Rainbow trout curry

There was nothing very inspiring in the way of fish at the shops today and I didn’t feel like meat but there were some nice looking rainbow trout.  I’ve been cooking rainbow trout ever since the early ’80s.  A simple grilled rainbow trout – rubbed with salt, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil – accompanied with lemony potatoes and a simple green veg was a stand-by dish.  It was one that I could serve up to guests (though strangely I discovered that a lot of people were scared of whole fish with bones.  Actually a lot of people just didn’t eat fish!)  The potatoes were key:  cubed and cooked in a small amount of chicken stock which was then reduced with some butter and the addition of lemon juice and then fresh chopped dill, chives and parsley folded through and a final cracking of black pepper.  It still remains a dish I do on occasion.

I have a rather wonderful – and super easy – Thai recipe for rainbow trout with little Thai pea and apple eggplants.  Alas here in Noosa there are no such things.  And in that particular dish, you can’t just substitute ordinary eggplant or even the Japanese variety.  But I did think that a red-style curry with pumpkin would work well, perhaps with some zucchini and a handful of snow peas for colour and to accompany, a cucumber relish.  Quick and easy.

Making Thai-style curries is a process of just going with whatever’s in your fridge/pantry and letting your taste buds guide you.  So if you don’t have a particular ingredient, either skip or substitute.  For this curry I had on hand:

  • lemongrass
  • coriander (you need the roots for the paste)
  • garlic
  • kapi (shrimp paste)
  • coriander seeds
  • white peppercorns
  • galangal
  • red shallots
  • chillies

and that’s all that is needed for a basic curry paste.

To make the curry I brought some coconut cream to the boil and then added my curry paste (just blitz all the above ingredients) and let that cook until it was nice and fragrant, then added some coconut milk, fish sauce, shredded lime leaves (I have a little tree in the garden) and some extra chilli (because I like my curries hot) and then put in the whole trout and then the pumpkin, then zucchini and finally towards the end, the sno peas.  A final flavour adjustment – dash more fish sauce, squeeze of lime juice and meal done!

Jasmine rice on the stove – also something that you just set and forget.  The  cucumber relish is super easy too.  It’s equal parts sugar, coconut vinegar and water (4 tablespoons) and some chopped coriander root , brought to the boil and stirred until the sugar dissolves then set aside to cool.  If you have in your pantry a jar of pickled garlic, this goes in nicely, but if not, it doesn’t really matter. Finely slice red shallots, chilli and cucumber into a bowl then pour over the vinegar mixture.  Delicious and super quick and easy.  All you then have to do is wait for the evening to get on  – never a good idea to start cooking too early.

In search of produce

One of the things that I really miss about living in Sydney is the availability of good produce.  We were lucky enough to live in the inner west between a hub of asian shops and the heartland of little Italy.  There, you could purchase freshly made cheeses, including the sublime fior de latte and freshly made ricotta (I can still taste the gorgeous flavour and texture of fresh, warm, just made ricotta), rabbits, veal and pork and fennel sausages from the butcher, fresh pasta from not one but two pasta shops, beautiful home grown vegetables and the loveliest tomatoes from Frank’s green grocer (whose son happens to be a very accomplished opera singer!) and smallgoods  and salumi and everything else you could possibly want in a jar or tin from one of the delis.  And of course the bread rolls.  Freshly made each day, the bakery has been for over 50 years, it was  well worthwhile to queue on  Saturday morning for a bag of little crunchy ciabatinni.  No wonder we put on weight!

Short walk in the other direction brought us to the noise and smells of our local Chinatown (home of best ever Shanghai dumpling shop) where I could get almost anything I ever wanted in the way of Asian produce, including really good cheap pork from the butcher (I do think that no-one knows pork better than the Asian butchers).  In that strange little precinct there was also a Polish delicatessen (perfect for jars of sauerkraut and Eastern European sausages) and a little South American/Mexican shop full of exotica such as tins of tomatilloes, hominy*, chipotle in adobe**, and more.  A short drive to the edge of Sydney Central is where all things Thai can be procured.  There, I could always find tiny little pea and apple eggplant, pickled peppercorns and garlic, fresh betel leaves, a range of chillies and all the herbs required for Thai and Vietnamese dishes.

For more exotic spices, Herbie’s was just a few doors down from my yoga studio in Rozelle as was the Essential Ingredient where all manner of wonderful cooking (non) essentials could be had – passionfruit pashmak anyone?

Cooking was never an issue in Sydney, sometimes things required bit more planning but I was always certain of being able to find the produce I needed.

I don’t know why, but I didn’t think that obtaining produce would present such a difficulty here in Noosa, after all, it’s a well-heeled area and people come here from all over the world and the eastern seaboard.  So imagine my shock when I went in search of raddichio only to find – well, not to find it.  Mostly I just got blank looks when I asked for it. I was shocked.   Same thing happened when I went to buy some instant polenta the other day.  It wasn’t in any of the supermarkets and the one place I thought would have it (where eventually I did manage to find raddichio) they were a bit flummoxed that I would want something ‘instant’.  How to explain that in this instance ‘instant’ is not a bad/cheap/reviled thing.  Who wants to stand at the stove stirring polenta for 20 minutes getting burnt with hot splatters?  I’ve been a fan of instant polenta for years and having cooked both, can’t really tell the difference.

A walk along the supermarket aisles should alert you to what kind of place you are in, especially the bread aisle.  If it’s full of fluffy white stuff with not a decent rye to be found and if you can’t find pumpernickel, you know you are in white man territory.  Ah Queensland. Fortunately I have managed to find most of the things I need but the quality isn’t quite the same.  Buying a block of packaged parmesan is not the same as going in to the deli and having a nice wedge cut for you.  Ditto proscuitto:  no-one cuts it and layers it on sheets of paper with such care as the Italians – which is why the queue in the deli takes forever.

I give thanks to Pardon’s Fruit Market- my go-to green grocer near the yoga studio (is that just serendipity?) for providing beautifully fresh bunches of coriander, herbs, galangal, turmeric and freshly sourced fruit and veg as well as stocking a range of Herbie’s spices and some lovely pasta, good bread and the occasional other weird thing.  It’s where I go for my daily cooking needs immediately after a yoga class.  They also happen to do great juices and really good coffee.  So for now, all is manageable.  I just have to send away for food parcels of instant polenta and pea eggplant.

*Hominy is maize that’s been dried, then soaked in an alkaline solution to remove the hull and germ, causing the kernels to swell in the process which not only improves the nutritional content of the corn, but also gives it a more complex flavor and aroma. It can then be ground into masa for tortillas, or sold whole—dried or cooked—as hominy corn, the signature ingredient in traditional Mexican posole***. Cooked hominy is about triple the size of a raw sweet-corn kernel, but has an unmistakably nutty-sweet “corn” flavor.

**Chipotle in adobo is a rich, smoky, spicy Mexican sauce (adobo) of smoke-dried, ripe jalapeno chillies (chipotle). It’s as hot as hell and as smoky as an ashtray, in a good way.

*** Posole  is a traditional soup or stew from Mexico made from hominy, with meat (typically pork but chicken is also good), and seasoned and garnished with chile peppers, onion, garlic, radishes, avocado, salsa and/or limes.

Brussel sprouts – what’s not to like?

I think that brussel sprouts get a raw deal (pardon the pun).  It must stem (ditto) from their use in English cooking when they were boiled to death. Or maybe they just weren’t very fresh to begin with.  Or perhaps it has to do with all those recipes for gratins and with bacon.  Or just a lack of imagination.  I love them.  Years ago when I was a very poor student I survived on a diet of brown rice and either broccoli or brussel sprouts with a dressing of tamari and tahini and the ocaisional addition of crumbled feta to break up the boredom.  It was, surprisingly,  a very good combination:  tahini and soy/tamari is a great foil to the somewhat bitter flavour of the sprouts.

These days I very rarely eat brussel sprouts but then again, I very rarely see them in the shops.  While we were in the UK recently I  came across them in markets being sold on the stem.  What a revelation.  I never knew they grew like that.

Although I have managed to get my family enthused about these tiny vegetables, it is not their ‘go-to’ ingredient. But I really like them – either dry roasted in a pan, or roasted in the oven with olive oil or finely shaved and used in a salad with a nice red wine vinegar and olive oil dressing.   There are in fact many ways of serving this much-aligned vegetable.  Ottolenghi has a wonderful recipe for brussel sprouts and tofu (click here) and one with pomegranate and purple basil which is well worth trying (click here); the shaved brussel sprout salad with pancetta and poached egg – a classic dish on the menu of Sydney’s Fratelli Fresh – is one of my dishes of choice when there; and for a simple meal at home, I like to slice the sprouts then pan roast them and then add some olive oil, grated lemon rind (or even better, preserved lemon), toasted pine-nuts and chilli flakes.  For more substance, add either slices of grilled haloumi or crumbled goat cheese and finish off with a handful of chopped parsley.

My take on Cafe Sopra’s Shaved Brussel Sprout Salad
3-4 stems cavolo nero (if you can find baby cavolo nero, even better), finely sliced
100g brussel sprounts, trimmed and finely shaved (do this in a food processor with a slicing attachment)
1 spanish onion, finely sliced
6 slices pancetta
60g parmesan, grated
4 soft poached eggs
20ml balsamic vinegar
lemon vinaigrette (see below)
Place cavolo nero, brussel sprouts and onion in  a bowl and pour over ¾ of the vinaigrette. Mix well and leave to stand for at least 10 minutes. Meanwhile, either bake or pan fry the pancetta till nice and crisp.  Set aside.

Poach 4 eggs to just cooked (they should be nice and runny when broken with a fork).

Add the pancetta, parmesan and remaining vinaigrette to the salad.  Toss well to mix.  Top with poached egg and a drizzle of the balsamic.

For lemon vinaigrette
Juice of 1 1/2 lemons
I garlic clove, finely chopped
4 tbls olive oil
salt, pepper
Place in a jar and shake till thoroughly blended.

Serves 4

Now I just have to figure out how to make this for just 2 people – you can only have so many leftovers :-(

The joy of picnics

What could be better on a warm sunny day than a picnic by the lake with home-made corned beef sandwiches and a bottle of wine?

Source: The joy of picnics

The joy of picnics

I love picnics.  There’s something about eating outdoors in a very lazy fashion that is appealing.  Relaxing.  And as much as I love going on picnics, I also like the planning.  What to eat? Recently I’ve had a hankering for corned beef.  I thought of cooking it as a traditional meal (complete with boiled bbaby carrots, cabbage, mashed potatoes and a horseradish/mustard sauce) but then decided it would be much better served in sandwiches – a là Reuben (the best version of this is from Katz’s deli in New York) – with mustard, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut.  On rye bread of course.

The other day in Melbourne I met a friend for a drink and bite to eat at the Gertrude St Enoteca – Brigitte Hafner’s little place. Always delightful with its small menu of sandwiches, baguettes, salads, vitello tonnato and cheese platters, and its tiny list of exceptional wines by the glass.  And I remembered that there was usually a corned beef sandwich on the list so that was what I was going to have.  It was with great disappointment that there was no corned beef on the menu that day.  I voiced my disappointment and was met by a look of utter astonishment.   Corned beef?  Isn’t that rather down market?  It was my turn to look astonished?  Downmarket?  Where have you been?  And have you never had a Reuben?  Who doesn’t like/love Reuben sandwiches?  Sigh.  Clearly we had very different ideas about food.  But my desire for corned beef with sauerkraut and mustard has not waivered and so I checked the weekend weather report and found that Sunday was going to be a gorgeous sunny day with a top of around 27 degrees.  Just right for a picnic.  And perfect to take our bikes out for a spin and find a lovely place along the river and sit and eat our lovely sandwiches and drink a bottle of wine.

As luck would have it (or not), the short bike ride to the river turned into a bit of a marathon.  M found that there was a nice spot by the lake near the Noosa Botanical gardens which was just up the road (about 10k away).  Sounded good.  Nice easy ride, lake-side picnic.  Perfect.  Except that the map didn’t show that there was a fence along the road which prohibited you from going around the lake.  So back we rode and then on along the road till finally we found a turn-off to the gardens and then rode along even further.  I wasn’t very happy.  We had now been riding for 90 minutes.  That wasn’t part of my picnic plan.  Eventually though we did find the gardens and a lovely spot by the lake to spread out our picnic and laze away the afternoon.  As for the picnic itself:  a triumph!  Not only home made corned beef and sauerkraut but also mustard and rye bread.  All thoroughly delicious and washed down with a bottle of sparkling red.

Another week, another round of recipes to create

It seems my life revolves around food – cooking and eating.  Every day I think about what to make for dinner.  Maybe it’s my age, but these days I’m leaning towards lighter meals and less meat. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve eaten more than my fair share of food and my body is shouting “enough!!”

I now find myself searching for more interesting interpretations of salads and while Ottolenghi has produced some very fine books with delicious vegetarian meals, I find a lot of them tend to be on the labour intensive end of the cooking spectrum.  By the time I get home from yoga, I want something quick.   Quick is also the key to shopping expeditions:  I generally have 10 minutes before my yoga class to race into the shops to purchase my ingredients, so I can’t afford to have huge lists.  Nor can I afford to aimlessly wander the aisles searching for inspiration (something that is at times a challenge in Noosa – the tale of my frustrating search for instant polenta being a case in point).

So to this week’s eating. I have a bunch of kale in the fridge and some zucchini, brussel sprouts, cos lettuce, cucumber, coriander, mint, a pomegranate, a hot -smoked trout, haloumi, a jar of baby roasted peppers and in the cupboard: two potatoes, onions, preserved lemons, chick peas and a whole host of vinegars.  In the garden: sage, rosemary, parsley, thyme, curry leaves, kaffir lime.  What to make?

The kale needs to be eaten as does the smoked trout. So here goes:

A kale and smoked trout salad with haloumi and roasted peppers.

The other day I came  across a recipe for a kale and smoked trout salad that looked very appetising but when I read through the list of ingredients it seemed that everything was thrown without consideration of how all the ingredients would actually taste together.  Kale, smoked trout, haloumi, roasted chickpeas dressed in olive oil and smoked paprika, chimichurri (an Argentinian sauce traditionally used for bbq meats), pomegranate, yoghurt-tahini dressing, and poached eggs.  Overkill? The maxim ‘less is more’ had clearly never been heard of, so while it looked good in the photo, I’m sure it would have tasted … well, how to politely put it: much like those piles of food that people heap on their plates at buffets.  Lacking a flavour profile with too many conflicting tastes and textures.

So here is my version of the salad:

  • 1 bunch kale leaves, trimmed and torn into bit sized pieces
  • 1/4 cup coriander leaves, torn (or roughly chopped)
  • 1/4 cup parsley leaves, chopped
  • 1/4 cup mint leaves, torn (or coarsely chopped)
  • quarter segment preserved lemon, finely sliced into strips
  • 1/2 jar baby roasted peppers, sliced into strips
  • 1 hot-smoked trout, flaked
  • 1 block haloumi, sliced and dry seared then cut into strips

and for the dressing, I opted to mix:

  • 2 tbsp tahini,
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • salt, pepper
  • 3 tbsp olive oil

There are obviously many variations on this dish.  You could just as easily use chick peas and haloumi (but omit the trout); or trout with poached eggs (omit the haloumi), or trout and pomegranate and maybe some lovely little tomatoes, but never ever, everything at once.

As for the brussels sprouts  – they’re for tomorrow’s meal.   Oh, and there’s tofu too.  I’m starting to get inspired.

It’s time for winter greens

The weather has started to turn cool.  There’s a decided chill in the evenings and the mornings are frosty, cold.  Too cold to pad about in bare feet and I’ve even had to put a throw rug onto the bed. Brrrr.  Daytimes though are sunny and bright and sometimes hot – 29 degrees the other day.  Balmy, autumnal weather – more like Indian summer than the emerging of winter.  When I browse at recipes all those hearty cold climate dishes just don’t seem right. Springtime offerings from the other side of the world seem more appropriate and so I’ve been eating more vegetable-based dishes, creating salads with kale, zucchini, asparagus, poached chicken, goat cheese and more.  Heartier than the summer ones and sustaining for the evening chill.

This week I made:

  • Kale salad with a dijon-tahini dressing for recipe click here
  • Chicken, zucchini, asparagus and cos lettuce salad with pine nuts
  • Soup (using the leftover poached chicken water as base for the stock) with kale, leeks, butter beans, peas and crumbled feta
  • Peppery chickpeas with South Indian spinach
  • Sloppy  polenta with a wild mushroom ragout.

lemongrass-poached chicken with harissa tomatoes

In response to requests for the lemongrass-poached chicken recipe, click here.
This is such a great and super easy way of cooking chicken breasts which can have a tendency to become dry when grilled or oven-baked. If you don’t have lemongrass to hand, just omit and add more ginger. I sometimes throw in the end of leeks as well. An added bonus is that the left over poaching liquid makes for a good basis for a soup or stock.

The uses for poached chicken are endless; great as a basis for a laksa chicken dish, numerous salad dishes such as my favourite Vietnamese Chicken Salad and even for ever-so-delicious chicken and herb sandwiches.