Corn, greens and tomatillo frittata

Saturday, December 15th, 2018

Hi amigos. I’m back from living in Vietnam for seven months, and now on long service leave for a while. Hopefully I’ll have some tales to tell of both those things soon.

In the meantime, from a Melbourne home that is loud in turns with cicadas, night birds, and intermittent pounding storms, here is what I made for dinner tonight: a frittata of corn, herbs and tomatillo.

The tomatillos were a happy accident. I cooked the rest of the veggies for the frittata, tasted them, and thought they were a bit bland and needed something sour. Which was when I remembered that I had a bunch of grilled tomatillos sitting on the counter waiting to be made into a salsa. They went into the frittata instead and worked perfectly.

Corn, greens and tomatillo frittata

10 tomatillos, each about 2 cm diameter
3 cobs of corn
4 scallions
1 long red chilli
a few leaves of chard or silverbeet
1-2 cups of fresh herbs, leaves picked (I used coriander, parsley and mint)
6 eggs
100 g sheep feta, crumbled
zest of 1 lime
olive oil
salt and pepper

avocado smashed with lime juice, and a tomato salad, to serve

Cut the tomatillos in half, toss with olive oil and salt, and place under a hot grill. Grill them, tossing once or twice, until they are soft, spilling their seeds, and blackened around the edges.

Slice the kernels off the corn cobs. Slice the scallions fairly finely. Finely chop the chilli. Tear the chard leaves into pieces around an inch square. Finely chop the herbs.

Heat a large frypan over moderate heat, add olive oil, then the corn and scallions. Cook, stirring frequently, until the scallions have wilted and the corn is golden and catching a little.

Add the chard leaves, and continue stirring until they wilt down. Add the herbs, stir for a minute, then remove from the heat. Add the grilled tomatillos and any of their juice, and stir through.

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, then add the feta and lime zest, and season with salt and pepper.

Once the vegetables are no longer super hot, tip the eggs into the pan and stir so that the vegetables are evenly mixed through the egg.

Return the pan to a low heat, and cover with a lid. Let cook until it is just set. This will take different amounts of time depending on the size of your pan (and hence thickness of your frittata), the heat of the stove, etc. Keep an eye on it. Once it is almost done, I often put the pan under the grill to set the top. If you are fancy and coordinated you can flip it in the pan instead.

Once just cooked, remove from heat and allow to sit for a few minutes to settle. Serve with limey smashed avocado and a simple ripe tomato salad.

Serves 4.


A warm salad of smoked mackerel, paprika-roasted cauliflower and red rice

Saturday, January 9th, 2016

Looking at this salad now, I feel like one or other of the ingredients should be dropped – maybe the rice, or if not that then the currants. But despite being a bit of a mish-mash, it tasted delicious. The mackerel was very fishy, which played well against the pine nuts, currants and sherry vinegar. The cauliflower and rice gave it all some body and chewiness. A very satisfying lunch.



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half a cup of red rice
half a small head of cauliflower
olive oil
sea salt and black pepper
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon mild paprika
sherry vinegar
half a small bunch of young cavolo nero
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons currants
Dijon mustard
1 small whole smoked mackerel

Cook the rice in boiling water until al dente. Drain and set aside.

Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Break the cauliflower into florets and place in a baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and toss to coat. Roast for about 15 minutes, until the cauliflower is starting to become tender and just starting to go golden on the edges. Remove from the oven and sprinkle over the paprikas and a dash of sherry vinegar. Toss together and return to the oven for another 5-10 minutes, until cooked but not soft. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Remove any thick stems from the cavolo nero, then cook briefly in boiling salted water until just tender. Drain and refresh under cold water. Squeeze the water out of the leaves with your hands, then lay the leaves out on a chopping board. Cut into bite-sized pieces.

Toast the pine nuts in a small pan over low heat until they are just starting to colour. If the currants are dry, you can soak them in a little hot water and sherry vinegar to plump them up, then drain.

Make a dressing of sherry vinegar, olive oil and Dijon mustard to taste; season and shake well to emulsify.

Remove the skin and bones from the mackerel and flake into bite-sized pieces.

Combine all the salad ingredients in a bowl, add the dressing, and toss gently. Eat at once.

Serves 2.


Golden soup of chicken, ginger and greens

Saturday, January 9th, 2016

For dinner tonight, I made a soup, adapted (mostly in proportions and a little in technique) from this recipe: cold-fighting couscous chicken soup.

I was attracted by the name – I still have this stupid cold and wish devoutly for anything to improve it – and by the combination of chicken, turmeric and ginger, which sounded warming and wholesome.

The resulting soup was turmeric-golden (despite the seeming brownness in the photo below), savoury and warming. I’m still coughing but I feel somewhat less revolting, at least for now.


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olive oil
1 onion, quartered and sliced
2 carrots, cut into 1 cm dice
2 sticks of celery, cut into 0.5 cm dice
6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 inch thumb of ginger, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon turmeric
150 ml white wine
1 cup home-made chicken stock
2 cups water
1/2 cup moghrabieh
2 chicken thigh fillets, each cut into two or three pieces
1 small bunch chinese broccoli (or other green), quite finely chopped
juice of half a lemon
chili flakes
sea salt and black pepper to taste

Heat a good dash of olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot and celery, and cook for about 8 minutes, until they are golden and softened. Add the garlic, ginger and turmeric, and cook for a further minute or two.

Deglaze by tipping the wine in on top of the vegetables and scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Add the stock, water, moghrabieh and chicken, and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently for about 10 minutes, then remove the chicken.

Keep simmering the soup until the moghrabieh is al dente. Meanwhile, use two forks to roughly shred the chicken. A couple of minutes before you are ready to serve the soup, add in the chinese broccoli, shredded chicken, lemon juice and chili flakes. Simmer until the broccoli has wilted and warmed through. Season to taste.

Makes two very large servings.


German-ish potato soup for a chilly Easter Sunday

Sunday, April 5th, 2015

Beautiful blood moon last night! I think that might have been the first lunar eclipse I’ve seen. Can that be true, after 40 years? But I can’t remember seeing others.

The easter break has been lovely so far. Dumplings with the lab on Thursday night. Mexican feast at Heather’s on Good Friday. Veg Out markets on Saturday morning, where I went a bit crazy buying early autumn produce. I spent the afternoon making chicken stock, cleaning and marinating beef cheeks, and roasting pepitas, poblano peppers and tomatillos to make a green mole to eat with chicken on Saturday night.

This grey and chilly Sunday morning, I read, went to the gym, then came home and made a potato soup for lunch. It’s warming and filling, and has set me up for a quiet afternoon of reading and maybe doing a little bit of editing for work. And tea. I foresee lots of cups of tea in my near future.

Vaguely germanic potato soup

olive oil
1 onion, peeled, quartered and sliced
2 carrots, peeled and cubed
2 sticks celery, finely chopped
2 leeks, trimmed and chopped
3 rashers of smoked bacon from happy pigs
4 or 5 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1.5 cm cubes
a quarter of a head of cabbage, chopped
half a nutmeg, grated
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
2 cups of chicken stock
2 cups of water
1 bay leaf
sea salt and black pepper
splash of white wine vinegar
half a bunch of flat-leaf parsley, fairly finely chopped
2 dessert spoons of creme fraiche

Heat a splash of olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, leeks and bacon, and cook, stirring fairly frequently, for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are softened and slightly coloured.

Add the potatoes, cabbage, caraway seeds, nutmeg, chicken stock, water and bay leaf, and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for about half an hour, until the vegetables are soft. Add a splash of white wine vinegar about half way through cooking.

Take the pan off the heat, and remove the bay leaf. Use an immersion blender (or a potato masher if you don’t have one) to blend about half the soup. This should give you some body in the soup without making it a puree. Add the flat-leaf parsley and creme fraiche, and stir through over low heat for a couple of minutes to combine.

Serves 4-6, depending on hunger and presence or absence of bread.


Mushrooms baked with raclette, greens and sourdough

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

Last weekend I lay in the garden under a brilliant blue sky, wearing a t-shirt and short skirt, shading my eyes and wondering if I was going to get sunburnt if I stayed out there and finished reading the next chapter of my novel.

Yesterday, I was balancing on a garden chair to pick figs from our tree, smelling chimney smoke from the neighbour’s fireplace, and pulling my cardigan closed against a shiver.

Today I wore jeans and wooly jumper and was slightly too cold in my office all day, then caught the train and walked home through a miserable drizzle. I’d planned to make a lentil salad for dinner, but when I recognized myself sulking, I asked myself what I really wanted for dinner – and warmish lentils were not the answer.

Instead, I was thinking of mushrooms, and winter herbs, and savoury, stinky cheese. I stopped off at the grocer for a couple of bags of mushrooms, a bunch of English spinach and a piece of raclette. Got home and picked herbs from the garden. Remembered that we had half a loaf of sourdough left over from the weekend. HELLO.

The mushrooms are seared to get them golden on the outside and avert soggy beigeness. Onions are slow-cooked for sweetness and a rich base note. Herbs and spinach for a bit of lift. The sourdough soaks up all the liquid released by the mushrooms during cooking, softening and absorbing flavour. Stinky melty cheese melds it all together.

This dish is squishy inside, crispy on top, warming, tasty, comforting. Should serve four, but could probably be eaten by two hungry, greedy people. I’m congratulating myself that we managed to have enough left over for lunch for one tomorrow.

Cheesy, bready, mushroomy baked thing

2 onions, quartered and finely sliced
olive oil
a palmful of finely chopped rosemary, oregano and/or thyme
a large bunch of english spinach, stemmed, washed and chopped
900 g mixed mushrooms (I used field and button)
half a loaf of stale sourdough, crusts removed
200 g raclette, cut into 1 cm cubes
parmesan
salt and pepper

Heat some olive oil in a frypan over medium heat, and add the onions with a good pinch of sea salt. Cook for about 15 minutes or so, stirring now and then, until the onions are golden and very soft. Add the herbs and spinach, and cook another few minutes until the spinach has wilted. Set aside.

Meanwhile, clean the mushrooms and cut into pieces about 1 x 2 x 2 cm in size (very roughly!). Heat a heavy frypan over high heat, add olive oil, and sear the mushrooms in batches. I add the mushrooms to the hot pan (just enough mushrooms so they are all touching the base of the pan, without piling on one another), leave them to sit for a minute or two, then stir, leave another minute, repeat once more, then take them out. They should have some colour on the outside and have released a little liquid, but not be fully cooked. Tip the mushrooms and any liquid they have released into a bowl, then repeat with another batch of mushrooms until they’re all cooked.

Roughly tear the sourdough into pieces about 2 to 3 cm cubed. In a ceramic baking dish, combine the onions and greens, mushrooms and their juices, sourdough pieces, and raclette. Season with salt and pepper, and toss well. Scatter grated parmesan over the top.

Cover the dish with alfoil and bake in the oven at 180C for 15 minutes, then remove the alfoil and cook a further 15 minutes, or until the dish is bubbling and the parmesan is golden and melted. Remove from the oven, rest for 5 minutes, and serve.

I made a pile of crisply blanched green beans to eat with this for textural and healthfulness contrast. (Cut tops off green beans, cook in rapidly boiling salted water for 3 minutes, drain). With beans, and a good bottle of red wine, serves 4.


Chicken soup for the virus-ridden body

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

Tedster has a bad cold, and I’m still getting over one. So for lunch today I made a chicken, barley and vegetable soup, packed with all the things I crave when I’m feeling like this (garlic, ginger, a little chilli, green leaves, chicken stock). The soup is quite thick, densely flecked with green, and smells and tastes like comfort.

A good part of the deliciousness of this soup derives from the chicken stock. There is no way that I would have the energy to make my own chicken stock when I am snotty and streaming-eyed and feel like crap. But thanks to my smug devotion to making gigantic cauldrons of stock once every couple of months and freezing it, I don’t have to. I can just snuffle my way over to the freezer, extract as many ziplocks of stock as I need, and prop myself up against the counter while I chop vegetables and throw things in a saucepan.

The recipe for the soup is immediately below. For full smugness, see the recipe for cauldron-sized quantities of chicken stock further down.

Chicken, barley and vegetable soup

1/2 cup pearled barley
500 g chicken thigh fillets
olive oil
1 large golden shallot, chopped
1 leek, quartered and finely sliced
2 carrots, diced
1 stick of celery, diced
1 thumb of ginger, peeled and finely minced
1 head of garlic, peeled and very finely minced (or put through a crusher)
glass of white wine
~3 cups of home-made chicken stock
zest of a lemon
a pinch of chili flakes
a smallish bunch of English spinach, stemmed and chopped
a bunch of parsley, stemmed and finely chopped
salt and pepper

Bring a couple of cups of water to the boil in a medium saucepan, and add the barley. Simmer until soft, skimming off any foam during cooking.

Unroll the thigh fillets and cut each into a couple of pieces. Heat a good glug of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, then add half the chicken pieces. Let them cook on one side until they’re becoming golden and they unstick themselves from the pan, then turn them and repeat. Remove them from the pan and set aside to cool. Repeat with the rest of the chicken. Don’t worry that the chicken isn’t cooked through; that’ll be taken care of later.

In the same large pan, add more olive oil if needed (I didn’t), then add the shallot, leek, carrot, celery, ginger and garlic. Sweat them all over a low-medium heat for 7-10 minutes, until they’re softened and starting to get a slight touch of colour.

While the vegetables are sweating, shred the cooled chicken with your fingers into bite-sized pieces.

Deglaze the large saucepan with the white wine (or use water if you’d prefer). Let the wine reduce, then add the chicken stock and a pinch of chili flakes. Zest a lemon into the pan. Add the shredded chicken, then bring it all to a simmer.

The barley should be tender by now. If there’s lots of water left in the barley pan, drain it then add the barley to the soup; if there’s only a cup or so of water left I just tip it all straight into the big pan.

Simmer the soup for 5-10 minutes, until the chicken is cooked, the carrot is tender, and all is well. Add a little more water if things get too thick for you. Stir through the spinach and parsley, and let them wilt. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Eat.

Serves 4-6.

Chicken stock

Depending on how much water you add, how long you simmer, etc, this makes about a couple of litres of stock.

1 kg chicken necks
1 kg chicken frames, hacked up with a cleaver to break the bones
Any chicken carcasses you’ve saved from roast chicken, also hacked up
3 large onions, peeled and roughy chopped
4 carrots, each cut into a few pieces
half a bunch of celery, roughly chopped
2 fresh bay leaves
a dozen black peppercorns
a good handful of parsley from the garden

Add everything to a very large pot, and cover with cold water. Slowly bring it to a low simmer. Keep it only just simmering for 4-5 hours, stirring every now and then.

Let the stock cool a little for ease of handling, then strain it through a colander into a large bowl. Discard the bones etc.

Line a sieve with cheesecloth like a normal person, or be like me and never think to buy cheesecloth and just use a linen handkerchief instead. Wet the handkerchief/cheesecloth with water, then use it to line a sieve. The handkerchief should stick up over the top of the sieve – you don’t want stock to sneak over the edges of it. Place the lined sieve over a clean large bowl, and slowly tip the stock through it. You may need to stop and rinse off the handkerchief halfway through the process if there’s a lot of sediment in your stock.

Once the stock is clear, leave it in a big bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a plate, and put it in the fridge overnight. The next day, the stock will have jellified and be covered with a layer of fat. Scrape the fat off, and then the stock is ready to be used or frozen.

I spoon 1-cup portions of stock into mini-sized ziplock bags, briefly submerge the bags of jellified stock in warm water to melt so they can flatten for easy storage, seal them after expelling as much air as possible, then freeze them flat.

I can pack a couple of litres of stock into a smallish section of the freezer and always have it on hand for soups, stews or risottos. I LOVE IT. Not that much effort, a billion units of satisfaction and enjoyment.


Summer stew of chicken, zucchini and fennel seed

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

I still don’t cook many meat dishes, and when I make stews they tend to be of the extremely slow-cooked variety. So I was somewhat surprised when I made this stew up, because I had a craving for several of the ingredients, and it worked out exactly as I hoped. It was also super easy and quick. I’m sure I’ll want to revisit this soon so I’m noting it down.

500 g chicken thigh fillets (get them from happy chickens, please)
olive oil
1 large onion, quartered and sliced
1 large or 3 small young carrots, cut into 7 mm cubes
2 sticks celery, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic
1 heaped teaspoon fennel seed
dry white vermouth
~600 ml home-made chicken stock
4 good sized zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into 2 cm batons
half a large bunch of English spinach, stemmed and chopped
flat-leafed parsley, finely chopped

Cut each fillet into about four pieces, each piece a bit more than an inch square. Heat a little slick of olive oil in a non-stick pan and add as many pieces of chicken as can fit without crowding. Cook until the chicken is lightly golden, then turn and repeat on the other side. Remove the chicken and set aside, and repeat with the rest of the pieces.

In a large saucepan, heat a little olive oil and add the onion, carrot and celery. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are lightly coloured and softening. Add the garlic and fennelseed, and cook a further two minutes. Deglaze the pan with a small glass of vermouth and let it simmer away.

Add the chicken stock, zucchini, and chicken pieces. The stock should come within a few cm of covering the vegetables and chicken. Bring to a simmer, partly cover, and let simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the zucchini has softened. Add the spinach, stir through, and simmer another minute until it is wilted. Remove from the heat, season, and stir the parsley through.

Serve over couscous, and with green beans or other vegetable on the side.

Serves 5-6.


Claytons worth drinking

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

I’ve stopped drinking alcohol for a bit. I’m enjoying the consequences, in particular better sleep, less uneasiness about my poor liver, and realising that the reason I say endless numbers of entirely inappropriate things to my friends is not because my tongue is loosened by alcohol, but because I am a chronic over-sharer. It’s so much easier to be embarrassment-free about what came out of my mouth the night before when I realise that it’s just my personality, not the wine.

I do love good alcohol on its own merits, but I also like the “I am about to consume something more exciting than tap water” aspect of it too. For the first couple of weeks after stopping drinking I employed various substitutes for that feeling, including eating quite a lot of Frosty Fruits and downing gallons of sparkling mineral water with slices of lime.

I’ve expanded the repertoire since then, and thought I’d list some options I’ve been enjoying here, in case anyone else is in search of non-alcoholic cold drinks to satisfy themselves during this heatwave.

1. In a tall glass, combine the freshly-squeezed juice of a ruby grapefruit, a couple of dashes of citrus bitters, ice, and about 200 ml of soda water. A few mint leaves, scrunched in the hand before adding to the glass, are great but not required.

2. Fever-tree ginger beer is delicious. Much more gingery, less sugary, and in a more sensible bottle size than Bundaberg et al.

3. Tonic water with ice and a dash of elderflower cordial. Not too much cordial, or it will become sickly! Just a little tiny dash.

4. San Pellegrino’s little bottles of chinotto, so bitter and satisfying.

5. Soda water with ice and a dash or two of pomegranate molasses to taste. Sorry if you like sweet drinks; my predilection for sour and bitter tastes is probably becoming rather obvious here.

6. The Australian classic, lemon, lime and bitters. This is easy to make, and the premixed versions are disgusting, so construct your own. Drizzle Angostura bitters around the inside of a glass and twist to coat it a little. Add ice, a dash of lime juice cordial, and top with clear lemonade (preferably something less sweet than the Sprite type).

7. A Gunner: equal parts ginger ale and ginger beer, with a dash of Angostura bitters and a squeeze of lemon juice to taste.

8. Lychee soda, as first encountered by us at the Vietnamese restaurant in South Brisbane we used to go to once a week with friends after climbing. In a tall glass, put a few ice cubes, four or five lychees from a tin, and a dash of the syrup from the tin. Top up the glass with cold soda water. Serve with a straw and a long-handled parfait spoon to eat the lychees.


Composed plate of spring

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

We just had the perfect spring lunch: incredibly delicious, and about 10 minutes from feeling hungry to sitting down to eat.

For two:

1 bunch of purple sprouting broccoli, cut into 1-2 inch pieces
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed
half an avocado
a palmful of pine nuts
150 g good smoked trout
a lime

Put the broccoli and the asparagus into stacking bamboo steamer baskets, and steam over a pot of boiling water until tender – ours took around 5 minutes.

Peel the skin from the avocado half, and slice the flesh.

Toast the pine nuts in a small pan until lightly golden.

Flake the trout into large bite-size pieces.

Place the broccoli, asparagus, avocado and trout on a flat bowl in an aesthetically pleasing manner. Scatter the pine nuts over the top, and squeeze lime over everything. Eat.


Orecchiette with cauliflower, sardines, pine nuts and capers

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

Sprrrrrrrrring!!!! Ted’s back in Melbourne after three and a half weeks in the US, we’ve had a weeks’ holiday together at home, and we’ve sat in the sunshine, gone walking in the Dandenongs, worked in the garden, read lots of books, and eaten the first asparagus of the season. I am so, so refreshed. (I am ignoring the results of last night’s election. La la la la, it never happened, don’t think about don’t think about it, just make lots of donations to family planning and refugee charities.)

I spent quite a bit of the last week lolling around thinking about the things I should be doing, and instead just lying on the couch reading novels. But after eight days off work I am finally full of energy, so have made kimchi and torshi left, planted out seeds for summer (nine varieties of tomatoes, lots of greens, herbs, chilis, many other things), cleaned up my bike in preparation for riding in to work tomorrow morning, and even done some of that yoga I’ve been planning to do for the last several months. Oh man I love spring in Melbourne.

We made this dish for lunch today after spending the morning out under the sunshine in the garden. I know the proportions of pasta to sauce are reversed from what they traditionally should be here, but I just really love cauliflower. Sorry, Italian grandmas.

 

Sicilian-inspired orecchiette with cauliflower, sardines, pine nuts and capers

600 g cauliflower, cut into small florets (1-2 cm)
olive oil
sea salt and black pepper
2 large golden shallots, finely sliced
4 anchovy fillets in olive oil, chopped
aged red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons pine nuts, gently toasted
2 tablespoons currants or small sultanas
1 generous tablespoon salted capers, rinsed
1 tin good sardines
100 g orecchiette
large palmful each of finely chopped dill and parsley
chili flakes, optional

Pre-heat the oven to 180 C. Toss the cauliflower with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper, and roast for about 20-30 minutes, until golden around the edges.

Meanwhile, heat a little olive oil in a small pan and saute the shallots and anchovies for 5 or 6 minutes or so, until the shallots are golden and the anchovies have melted. Add a good dash of aged red wine vinegar, and continue cooking for another minute or two. If the shallots need to soften some more (they probably will), add a slosh of water (preferably from the pasta that will be cooking, if you’ve read all the way to the end of the recipe before beginning) and let them cook further until the water has evaporated and the shallots are done.

Cook the orecchiette in boiling water until al dente, then drain, reserving a cup of the cooking water.

Tip the drained pasta back into the pot in which it was cooked, then add the shallots, cauliflower, pine nuts, currants and capers (and chili if you want it), and mix together. Break up the sardines very slightly, and add these and the herbs to the pot, and mix through gently so as not to turn the sardines to paste. Serve at once.

Serves two.