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Friday, 25 May 2007

Tickle me tomato

I was at the market craving salad yesterday when I saw four different colours of tomato lying next to each other. Sunny, modest, prolific, confused fruit that they are, they looked beautiful. I happened to be at the specialist wild mushroom stall at the time, so this vague idea for a salad was hatched.

(A note on the mushrooms: they lend texture as well as taste, so a mix is good. I got oyster, shitaake, some orangey coloured ones and some bluish ones that look like they should do more than just flavour a salad.)

What you need for a self-juicing quattro colore tomato funghi salad (for 2)

6-7 chopped, small, perky, juicy tomatoes; green, orange, yellow and red (the more colours the merrier)
A breakfast sized bowl of fresh, mixed wild mushrooms (sliced)
Fresh basil leaves, chopped (about 6 big ones)
Fresh mint, chopped (same quantity as basil)
A splash of balsamic vinegar
Big squeeze of lemon juice
1 clove garlic
Olive oil
Fresh butter

Melt a thin slice of butter in a generous glug of olive oil and throw in your sliced shrooms. Toss them to coat and saute them on med-hi heat.

While the mushies are cooking, throw your chopped tomatoes into a bowl. Their juices form the base for your dressing, so keep as much as you can. Toss through the mint, basil, dash of balsamic, lemon juice, olive oil and salt'n'pepa.

When your mushrooms are golden, leave them to cool for just a minute before tossing them in with the tomato salad and quickly stirring through. You don't want them hot enough to heat the fruit, but their warmth will enhance the sweet, juicy basily goodness of your salad.

If you have a crust of fresh bread to mop up your empty bowl with, all the better.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

strolling through a field of cabbages

A guy on Radio 4 says you should imagine yourself strolling through a field of cabbages when you feel like snapping someone out. It's a totally neutral, beige kind of activity, he reasons, so the idea of it will calm you down. Is this dude insane? Has he NEVER smelt a rotten cabbage!!?! Jeeeezus, man...

Sometimes in a city like London it really is easier to crank up than calm down. Instead of settling for simple cabbages, say, one must have only the most exclusive cabbage in the world, genetically modified to never stink and fertilised by the shit of a single silk worm that only appears every 28 years. Otherwise, one might get all tantrumy. This week is my last in the kitchen that has hitherto been Lily HQ. I don't particularly want to move and have been getting VERY razzed out. I need to think about more than frolicking in a field of cabbages to simmer down, and fast. Here goes...

Beginning: 9 at night and still light is alright. Days are so sunny this week I'm walking to and from work along the Thames south bank, coffee in hand one way and riverside glass of vino the other (breathe and repeat).

Middle: The brilliant diddywah (I know, I'm biased) has listed us alongside an inspired set of vego musical jewels (visit the post here).

End: Chew's got me swooning over Nigel Slater and his Kitchen Diaries. Apart from the fact he knows food real good, the sweet enthusiasm, detailed disappointments and occasional lapses into culinary laziness as he documents a year in his beautifully photographed kitchen are just fine by us. I pay homage to Nige this evening by vegetarianising one of his dishes (no cabbages in sight).

May 7: Chickpeas with Harissa, basil and Aubergine

Preparation is simple on this light, sweet and tangy number as long as you have some roasting time up your sleeve.

What you need (for 2)

1 small-med aubergine or 3/4 a big one, roughly chopped into chunks
A couple of handfuls of pricked cherry tomatoes (or 2-3 big ones, chopped)
Fresh basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon of cumin seeds (a decent pinch)
Red wine vinegar (I didn't have it, so used Orleans vinegar and red wine).
1 x 400g can of chickpeas
Harissa paste (from the tin, jar, tube or home made if you know how).
A big handful of kalamata or other fresh olives (I get mine from Borough Olives).

How it's done

Preheat your oven to 200C (gas 6). Toss your aubergine and toms in an oven tray with the cumin, a big splash of red wine vinegar, pinches of salt and pepper and a generous amount of olive oil (he says 60ml but I have never measured olive oil in my life; coat 'em good, I say). Roast for an hour or, to quote the man himself, "until the aubergine is soft and golden brown, the tomatoes are caught slightly at the edges and the whole lot is fragrant, sizzling and juicy." Sigh. At about 40 minutes chuck in the olives so they warm through.

Drain the chick peas and toss them in with the roasted veg, along with the fresh basil, a glug of olive oil and a big squirt of harissa (Nige says a teaspoon for 4 people: I'd never be so meagre but then it depends how spicy you like it). Mix it all around in the juices then get munching.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

mutant fruit

I'm worried that if I eat this strawberry I will be inviting alien life forms to incubate in my intestine. But then the other two in the punnet were so sweet and juicy.

Sundays can be SO stressful.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Food notes from a month in Melbourne: Part two

1.The veggie garden.

Grandad John and his magnificent veggie garden.

Sad as it may sound, I spent a lot of time in Australia admiring people's veggie patches (what with all those big backyards and wide open spaces). I get so used to being separated from the source in our little-flat no-balcony world, it was a joy to see climbing tomato vines, pumpkins lazily stretching across paths and fat little courgettes poking through their leaves. (When we stayed at my auntie Rob's and she pulled that night's veggies straight out of the ground for roasting... aaah, heaven.)

With all that nurturing and tilling, it's no wonder everyone also had some system to recycle their discarded foodscraps. The best new composting method I saw was under Astrid's kitchen sink in Castlemaine and it was the Bokashi Bucket. By sprinkling a bran mixture infused with "effective micro-organisms" over food scraps everytime they're thrown in the bucket, the Bokashi uses a fermentation process that doesn't stink up the kitchen; in fact, it emits a pleasant, pickled odour if any at all. The bucket has a tap to drain off the juice (which is an excellent fertiliser) and once it is full, the enriched waste can be buried in the garden. Perfect!

2. A mini country road trip & lasagne with the ladies.

Bel & Buster

Ah, road trips, reference points for so many of life's memories: from being squashed in the back seat with Ben and Maysie at seven, a caravan attached to the bumper; through to fanging it up the east coast much later, well past the age of innocence, heading to Byron Bay's bluesfest with the girls and a random hitch hiker. The sheer size of the country makes road trips essential. So it was great to jump in Bel's car and head to Castlemaine. In the past, we might have been hooning in her Charger, sucking on tinnies, a bag of zing-a-ling cookies in the back, giggling like a couple of idiots. This time, we were in a very sensible vehicle, sipping mineral water, little baby Buster in the back... still giggling like a couple of idiots.

Edie, Astrid & the chooks whose names I forget

The road trip might have been short but the destination was a treat: a country arvo and evening spent in Astrid's kitchen with the old PBS work crew (and their little mother suckers). Astrid was on meal duty for a neighbour who'd just had a baby and giving her first lasagne a crack -- under Lisa's expert eye -- so we doubled up for our dinner as well.

When you think of all the butter and cheese synonomous with lasagne, you may think a vegan version might be lacking some. Not on your life, and this one ain't just for hippies, I swear. Lentils will give depth to your tomato and veggie sauce. As for the bechamel, combine tahini, lemon juice, a little water and soft tofu. And for a yummy spinach layer, substitute ricotta for a good tofu then add seeds, a little sesame oil and grated lemon rind.

3. A decent brekky on Lygon.

It being a whirlwind trip, we sadly didn't have time to visit as many of Melbourne's food haunts as we would have liked. We did, however, take advantage of the city's dime-a-dozen, good, cheap, served-till-late breakfasts. (For a comprehensive rundown, visit The Breakfast Blog.) In Elwood, Jerry's Milk Bar offered decent food but cocaine attitude and patronisingly slow service, while the Turtle Cafe was tasty, albeit on the little side. It was over the other side of town, courtesy of a short stay in North Carlton, that we found a winner.

At the Elgin end of Lygon, Trotters may have received a lukewarm reception from TBB (where you can find all these cafes, incidentally) but it worked for us. Twice, the brekky was goo-oo-oo-ood, orange juice exceptional, atmos buzzing and staff quietly charming. I wasn't a huge fan of the mashed hash (and my florentine was a bit so-so), but avocado and mushrooms on toast was a sensation: half a perfectly ripe avo, a big lemon wedge and juicy, rosemary herbed mushies in their very own bowl. With this in mind, I'm begging, please, anyone who knows of any really good late Sunday brekkie stops in London, I wanna know!

Thank god Chew is actually posting some recipes these days while I detour down sentimental lane. For those of you right now thinking, 'what?! no recipe? but I wanna make a vegan lasagne NOW!' never fear, in the coming weeks I shall actually cook, photograph and devise some vague instructions for both the lasagne and last week's tempura. Just not today.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Herb your enthusiam

I have some bread leftover from a very enjoyable dinner party. Not fresh enough to tear chunks off and eat with some delicious Quenby Hall Stilton I've bought from Borough market; and not quite stale enough for duck food. What to do? This is when having a herb garden comes in pretty handy.

What you need

Half a big Ciabatta bread stick - or any old bread will do
A big handful of herbs - I used parsley, sage rosemary and thyme (..and oregano)
A third of a stick of butter, and more if necessary
Aluminum foil

Split the bread down the middle length ways.

Spread the bread flat in a baking tray. Rip and chop up the herbs, then give them a good pounding in a pestle and mortar.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the herbs to the hot melted butter, remove from heat and allow to cool down a little. Douse the bread with the herby butter mixture, give it a salt and peppering, then cover with foil. Bake in a hot oven until the bread is heated through, then remove the foil and bake uncovered for a couple of minutes or until it all goes nice and crunchy.
You can also add a clove of crushed garlic to the butter mixture if it takes your fancy.

Monday, 7 May 2007

culinary notes from a homecoming queen: part one

I was back home in April for what turned out to be a politician's tour -- dozens of new babies to hug and kiss. (I always knew Melbourne water was good but hell's bells, there's been some heavy breeding in three years.) All that cooing and gurgling meant no time for blogging... till now. Here's the first installment in a collection of food-related notes from my trip.

1. Food ain't no cure for jetlag. So much for the earnest, airplane cooking featured in my last, pre-flight post. Despite my well-considered menu, adam and I both suffered the lag after 20+ hours airborne (though we did get to see a lot of films). Given the grim state of the lacto-vego inflight food (I can't imagine how woeful a vegan menu might be), I'd still advise anyone travelling long distances to pack a lunch box.

2. My favourite kitchen.

It was an odd experience returning to my hometown as a temporary visitor with no actual home to go to (generous hospitality aside). Which is why I am so grateful for Sandy Point. This is the most consistent family house I've known. The fact that it's there (I insisted on a fleeting visit with adam and my mum just to be sure) makes me smile even now, writing from my flat in London. It always feels like home and I reckon the fifty or so relatives I share it with would probably agree.

My grandparents built the house some 40+ years ago as a holiday retreat for themselves and their seven kids. Constructed of fibro sheeting, concrete and timber, it is electricity free with no generators. Everything runs on gas. The most modern development since my last visit is the fact you no longer need to manually pump your water supply for the day from one tank to the other.

The Sandy Point kitchen always has the same crockery, kettles and cutlery, it's where my grandad first taught me how to load a pot of tea and where countless dinners have been roasted while watching a storm roll in off the prom or Bass Strait. Plenty of stories of love, drama and drunkenness have been hatched in that kitchen... and I'm only one of dozens of kids, cousins, aunts, uncles and family friends of the original Sandy Point clan who all have our own version of how those stories go. If that kitchen could talk, oi vey. (And not only because of the heavy duty entertaining over the years; the bench was made out of my nan's discarded examination table from when she was a GP.)

3. The humble potato cake.

Why haven't chippies here cottoned on to this starchy gem? The Australian potato cake simply consists of one mother of a slice of potato dipped in batter and deep fried. While it sounds simple enough to reproduce at home, be warned: our mate Desi, who once worked in a fish'n'chip joint, reckons amateurs would be hard pressed to get just the right batter consistency and oil situation. Then there's the matter of having your tater cake wrapped in the right chip paper after being sloshed with no-brand salt and vinegar, before taking it outside to some sandy perch to devour while greedy seagulls angrily squawk all around you.

4. The best family cooking.

My main home away from home in April was in leafy Elwood with Ben, Mish and Rubes. Lots of beach walks, family time, the patter of little footsies up and down the hall and some super tasty treats courtesy of Mish's kitchen. That lady can cook! One delicacy included a garnish for a wild mushroom risotto that could just as easily fly as a side dish or entree. I'm going to try and recreate this soon so I can be specific with the details. But here are the general steps for the impatient.

Carefully stuff some courgette flowers with ricotta (2 or 3 per plate) then pinch and twist the tops to ensure the stuffing stays in. Individually fry them by dipping them in a tempura batter (the trick, apparently, is to use ice-cold water) and dropping them into hot oil until light golden (Mish used olive but a good quality vegetable oil would do.) Retrieve the courgettes with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towel then lay them on top of the risotto (they need to be done just before serving so the batter stays crisp.) Salt Yard in Soho does some equally mouth watering fried courgette flowers, stuffing them with Monte Enebro cheese and drizzling them with honey.