. Add salt and pepper.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

pies not pills for winter blues

Just like Chew I've been surrounded by germinators this week. The number of work casualties peaked on Monday, myself included. On Tuesday everyone clucked and ruminated about their particular germ strains and I joined in; but only because waffling on about some imaginary bug was far preferable to telling people I'd cracked the SADs.

It used to be that English people had a reputation for drinking too much hot tea and complaining about the weather. Now they call it Seasonal Affective Disorder. It goes something like this:

1) October: You begin to feel the pinch and start digging in -- the shrinking days are hard to ignore.
2) November/ December: The air has a lazy bite and there is some layering going on but you don't yet care too much. Why would you? Christmas is coming and you're drunk.
2) January: You return to work a little flabby and grey with a sharp pain where your liver should be. Your energy is depleted but there's still enough to shrug off the blocked sinuses and chilly days.
3) February: there's been no daylight before or after work for three months, you've been sniffing like a coke junkie since Christmas, you've grown a modesty flap where your stomach once was, everyone's an arsehole, your gas bill is stratospheric... but isn't the snow pretty?
4) Early March: Oh my god oh my god oh my god! Daffodils and cherry blossom!! It's light till 5.30!!! There's sunshine!!!!! IT'S OVER!!!!!!
5) Late March: False alarm. It's snowing again. Snow sucks. The greyness of the day matches the palour of all the twisted, snappy faces walking by. I am one of them. I am officially a broken woman. Oh, misery.

Just when you think it's over, bam, the sting of the tail. No wonder so many people can't get out of bed. Last year my grandad told me to install some bright lights in the house, paint a room yellow and red, and get some spring flower oils from an aromatherapist. We decided it was easier to buy a tent and head to the south of Spain. That and cook a lot of comforting food, heavy on the potatoes.

Potato and garlic cream-your-pie

This pie has been adapted into a kind of pasty pie from Tamasin Day-Lewis' book, The Art of the Tart, and it's a perfectly delicious winter warmer. I should really fess up that I actually have very little reason to complain right now, given Adam and I fly south next week; home to Melbourne for the first time in three years. That's enough to kick anyone's SADs and it also lends itself as a decorative theme for my pasty pie.


400g puff pastry (in two sheets)
500g of potatoes
1 brown onion
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt, black pepper
1 beaten egg and 2 egg yolks
200ml organic double cream

Preheat the oven to 200(C). Grease a pan (I used an oven-proof deep dish fry pan). I don't think Tamasin digs bought puff pastry but what are you gonna do? Lay one of the sheets down in the pan.

Cut the potatoes and onion very thin.
Mix them with the parsley, garlic, salt and pepper then layer them (alternating potato and onion) onto the pastry base, leaving enough edge to fold the base pastry over the pie lid.
Cover the potatoes with your second sheet of pastry and fold the edges of the bottom sheet over to seal the pie.

Because the top sheet of pastry doesn't need to be as big as the bottom, I cut a strip off to make some stars for a little Southern Cross, so excited am I to be seeing it for real once more next weekend.

Brush the top of your pie with the beaten egg and slice a cross in to let the steam out.
Bake the pie for 50 minutes then take it out for creaming.
Mix your cream and egg yolks together and carefully inject them into the pie via a hole in the top. Tamasin advises using a small funnel. I didn't have one and so used a jug -- with a very steady hand and pouring at a slow stream. You don't want the cream to spill onto the top, you want it to get in there. I cut a few holes to make for an even distribution.
Cook the pie for another 10 minutes and you're done.
A salad of green leaves, mint, pear, walnut and a splash of balsamic vinegar was an ideal accompaniement.

Saturday, 17 March 2007


All this week I've been surrounded by A LOT of snotty human beings
- and I don't mean the cantankerous kind.
Dudes! Stay at home and keep your skuzzy germs to yourself!
That's what sick leave is for!
Miraculously, I have managed to ward off illness by taking a mixture
of zinc and vitamin C each morning.
For those of you who have succumbed and joined the snotty ones,
get someone to make this for you. You'll feel better straight away. I promise.

Congee (Chinese porridge)
Comfy rating: four stars

I make this with the congee setting on my rice cooker.
If you don't have one of these, get one NOW. Or just make it in a pot like this:

What you need
1 cup white rice, rinsed
6 cups water
(sometimes I add a stock cube for more flavour)
White pepper

Put rice and water in a large deep saucepan, bring to boil.
Cover (leave a little gap for steam to get through) and simmer on the lowest heat setting until all rice grains are broken and has the consistency of porridge.
Add in salt or stock cube and mix well.
Serve porridge in a soup bowl or a deep dish with chopped spring onions and fried shallots (from Chinese grocer)
Sprinkle white pepper over it.
Serves 2 to 3

In Hong Kong I ate congee for breakfast with Chinese donuts. YUM.

You can serve this dish instead of rice with steamed Chinese greens, stir-fried tofu, eggplant etc.. it's up to you.
There are also lots of great condiments that go well with this, like fermented tofu and thousand year old egg (if you are feeling brave), Chinese black olive paste and pickles. For a Japanese vibe you could add Ume (pickled plum).

Congee is a grain based, usually rice, medicinal porridge served for centuries in traditional Chinese homes. It is used to promote good health and long life. It is used specifically to help the body recover from various ailments. Congee is an excellent whole-grain hot breakfast alternative.

Benefits of a congee breakfast
It can jump start your digestive system. Its long cooking time breaks down the grain, making it very easy to digest and assimilate, providing your body with the nutrients it needs. It also builds energy and enhances metabolism.

Thursday, 15 March 2007

It's a dill thing

What a manic month is March. No time for food frivolity, all work work work like a busy little ant. And now snatching a second before going to Dublin for a big dirty-thirty bash: five 1977 babies and St. Patrick's Day all at once! Sheesh. With life rat-a-tat-tatting like a fully-automatic firearm this week, I felt in need of some calming mood food. And here it is. An old favourite that is easy, warming, tasty and suitably Irish.

What you need

A couple of big potatoes
Salt and pepper

To do

Preheat your oven to 200C. Wash your taters (no need to peel em). Slice them thin and lay them in an oven dish, with sprigs of fresh dill and cracked pepper and salt between layers. Pour stock over them but leave the top layer uncovered (the stock might just lap at the top).

Cook your potatoes for a good 20 minutes to 1/2 hour (or until the top layer are golden and crunchy and you can easily push a knife through the rest.)

And that's it. The taters absorb the stock, the dill gives them a special something and they make a perfect side or yummy dish all on their own.

Have a craicking St. Paddy's Day.

Saturday, 10 March 2007

A sweet root

Aside from slurping on a bit of borscht here and there, I'd have to admit that I know very little about eastern European cuisine - and even less about eastern European desserts.
So it's just as well I was assigned dessert course for our lastest eastern European themed dinner party, huh?
Sweet stuff ain't my forte. I'm a savoury lady through and through, although I do enjoy the odd slice of office birthday cake from time to time. My baked goods rarely make the cut because of my tendency to go freestyle with the ingredients.
This time, I tried really really hard to stick the recipe. It isn't eastern European, but it has beetroot in it, so I figure that counts for something.

(with cherry and beetroot coulis)

What you need
75g Green and Black's Cocoa Powder
180g SR flour
250g caster sugar
250g cooked fresh beetroots
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
200ml corn or sunflower oil

(Makes 12 muffins)
Preheat oven to 180C
Grease a muffin tray
In a saucepan, cover beetroots with water and boil until soft
Sift cocoa, flour and baking power into a large bowl
Stir in sugar and set aside
Puree beetroot adding one egg at a time. Add vanilla and oil and and whiz until smooth.
Make a well in the dry ingredients and stir in the beetroot mixture.

Divide evenly into muffin tray and bake for 50-60 mins or until a skewer comes out clean.
When done, allow to cool down in the tray and then turn out onto a wire rack.

The coulis

1 can pitted cherries
1 small fresh beetroot
1/2 can water and cherry juice (from can)
squeeze of lemon juice
2 tablespoons sugar

Put ingredients in saucepan simmer until beetroot is cooked. Push through a fine sieve.

Serve cakes with some cream or ice-cream or soy ice cream (I used Swedish Glace) and drizzle with coulis.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

dumplings all over the world

What to cook for an Eastern European dinner? It was the theme for a soiree at Guy's on Saturday, we were on entree and I had no clue. My ignorance of the region is total and when wiki helpfully told me meat is popular in those parts I got cranky and went for a bath.

It was adam who found the answer, and tickle me Polish if I didn't unknowingly have every single necessary ingredient in my kitchen. That might sound impressive but this is exactly why Pierogi is my kind of dish. As those with the inside information know, you can stuff just about anything into these little babies and still stay true to their origin.

Dumplings vary regionally the world over and Pierogi are no exception. Common through East and Central Europe (and parts of Canada, apparently, according to my cousin, Tina), they are typically boiled then fried in butter and served with sour cream (in Poland at any rate). Fillings can vary dramatically, but savoury Pierogi generally have a base of meat, potato, cabbage or sauerkraut.

As with anything like this, they can be fiddly to make. But they can also be pre-prepared in stages, as I happily discovered. I was able to make both the pastry and the filling in the morning then head off to lunch with my cousins (I know, I know, I have a lot of cousins) before finishing them in the arvo. By happy development, I could also drag said cousins back home after lunch to become helpful little rollers and stuffers. Easy.

For the dough

2 cups flour (plus extra)
2 eggs
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons sour cream (I didn't have this. I mixed double cream with lemon juice to make sour cream. You could use natural yoghurt or buttermilk as a substitute.)

Combine flour, eggs, 1/2 the water and the sour cream in a bowl. Mix well and slowly incorporate the rest of the water to make a dough. Turn the dough out onto a well floured surface to knead it. (I found mine was a bit sloppy so I added more flour.)

Keep folding, stretching and kneading the dough for a few minutes. It should be contained and smooth but a little sticky on the inside. When it's done, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate it (at least 20 minutes).

For the filling

2 large potatoes -- peeled, chopped and boiled
1/2 cabbage (shredded)
1 fennel (chopped into small bits)
2 x leeks (finely chopped)
1 x onion or 3 x large shallots (finely chopped)
a handful of fresh sage leaves (finely chopped)
1 cup of grated cheese (I used cheddar but goat's could be tasty)
3 garlic cloves (finely chopped)

Par boil the cabbage for a couple of minutes then drain it and saute it in some butter (melted in olive oil so it doesn't burn) with the fennel, garlic, sage, leek and onions/shallots. Cook it all until everything is soft. Then mash it up with the boiled potato. Add salt and pepper and stir in the cheese.

Building your pierogi

Rope in two drunk cousins for assistance. Roll out the dough (thin, preferably) and cut a decent round. Fill one side, roll over the other and seal into dumplings.

I was the dough roller and shape cutter in the family production line. I found it easiest to have the most aesthetically challenged cousin (i.e. more drunk) roll the filling into balls while the more artistic of the two folded the filling into the dough (make sure you fold the edges tight to seal them). When the attention of the former started wandering, I rewarded her by sprinkling flour onto the floor so she could moonwalk to re-energise. Ergo, rolling and stuffing Pierogi is a tedious exercise made much more fun en masse. (Young children would perform the above functions just as fine, if not better.)

To cook the Pierogi, I brushed the tops with egg white and popped them in a preheated oven until golden (200). (Nearly every recipe recommended boiling them first then frying them in butter but, for me, cooking at someone else's place meant an oven was easier.) I served them with a sauce made of chopped fresh dill, lemon juice and plain yoghurt.

Hopefully we'll get recipes from Guy's tasty main and Chew's beetrooty dessert in the coming days. But you never can tell with those two.

Sunday, 4 March 2007


Six months of inane bureaucracy ended last week with a trip to Cyprus to get my visa processed, and for those of you who don't know - I'M LEGAL NOW!

So onto food. Cypriots love their meat - so much so, that they think a vegetarian is someone who eats fish. I decided to remain optimistic and was rewarded with some amazing dishes. I'm going to try and replicate these over the coming weeks and will post them if they are successful.

Mushroom and Halloumi Pita with Salad
The halloumi in Cyprus is excellent. It was so good that I ate my own body weight's worth of the stuff. Grill it or fry it in a pan - it was soft, not too salty and even a little minty.
This is so easy and would be great for a BBQ, just make a big bowl of salad, throw everything else on the grill and let everyone help themselves.

Chop up some flat leaf parsley, mint, cucumber and good tomatoes - drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice to taste.
Slice halloumi.
Pan fry, grill or BBQ halloumi and mushrooms until brown (take care not to overcook the halloumi)
Toast some pita bread and fill it with the above.
* (Cooked or canned beetroot instead of the mushrooms works well too!)

Friday, 2 March 2007

more. blue. cheese.

With Chew off scoffing haloumi in Cyprus this week, I too have turned my mind to matters of cheese. Again. With this blog I have realised how much I cook with the blue. Maybe a little too much even. Meh. So before I banish it for a while, I am giving it one last hurrah, together with my other much loved kitchen staple, the mushroom.

This really is too easy. Alls you need to do is grab a portobello mushroom or two, lay them in an oven dish (stalk side up), sprinkle or pile them with your favourite blue (depending on how cheesy you want it) and whack em in a moderate oven for 20 minutes. The mushrooms bleed, the cheese melts, they merge as one in a sweet meeting of fatty juices. When cooked, crack some pepper over the shrooms and serve them atop a crusty bit of very fresh bread to soak up the dripping loveliness.

Which Cheese Are You?

While we're on the subject, last week Sarah sent this link to an incredibly accurate test that matches a cheese to your personality. How can I vouch so for its accuracy? Well, I got camembert and she got cheddar.