Tart or quiche?

December 24, 2008


I was coerced to eat too many quiches in the eighties. And the thing I hated most about them was the snotty quality of the uncooked egg, and the slightly soggy pastry. Luckily I’ve figured out a way to avoid these pitfalls. Blind baking for one, even though it seems fussy, makes sure the pastry is crisp. And then cooking the complete pie at a medium heat ensures the egg sets properly.

I’m obsessed with salmon because I like to imagine my children’s brains growing beautifully, and I often rely on the cans, even though they taste nothing like the real thing. 

The beans came from my garden; my dwarf beans are prolific, even if they won’t grow up the teepees I constructed for them. Then again they are dwarf. Although last year I bought dwarf seeds and they turned into Jack’s beanstalks.


Wonton wrapper ravioli

December 23, 2008


I am not claiming this meal to be a success; the mushy texture of the pumpkin didn’t go very well with the slippery thin wanton wrappers. I have made successful wanton wrapper ravioli, using a ricotta, parmesan, egg and spinach filling. I think the pumpkin filling would be excellent with firm egg pasta, but I didn’t have time to make it. I roasted the pumpkin for extra sweetness, also to dry it out a little. 

The best topping for this, I think, would be a crispy sage butter sauce, but I don’t have sage growing at the moment. Neither do I have florence fennel or peas, two other regrets that I will have to rectify! But I do have lots of buttercrunch lettuce.

Roasted ratatouille

December 22, 2008


I love ratatouille because it’s bound together by a rich tomato sauce, but I like it even better if the vegetables are pre-roasted. That way they are caramelized and  concentrated, not watery. I roasted my eggplants, zucchini and red peppers in olive oil for about twenty minutes, then I combined it with the tomato passata that I had augmented with red wine and the bouquet garni I never get round to tying in a bunch. I just pick the thyme and parsley stalks out later. I simmered it for another fifteen minutes to combine the flavours.

Maybe in a couple of months I’ll be able to construct this from my garden — my zucchini are swelling, but my eggplant seedlings are still being taxed by slugs. I have a whole lot of green tomatoes that I look at very hopefully, imagining gorging on them. Did I mention that I love tomatoes?

Ratatouille’s traditionally served with rice or bread, but Otto requested shell-shaped pasta. I had a packet of delicious goats’ cheese in the fridge, so we sprinkled that on top. To help diminish the mother load of mesclun, I made a salad with roasted almonds and orange.

fast food

December 17, 2008


We live a couple of blocks away from a Thai food supply shop, and there are a hundred different curry pastes to choose from. I come home with at least ten different types, not that I could name any in a blind taste test. This is my version of fast food because it doesn’t involve much fussing — the vegetables don’t need to be seared for a precise two minutes, and it’s all just a matter of simmering in coconut cream until the rice is done.

I always put a variety of veggies in, then add tofu near the end, and finish it off with fresh coriander, lime juice and lashings of golden boy fish sauce (I like the baby on the label). My favourite kind of rice is jasmine — I think I am seduced by the name. It doesn’t exactly smell of jasmine blossoms, but it is definitely fragrant and exotic. I don’t have a rice cooker because my kitchen is too small for too many appliances, so I use the absorption method, which works just fine if you ask me. My final prissy little touch is pressing the rice into a cup or a bowl so that it comes out perfectly formed — like a sand castle.

Fish for dinner?

December 15, 2008


I probably should have taken the best fish guide to my local fish shop, because I have trouble remembering what’s good and what’s not. I do know that my local has been known to sell the most endangered orange roughy, and when I challenged them about it they told me it came ‘out of the freezer,’ not the sea at all. Hmm. Anyway, hapuka has a borderline status but it is delicious — thick and juicy. I promise to get trevally or tarakihi next time!

The best thing about coming up to christmas is the brief appearance of jersey benne potatoes. Mine were walnut-sized and I sprinkled them with liberal amounts of olive oil, fresh herbs, salt and pepper. My son, who normally only eats potatoes in chip form, declared he loved these.

Garden frittata

December 12, 2008


Frittata is a fancy word for omelet really, or par-scrambled eggs (which is what I sell it to the children as). I make mine with garlic, salt, pepper, parmesan and lots of free-range eggs, and then throw in some pre-roasted or sauteed vegetables. The trick is to stop cooking it when it is just set but still creamy so that it doesn’t go spongy and dried-out. I then sprinkle extra parmesan on top and place it in a hot oven for a minute so the cheese can melt.


I could eat salad every day, but sometimes a change is good. I went for a slightly greek theme with my broccoli, and took advantage of the children’s antipathy towards eggplant by sprinkling chili all over it.

Green Risotto

December 9, 2008


I still have a lot of silver beet going to seed in my garden, and I harvested a bucket load for this. It’s amazing how it can squash down once you’ve steamed it. It’s also amazing how many bugs float to the surface if you soak it in the sink. To undercut the tanins – or is the iron? – I ground up some garden mint and frozen peas to sweeten it up.

I normally make a leek stock for risotto (I throw all my leek and celerly tops into the freezer for this purpose) but since we had chicken the other night, I thought I’d boil up its carcass. 

I go a little crazy stirring the stock into risotto – it’s a very long twenty minutes – so I entertained myself by listening to a This American Life podcast all about the depression, and the people who ate from soup kitchens. My grandmother was a very frugal cook, thanks to the war, but my mother tells me that every morning there were instructions on the radio to housewives as to how to make that pat of butter spread across a week. Of course, I threw a liberal knob of butter into my risotto, as well as a cup of parmesan cheese, since the depression hasn’t hit yet…it’s just gathering tsunami-strength!


There was a packet of mini peppers going wrinkly on special at the local superette, but I figure you can’t tell if you roast them. They are super-sweet. I bought a packet of goat’s feta and sprinkled a few crumbs over top – it makes the dish far more exciting (but then I am a cheese fanatic). Basil is in my mind another excitement-adder, but my little pot is looking a bit pathetic and I am hanging out for my seeds to sprout in the garden. This is my second attempt; the first time round they sunk into the soil or were eaten by the birds.

Viva Mexico

December 7, 2008


This post should really be called ‘viva Berkley California’, because I spent six weeks in Mexico, and my food tastes nothing like it does there. Maybe because I don’t cook my beans in pork fat, and it’s easier to find pintos than black beans at the supermarket. Also because if I make it burrito-style, then the kids will get distracted by the tortilla envelopes and eat far more veggies and beans than they might have done otherwise.

I cooked my beans with garlic, baby leeks, cumin seed, lime, bell peppers, salt, smoked paprika, canned tomatoes and fresh oregano. If I weren’t making it for the children too, I’d use smoked chipotle chilies instead of paprika. And the leeks – well, they ended up in the pot because they were there! I simmered the beans for 45 minutes, then added some fresh coriander, sour cream and grated cheese to serve.


I never fail to be horrified at how much a packet of tortillas cost in the supermarket (almost $5 for 8 at my local!) so I make my own using warm water, salt and chapati flour, which is a finely ground wholemeal. If you make it a couple of hours ahead, by the time you roll them out the gluten has become elastic, so you stretch them out thin and wide. My favourite part of making tortillas/chapatis is pressing on the bubbles and watching them turn into big bubbles. I still haven’t made a balloon, but each time I’m a little nearer.

I served this with the ubiquitous home-grown mesclun salad with avocado and orange chunks and a lemon vinaigrette.

Lapsed vegetarian

December 5, 2008


People often assume that I am vegetarian, and I was brought up one (my mother bought Laurel’s Kitchen and cooked everything out of it), but I have to confess that I sometimes (guiltily) eat meat. In this case, it’s free-range chicken, cooked Moroccan-style with olives.

I sauteed onions, garlic and home-grown baby leeks, added paprika and dried ginger, poured a cup of water on top and placed the chicken on top to simmer, turning frequently for an hour and a half. Right at the end I added 250 grams of stoned olives, which I had soaked to cut down the salt content, and squeezed lemon juice on top. 

I served this with an Israeli couscous tabouli. If I were to make this meal to be vegetarian, I would use grilled haloumi instead of chicken for the protein. I added cucumber, crushed garlic, tomato, mint, parsley, olive oil, lemon and salt and pepper to the soaked couscous.


My silver beet was growing into a tree, so I had to take it down. I figured that if I sautéed it with enough garlic and olive oil, it would be Moroccan, right? I suppose a more authentic accompaniment would be a wilted herb sauté, with rocket, mint, coriander, parsley et al.

Eating thistles

December 4, 2008


I would love to say I grew these artichokes, but my plant withered, maybe thanks to my children stomping on it whilst collecting the mail. My mother has grown artichokes two suburbs over, so I know it’s possible, and I’ve planted two more in raised-bed/high-security gardens for next year. I found these at the usually dismal Pt Chev supermarket, hiding behind the yellowing broccoli.

The artichoke is so armoured you get the idea that it doesn’t want to be eaten. There are prickles on the tip of each leaf, and the middle is purple and thistly. Only the heart is unequivocally edible. We ate ours with lots of lemon-garlic vinaigrette, scraping off the flesh from the tough outer leaves with our bottom teeth.

The salad greens I did grow; I have a mesclun explosion.


The boys love pizza, and I make my own bread dough with my ancient mixer. I sneak wholemeal flour into it, and nobody’s complained so far. It’s the crispiness from a super-hot oven that makes it excusable.

I put tomato sauce, red peppers, olives and parmesan on the boys’ pizza, and I made a middle-eastern version for the grown-ups. Caramelised onions, raisins, rocket, feta, sumac, and toasted pine nuts sprinkled on after it came out of the oven.