Thursday, March 24, 2011

Down the rabbit hole?

This weekend, we are hopefully finishing off the last two beds of our new 4 bed veggie patch and then planting out the winter veggies..
Our favourites are BROADBEANS (eating raw and smashed with salt and ricotta on sourdough bread)

We have spinach already growing - and to avoid an attack from grubs as happened over summer, we have opted to encase the spinach in a mini hothouse/snail protector as shown below...

It is a 2 lt drink bottle, cut so we just have the cylindrical part, pushed into the ground.  It works well, with the plant thriving through some less than ideal weather and it remains untouched by grubby fingers or sluggy mouths. Nearby broccoli have been viciously attacked, so I need to extend my zones of protection.

ie I need more 2litre soft drink bottles.  We could all start drinking more coke (eeeiik) or could have a party and feed the visitors coke.

Which leads me neatly to my next thought.... Another party.

Like lots of people, I'm often inspired to cook as shown on tele cooking shows.  Last week, we had a three course cacao dinner party inspired by the tv show 'Willie's Chocolate Revolution.'  Afterwards I was exhausted, and have had made minimal efforts in cooking this week, resulting in fairly bland, boring dinners, with no new cooking ideas whatsoever.  (Though there is a particularly nice smelling kangaroo bolognese on the stove right now).

Until last night -  I was watching Heston's Feasts.  Until now, I've avoided the show because I didn't think that cooking food that was made to look like other food (which I incorrectly thought was Heston's whole aim) was particularly clever.  But I was pleasantly surprised as I watched him (and his staff of hundreds) prepare a Mad Hatter Tea Party, complete with special glassware, drink me potions, turtle soup and an amazing edible garden.

The closest I've ever gotten to being inspired to cook from a children's book was considering having a 'Very Hungry Caterpillar' Party for a toddler complete with 1 slice of watermelon, 1 ice cream cone, 1 slice of slice of swiss cheese, 1 slice of salami...  The Mad Hatters Tea Party was such a clever idea and beautifully executed, but what he chose from the book wasn't reflected in my memories of it- I liked the 'eat me' cookie and the caterpillar on the mushroom.  Which lead me to think that for my next trick, I might like to do a Mad Hatter's Tea Party as well, focusing on the bits that resonated with me as a child, which clearly won't be nearly as spiffy and sophisticated as Heston's but should be nice all the same... 

Let me know what you think?  Would you be interested in reading about my variation on this theme?  For my friends - you know who you are - Is anyone interested in being a white rabbit?

If there is interest, I'll get planning:

Step 1: Reread Alice in Wonderland.
I'll read this with my son, though he generally is not a huge fan of books featuring girls.  If he voices any protest, I'll rename Alice as Allan and we'll begin.

If there is no interest in this party, I'll throw myself down a rabbit hole and see what happens...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Cacao? Ca- NOW!!!!

Somewhere in the deep dark annals of a facebook server, a messenger conversation is recorded:
P: What are you doing for your birthday?
J: Nothing.  All my friends have babies and I can't think of anything baby-friendly to do.
P: Really?  I could do a dinner for you if you like.  Totally baby friendly.
J: Don't worry, I'll try to think of something.
P: I'd like to do it, if you'd like...
Somewhere in the deep, dark annals of my mind, an idea started to form. 

J and I are fans of a show on the ABC - Willie's Chocolate Revolution, featuring an Englishman's frenzied pursuit of chocolate production perfection.  Willie bounces around the world, visiting his cacao bean farm, producers, and building his own factory, all the time maintaining a manic pace and an incredible enthusiasm for his product - Willie's world-class cacao and chocolate.
Possibly the oddest thing about Willie is the way his pronounces Cacao - 
I've heard it said Ca-K-O, but Willie rhymes it with KAPOW! and says it with the same inflection as Batman, mid-battle with an evil villain.  KA-BANG, POW, PUNCH, CACAO!  Willie says that his cacao can be grated onto food to provide a new dimension of flavour and that there are many health benefits, including improved mood and energy levels and he has written a few gorgeous looking cookbooks...
Anyhow, we had talked about Willie and whether his chocolate and cacao could live up to the hype created.  So for J's birthday dinner, I decided to cook a three course cacao extravaganza to fully investigate Willie's Cacao and meal ideas.  And so our CACAO odyssey began.

I wrote to Willie's company to find who stocked the product local to Melbourne.  It was already too late to order it on line:
They responded promptly - Jones the Grocer at Chadstone.
Chadstone is a long way from me, but close to J who had gone there the day before and looked at the cacao area and not found Willie's product.
Were we thwarted at the first step?
Yes - for about a week, things looked hopeless.
I considered using someone else's product but then pretty much lost interest in the whole idea.
I stumbled upon Cacao Nation in Sydney Road, Brunswick.
I wondered into the shop, and perused the shelves, seeing cacao nibs, emergency chocolate supplies and then a light shone down from heaven and I found the holy grail - a whole shelf of Willie's products.  I may have cheered out loud, attracting the attention of the owner who enthused over Willie's product.  Cacao and a chocolate block in hand, I skipped home to look for recipe ideas.

I wrote on Willie's facebook wall:
P: Hello! I want to do a 3 course dinner featuring your cacao for a good friend who loves your show - what menu would you guys suggest?
Willie's Cacao Ooh, how about the Porchini mushroom risotto, then wild duck with chocolate & orange sauce, finished by the classic chocolate & espresso mousse?
Post your photos here too!
I don't have the Chocolate Bible book, but these recipes were available on line.  After looking through otherwise Willie recipes available on line, I swapped the mousse for the cloud forest chocolate cake - because it was a birthday party and thus a cake is required...
Starters: Porchini Mushroom Risotto
  • Using standard button mushrooms instead of dried
Mains: Duck with chocolate and orange sauce
  • J was tasked with getting a duck from China town (I couldn't face cooking up duck with fat splattering everywhere) and I made the sauce
  • Served with green beans
Come to think of it - this was also a gluten-free dinner party...

On the big day - Cooking started early, with the plan to reheat savoury dishes when guests arrived:
1. CAKE - I mixed up the cake per the instructions and placed it in the oven in a lined tin.
THEN $H!!!!!!T
The base of the tin must not have been fully attached and in the heat of the oven, the mix started to ooze everywhere.  ARGH - I pulled it out and piffed the remaining mix back into the mixing bowl, with cake mix also slopping onto the bench, floor and me. I got another, smaller tin ready, and put this into the oven, whilst trying to placate a crying baby who woke up mid rescue attempt.
    Chocolate covered cake.  
    Chocolate covered kitchen.  
    Chocolate covered baby.  
    Situation Normal.
I hadn't read the recipe through before starting and had a minor heart attack at the +40 minute cooking time - but all went well - a strange sauce for a wild duck...
I considered adding wine to stock to add flavour but decided against it after smelling richness of grated cacao...  
In the interests of science, I consumed a lot of the cake batter splatter from around the kitchen and ended up experiencing first hand the energy giving effects of excessive cacao consumption.  With a young baby and broken sleep, I normally need (though don't often get) an afternoon siesta.  On the big day, I housecleaned faster than a locomotive, and lept through the school garden clean up in a single bound.
The meal began after the arrival of the guest of honour J, who was delayed by her incredible boss at her really wonderful workplace. 
The risotto was served with parmesan shavings and cacao sprinkled over the top, partly for visual effect and partly because I'd forgotten to mix it through.
The smell as the cacao heated through was incredible and the taste sublime.
Very different to the Jamie Oliver type risotto I normally make - I recommend it highly.

Duck and chocolate combined?  Wouldn't richness upon richness be too much?
No, it was again incredible and beyond words to describe.  If I'd stepped on the scales this morning, I could possibly have provided some scary numbers.  Serving this with lightly steamed green beans was a good idea - the freshness and crunch was a good juxtaposition to the delicious  ooze of the duck and sauce combined.

I thought the batter was lovely, but it was nothing in comparison to the finished product.
It was a very dense, mud like cake, gluten-free, moist and not too sweet.  
I now pronounce this the BEST CAKE EVER.

Overall, the party decided that Willie has definitely created something amazing, though eating 3 courses of cacao based meals was very heavy going.  I considered handing in the towel after mains but was urged on by my fellow diners.  It is something we would only do on special occasions, with a limit to maybe twice a year.
I'd definitely recommend having a cacao dinner party - for us, it was memorable, hugely good fun and an introduction into a new and surprising flavour in cooking.  

Some left over cacao is sitting in my cupboard, calling to me:
Eat me in a plum and chocolate sauce over a roasted kangaroo fillet...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Treasure Hunting

Only Sunday night, my husband and I discovered that we had booked ourselves up for the next few weekends, and when we had otherwise planned to make changes to our front garden veggie patch - turning 2 large beds into 4 smaller, more accessible ones.  Realising we only had the next day (Labour Day) to kick off the work, we took some bad measurements in the dark to confirm it would all fit and started work the following day.

The before shot - plus some models in shot
Patch as it currently is..
When dismantling the existing beds we found some treasures:
  • Thousands of bugs and snails that we punted away – begone evil doers - our garden is a snail Sizzler no longer.  If I was my Nona I would have kept them, fed them bran, then starved them and fried them up in butter.  Some delicious irony but not quite to my sensibilities.
  • An eggplant – I’d thought that the plant had been overwhelmed by pumpkin plants..
  • Lots more tomatoes,
  • Found that 3 strawberry plants had created more new plants (21) than strawberries (10)
  • And most excitingly, from the compost there was a little avocado tree, about 20cm high – hurrah!!!

The change isn't finished as we left one half bed in place to keep growing pumpkins - but things are starting to take shape.
With the eggplant and tomato sauce made in recent weeks I made eggplant parmagiana - the best and easiest vegetarian dish I know:
  • Place the thinly sliced eggplant across the bottom of a lasagne dish, cover with grated cheese and sauce, then add another layer of the same until you run out of ingredients.
  • Cook at 200 degrees for half an hour- top should be browned, the dish sizzling and the smell should waft deliciously through the house... 

It is  big week in the kitchen - Irish stew is bubbling on the stove and soda bread is in the oven for tomorrow's St Patrick's day feast, and on Friday, we are having a cacao kapow dinner party in honour of a good friends birthday - should be fun...
On a purely selfish note, if you feel like wasting time on the internet - vote for me 'Gnomey' on the Yates website (for every day that I've blogged there) so that I get heaps of votes and win somethingarather from Yates - coming second at the moment...:
I would be forever grateful!

Thursday, March 10, 2011


To help develop the garden, I've gone in the Yates garden challenge under the name Gnomey, if you feel like checking it out - I'm currently #1 for votes - very exciting!!!!!!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Pumpkin patch

Excitingly, we haven't had to shop for veggies for weeks now, with this weeks harvest including:

  • A large zucchini hiding in the undergrowth,
  • A kent pumpkin - have been watching and waiting for it to grow - and it was one of our baby's first meals, and I'm glad to report that she enjoyed it.

From this, I made:

  • Gluten free pizza - which isn't nearly as nice as real pizza but doesn't result in feeling bloated and awful, post meal...

Based on the recipe in the link below, I substituted pumpkin for zucchini and topped it with passata made last week, and proscuitto which made an excellent combination

There was still alot of pumpkin to go so I made a roast veggie slice by:

  • Layering sliced pumpkin and sliced zucchini in a lasagne tray, interspersed with dollops of ricotta cheese and grated tasty cheese, 
  • Covered with passata/tomato sauce made the previous week 
  • Roasted in the oven at 220 degrees for half hour
From the above recipes you can see that I prefer roasting vegetables more than cooking them any other way - This is in part because there is virtually no preparation required and the slower cooking method helps to bring out their natural sweetness...

I used the left overs from this in:

  • A big roll for hubby for lunch which was much applauded by him
  • Pancakes to celebrate Shrove Tuesday

Pancake batter
5 tablespoons of left over veggies
5 tablespoons of plain flour
Pinch of baking soda and baking powder
1 egg
Pinch of salt
Dollop of ricotta 
Enough milk to make the batter a bit runny

The batter was wizzed together with the hand blender and then fried up on stove...

These pancakes were not applauded - the 5yo Lion found some minor evidence of vegetables in his dinner (horror of horrors - what kind of mother could do such a thing?) and they were not served with ice cream (again, will the horrors never cease?)