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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.

 

 

M is for… Masterchef, Mornington, Marvellous

I wasn’t planning on watching Masterchef this year. I really wasn’t. I enjoyed Season One, my old housemate and I were obsessed with Season Two, which inspired me to gastronomic heights and hour upon hour perfecting my macaroon technique, but Season Three didn’t grab me, and I quickly decided not to bother. Then, tonight, channel flicking, and there is Masterchef, raiding the fantastic pantry that is the Mornington Peninsular. That’s it. I’m hooked. Goodbye free time, hello dinnertime tv addiction.

My favourite chair on the Penisular, overlooking the vines at Tuck’s Ridge

I adore the Mornington Peninsular. If you’re parents are going to pack up and move out of home three days after you do, there are certainly worst places for them to move than the Mornington Peninsular. A visit to Mum and Dad’s is like a visit into the pages of Gourmet Traveller – cafes by the beautiful coast, artisan cheese-makers amongst gorgeous bushland, restaurant with views of stunning vineyards, amazing markets full of produce and crafts. It’s amazing.

So tonight’s episode was sort of a game of “guess where they bought that from” and “oh, I recognise that!” Marvellous fun.  Made me hungry though.

And the use of decretive yet edible purple flowers in two of the dishes got me thinking about a fabulous lunch I had down that way about this time last year. The lunch was at my favourite winery, T’Gallant. T’Gallant turn out a lovely assortment of wines, with a particular strength and style with Pinot Grigio and Gri, as well as a very drinkable Pink Moscato that we stock up on for Christmas and lazy summer afternoons. I’m a fan. I also love that even though I only visit about every 6 months, the lady in charge of tastings recognises me, knows my favourites, and gives me an increasing discount as a ‘regular’.

I go to T’Gallant for their wine, but they make lovely food as well. We’ve tried both the casual outdoor Pizza Bar, and the cosy restaurant with table service and a bit more choice. Both have their strengths, and we tend to choose where to go depending on the time of year. The atmosphere is particularly lovely in the early afternoon when a duo croons folksy tunes, but avoid peak times when the Melbourne hordes descend, as while it handles buzzing well, it quickly becomes hectic. We’ve had some delightful pizzas, and a fantastic lemon thyme and potato linguini, but I think the best thing we’ve ever ordered here would definitely be the Pork Belly.

 

Mum’s Pumpkin Soup

The weather has turned and its feeling somewhat freezing right now. I need a plan to deal with the ice on my windscreen most mornings. At work we sit with Nana blankets on our laps. The leaves are a mosaic of orange and the crisp air seems to freeze on my lungs when I jog round the lake (something I’d never imagine doing in a more hospitable climate). Mother’s day is almost upon us, and every catalogue reminds us that that means it’s time to buy new slippers.

Butternut pumpkins are selling for 99 cents each. Its soup weather.

Its one of the great tragedies of my life that I haven’t inherited my mother’s knack for soups. Mum’s one of those people who can make “what’s in the fridge, let’s throw it in the pot” soup that turns out consistently delightful. I was not born with that skill. What I have inherited is mum’s pumpkin soup recipe (in so far as she ever uses a recipe). Absolutely nothing is nicer on a chill winter’s day than a snuggling bowl of piping deliciousness. And for me, this soup is like a hug straight from mum. I know everyone thinks their (or their mum’s) pumpkin soup is the best, but my mum’s actually is, I couldn’t stand pumpkin as a kid, and I devoured this soup like it was going out of fashion (the folly of youth, pumpkin soup is never, ever, going to go out of fashion). The secret is to use a 3/1 ration of pumpkin to potato – It takes some of the edge off the pumpkin (though this is not so important if you’re using the easier to cut, conveniently sized, on-trend butternut like I do) and more importantly, adds a velvety richness to the texture, moving the soup from the watery fate that seems to befall so many other pumpkin soups. I know I’m not the only one to think this because people used to ask quite pointedly which soup mum had brought whenever we did the “pot luck” soup and sandwich thing in the church hall when I was a kid.

So in honour of Mother’s Day, I share with you my mum’s signature pumpkin soup.

Pumpkin Soup:

1 tbl spn olive oil

Diced onion

1 clove crushed garlic

Cubed pumpkin and potato (or sweet potato if you prefer a complex carbohydrate) in a 3/1 ratio

2 cups vegetable or chicken stock.

water

Heat oil in pan on a medium heat, gently sauté onion and garlic in pan until translucent, 3-5 minutes.

Add pumpkin and potato to pot, stir through onion and heat slightly, pour in stock and add water to just cover the pumpkin.

Place lid, slightly ajar to allow the steam out, and bring to the boil.

Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, or until pumpkin is mushy and disintegrates to the touch.

Stand until lukewarm.

Use a bar mix to blend soup into a smooth consistency.

So, there – its super easy, super yummy, and you should make your mum a pot for mother’s day, proximity and family tradition allowing.

Because I’m a brat – I have been known to make a few additions.

  • I love nothing better than a big bowl of soup by itself for lunch. Unfortunately pumpkin soup, while rich in vegetable and carbs, offers no protein. I briefly considered the flavour possibilities of bacon, but it seemed to defeat the purpose. My solution instead is to soak a cup or so of red lentils for a few hours (the ratio will depend on whether you adore red lentils, or like mothers everywhere are trying to slip something healthy or different past the palates of your kids, or yourself). Add the lentils to the last 15 minutes of cooking. This not only ups the protein and tastes yum, but is particularly helpful in retaining the rich depth of texture I love when substituting potatoes with the improved GI but reduced creaminess of sweet potato.
  • To warm things up even more, add a teaspoon or two to taste of yellow curry paste when sautéing the onions. Then, once you’ve blended the soup, swirl in a small tin of coconut cream. I never add cream to my soups generally, partially for health but also because in my experience a good soup doesn’t need it, the flavours will speak for themselves. But in this case it adds a delicious, decedent dimension and helps make you feel like you’ve escaped on an exotic getaway. Be warned however that the dimensions of the curry will intensify in the fridge over night – so if you’re planning to live on a pot for a week you might want to be carful not to overwhelm the pumkin.
  • I have a strong memory of having this with chicken noodle soup mix stirred through when I was young and sick – Mum has no recollection of this – but I do find that a handful of spaghetti, broken into 2 cm lengths, added after the blending stage and cooked through by the soups moister during reheating (the slow old fashioned way on the stove, not in a microwave) produces a comforting addition when sick and miserable.
  • When cooking for one you seem to always acquire just under ½ a bunch of celery you have no idea how you’re going to use. Celery and soup have a long and glorious association – and while I’d love to be the type of person to use such a quandary to make my own stock – I’m not. Instead I find that it’s quite effective to add a stalk or two of celery, sliced, after the onions and before the pumpkin. You may or may not notice any difference, depending on the strength of the pumpkin, but I certainly don’t think it hurts, and I like to think it’s a step towards sprucing up store bought stock.

More Mushrooms


In the spirit of getting back into this blog, and inspired by this week’s recipe post (garlic mushrooms with baby spinach and cous cous) I present this week’s food picture.
This was taken at the cafe at the nursery between the airport and my parent’s place.
I really don’t love the idea of nursery/cafes, the concept invokes visions of Bunnings and Kath and Kim meeting in some sort of horrible, stale cake, plastic chair mess. But somehow in the execution they win me over. This place has a lovely atmosphere, with tables under trees and amongst the flowers. They make nice coffee (it’s the Mornington Peninsula, everyone makes nice coffee) and decent food. It’s nice.
Pictured above is a bed of rocket and parmesen with garden herb mushrooms in … I can’t remember how the menu made a hollowed out bread roll sound sophisticated and cool.
I thought at the time, “gee this would make a good starter” but it hasn’t found its way into my repertoire. Maybe it’ll make its way into yours

Holly’s Happy-making Default Dinner

One of the things I love about Nigella Lawson’s books is that she tells you the stories behind the recipes. And often the story is of someone else’s recipe: a family tradition; a friend’s speciality; the best of a respected, if obscure, tome. They are recipes with history; the outcome of generations of experimentation and perfection. I find it incredibly comforting to be reminded that the bounty of lovely, varied, reliable recipes captured in the pages of the cookbook have a providence and did not spring, perfect and whole from the mind of the writer. Cookbook author as collator rather than creator fits with the romance and nostalgia narrative I weave around cooking. This is Holly’s recipe.

Those of you who have been following this blog might have seen a bit of Holly already. She normally comments on a post pretty quickly, usually to say I’ve made her hungry. Sadly I don’t get to feed her as much as a best-friend should and she has to make do with occasionally express posted baked goods on the rare occasions I get my act together.

Shortly before I headed from the valley chill of Hobart to the freezing frost of Canberra Ms Holly had me over for a day of vitally important Buffy viewing. To mark the occasion Holly decreed that our traditional lunch of black pepper and lime chips, basil and cashew dip and Blue Costello cheese would not do, and proceeded to (gasp!) cook me something. I am grateful she did.

This is the meal Holly’s mum makes her when she is sick and in my first year of fending for myself it proved invaluable. When I can’t bear to plan, to prepare; when I’ve been at the gym till well past 7 and I just need to eat and fall into bed. I make Holly’s wonderful meal. Maybe this meal is so familiar to you that you can’t understand why I adore it so. But the simple meals of a family can prove a revelation when they’re different to the simple meals of you own.

So here it is: Garlic mushrooms; baby spinach; cous cous.

That’s it. Super easy, basically healthy, calling on modern pantry classics, and unbelievably tasty. I adore it.

Make the cous cous according to the packet instructions. Sauté mushrooms in butter and crushed garlic.

Put the cous cous in a bowl, cover with fresh baby spinach on top, then put the mushrooms on top.

Yum!

This in itself is awesome, fantastic , filling, yum. But I’m a big fan of it with lamb backstrap. I just put the backstrap in some oil with garlic and lemon thyme from my garden, and let it sit for about thirty minutes while it comes to room temperature, then cook it in a medium hot frypan. Slice and put with the mushroom cous cous. Brilliant.

Also a big fan of it with chicken breast sprinkled with Moroccan seasoning and lemon juice in an oven bag and a moderate oven for 30 minutes.

Really just a big fan of it.

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.