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Welcome back!

So it’s been awhile; quite a while. Life happened. Ect.

But it’s a new year, and I feel inspired to try to blog again. I’ve missed you. I’ve also stopped being as much of a health nut, and am consequently eating yummy food again. I felt hypocritical talking about cake when I didn’t eat it (the craziness of the months when I did not eat cake need never be mentioned again).

Part of the above mentioned “life” was moving house. I now live in a tiny apartment without room for a table inside, but I think you will all agree dining alfresco has its advantages.

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I think this is the best dining room/larder I’ve ever had.

Stay tuned for Stephanie Alexander inspired kitchen garden posts shortly.

The dinner pictured is simple, but it was bliss. Australia is riding a heat wave that’s left me reluctant to use the stovetop or oven. The evening in question saw a cool breeze blow through.  I sat with a lovely Shiraz, a lovely dinner, and watched the world walk by.

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I’ve raved about my love for Lamb backstrap before. I will again. I generally find Lamb just too fatty to enjoy. I have a lean palate. Yes, this means I’ll never be a real “foodie”. Yes, this means the current passion for game meats has left me with limited choice in restaurants.  But I’m a postmodernist. This means I reject cultural hierarchies and ideas of some things possessing “value” while others do not based on genre or classification. This means I watch the Vampire Diaries without shame, defend the presence of Bridget Jones’s Diary next to Mrs Dalloway on my bookshelf, and I’m not going to pretend to prefer the “dark” “interesting’ thigh meat to “bland” breast when I don’t.

Not that I think anyone is going to suggest an obsession with backstrap is low class.

I took the meatout of the fridge a half hour before cooking; dressing with olive oil, some smashed cloves of garlic, oregano and lemon thyme from the garden, pepper and a little salt in the butchers bag. After it marinated a little I heated my griddle pan to high heat, cooking four minutes on each side (I lean toward medium well when at home, so three and a half minutes is probably more respectful to the beautiful cut of meat). Then I removed from heat and rested while I got on with the salads.

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This lovely evening saw my first attempt at vinaigrette (I know, I’m not sure why I think I have any business writing a food blog either). I took one part extra virgin olive oil, one part grapeseed oil, one part lime juice, one part white wine vinegar, one clove crushed garlic, and salt and pepper. It’s not exactly complicated, or ground breaking, but it was very pleasant.

It was a beginning.

I dressed some salad leaves, tossed with cucumber, celery and capsicum.

I also whipped up a Caprese salad. I have fallen in love with the baby tomato medley available from my greengrocer, different shapes, flavours and colours makes dinner pop and an abundance of basil in my garden have made this a staple this summer.

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Then I platted and enjoyed.

Like I said, a simple meal, but when combined with setting, it was wonderful.

What’s your favourite salad dressing recipe? I’m eager to learn.

Asparagus

I said last week that I thought that winter was at an end. Then when I left my house this week, when I arrived at work, this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And at the markets today, this.

Asparagus. Spring. It’s very exciting.

And it means I can eat this.

Grilled lamb backstrap, mashed potato, poached asparagus, goats curd, red wine jus. I had it at Tuck’s Ridge on the Mornington Peninsular last October , and I’ve been attempting to recreate it ever since. Delicious, even if it never tastes as good in my kitchen as it does in the sunshine by the vines.

In my seasonal excitement I grabbed my Maggie Beer to see what else I should do with asparagus – poached, then finished off with a pan of browned butter, or with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce, were the big suggestions.

Marvellous. I can’t wait to give them a try

Chestnuts

The Chestnut sellers weren’t at the markets last week, I doubt they’ll be there today. And while there is still frost in the mornings, while flowers might be few and far between, I can’t help thinking this marks the end of winter.

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The Roast Chestnut sellers are without doubt one of my favourite parts of winter. It’s my post-run ritual. There’s something about holding that hot brown bag, cradling it to protect it from the cold, peeling shell from nut flesh, and then  devouring 150gm of nutty goodness in the carpark that just makes running 6km in the bitter cold seem so worth it.

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Chestnuts are full of associations for me. I didn’t grow up eating chestnuts. They were the stuff of Christmas Carols and Dickens, not actually a real foodstuff like cashews and macadamias – the nuts of choice for an Australian Christmas. So the first chestnuts I ate were brought by someone else happy who was happy to share the secret. A hot cone of waxed brown paper on a golden Autumn day – in Nimes, France.

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I had trouble deciding what to make of them. They were not what I was excpecting and took me quite by surprise. Chestnuts are quite different in texture to other nuts (in part becuase they are actually a fruit), fleshy, soft, fibrous. I have a terrible time imagining what they would be like raw. But the day was so perfect, the experience so special, the lovely French grand-peres playing Bocce so sweet when they caught me spying on them – that chestnuts became wrapped up, inextricably, with one of my favourite travel days.

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Obviously one perfect day isn’t enough to make you fall in love with a food, but it it enough to inspire a second try. And I’ll be the first to admit that chestnuts, piping hot from the roaster, needing to be gobbled right away, are as much experiential as flavour. But at its heart, so very much of what draws us to food, is experiential. Comfort foods, winter foods, Christmas foods, exotic foods, fine dining – its all wrapped up in values, enjoyment and associations beyond the flavour (though I would never go so far as to suggest flavour is not a central component of the equation.

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I know you can cook with chestnuts. I had a lovely mushroom and chestnut risotto on the Mornington Peninsular at Easter,  and Maggie Beer devotes several pages to their versatility in her fabulous tome on seasonal local cooking Maggie’s Harvest. But for me, the pleasure of the Chestnut seller and the simple flavoursome flesh means I can not imagine cooking with them myself, they would never last long enough for me to do that. I eat them too quick.

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Poached Chicken

I poached a chicken breast for the first time last night – and it was such a great result I wanted to suggest that if you’re not already poaching chicken, you should consider it.

Michelle Bridges, that Aussie guru of weight loss, is very keen on poaching chicken breast, and I’ll rave about, or eat, poached eggs till the chickens come home to make me feel guilty. However despite making a lot of changes to my diet this last 9 months, I’ve always, always avoided poaching chicken, because the idea of it makes me feel icky and gross and distrustful, it’s defrosted meat, but worse (and that’s an insight into my weird food phobias you probably didn’t need). Seriously, I won’t eat chicken soup because I didn’t trust it as a cooking method. But last night I took the plunge and the result was moist and yum and not at all, not even a little bit pink. It also boiled the fat right off, which saved me trimming it like usual,

So, put the chicken breast in a saucepan, cover with water. Get a stick of lemongrass, cut off the bulby bottom and a few of the outside leaves, cut into 7cm lengths, bend to bruise. Put in water. Bring to boil.

Simmer for 5 minutes, then leave remove from heat and leave to sit for another 10 to cook the chicken through,

Easy and moist and healthy. And quicker than roasting in an oven bag like I usually do.

It’s pictured here with Bok Choy stirfried with penut oil, garlic, ginger and a small amount of soy sauce.

Figs…

… are AWESOME!!!!!!

My old bedroom had a “Fig Seed” feature wall. It’s just an intense, beautiful colour.

It’s such a beautiful flavour.

 

 

Return to (cyber)candy land

Gooey Chocolate Stack from Nigella Laweson's How to be a Domenetic Goddess.

Hey.
So you might have noticed, I’ve been gone awhile. I have many reasons, but mostly you don’t care (or you do, but you already know). Important not private reason I’ve disappeared from this blog for months 1) I moved. I now have a courtyard for my herb garden and a pretty shiny kitchen with a newish oven that doesn’t leak heat! This was to be the reawakening in a love of complex baking. Sadly, the oven runs hot. Like remove 20 degrees and 10 minutes from cooking instructions hot. It’s taking some trial and error, but we’re getting there.

Consequentially, I will soon once again be producing creations like the above.

Just for your reference, Nigella Laweson’s Gooey Chocolate Stack is suprisingly easy to make. I’ve only made it the one time, but it was probably the most sucessful finish to a dinner party ever. Warning: we had 8 people and ate half of it – it was ruined by the next morning. So don’t assemble to far in advance, make sure you’re feeding a decent crowd, and accept that you will be throwing a fair portion of it away

Reason 2) for my absence is much more exciting and will be covered in a blog post soon.

I do like to be beside the sea side

I’ve decided to start aiming to post twice a week – midweek with a photo from my archieves and a mini post.
I took this photo at Bateman’s Bay on the trip home from a girls weekend at the coast. It was a lovely day, we went for a walk and a swim, and then meet up again on the way home for lunch.
Most of the girls had hamburgers, but I wanted to stick to the coastal theme.