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Monthly Archives: June 2011

Pies ‘n Mushy Peas

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Recently, we noticed a check-in on FaceBook from our dear friend, Gaille. She was at Harry’s Cafe de Wheels. Memories came flooding back of meat pie and mushy peas being consumed in the early hours of the morning after a big night out in the Cross, usually at the Bourbon and Beefsteak. Aahh, the good ol’ days. These days, The Slow Chef and I are not long off rising at this hour, not stumbling home.

On a perfect Saturday morning in Noosa, after a brisk hour-long walk through the Noosa National Park, The Slow Chef declared he was going to make meat pies with mushy peas for dinner. He found a recipe on the Taste website and made a list of ingredients to purchase, including pie dishes from Gibsons, our local homewares store (suddenly a simple dinner becomes quite an expense when you have to buy cookware).

I find it incredibly hard to step back and let Nick take over the kitchen. This is my flaw, I’m a control freak. So, when I saw a list of ingredients that included gravy powder and stock cubes I had to step in and suggest another recipe that used flavour from real food, not from the shelf of a science laboratory.

Whilst my intentions were good (I promise), I only managed to confuse The Slow Chef.

“Use the first 2 steps from this recipe, then these steps from this recipe, and finish with the final step from your original recipe.” Thus the reason I rarely use recipes, I change almost everything.

I am also not a very good teacher. I tend to tell Nick what to do, without explaining why. For example, I suggested he put the mince to cook on a low heat whilst we went to the shops. My logic: it will be cooked when we return, he can drain off the liquid, set the fat (to discard) then use the stock to make gravy. His logic: I will be able to think clearly if I go step-by-step through the recipe, without interruption.

Instead, he stepped through the recipe that did not state to drain the liquid (and I forgot to tell him) and as a result there is no stock for gravy. It is a minor detail that is overcome with gravy powder but it highlights the skills and tricks that are acquired over years of cooking, that you pick up from your parents or through trial and error.

The kitchen now looks like a bomb has gone off. It is not helped by the fact that one bench is always used as a dumping ground – my handbag, school notes, bolts , screwdrivers, magazines – junk waiting to be sorted. One of the best things my Home Economics teacher, the wonderful Mrs Ess, taught me was to always clean as you go. Keep a sink full of hot, soapy water and wash items to be reused, stack others in the dishwasher. Wipe benches between each task. When you place an item in the oven, your work area should already be clean.

Further frustration (for me) sets in when The Slow Chef is standing in the kitchen not doing anything. Why? He is waiting for my apple crumble to finish in the oven before he starts. In my kindest (but not condescending) tone I suggest (OK, I tell him) to start assembling his pies in the new pie dishes, as these tasks always take longer than expected.

It is at this point I realise cooking is definitely a skill acquired over time. Nick is a very smart guy with lots of common sense. He is co-ordinated and good at any sport he attempts. So, I am surprised when multi-tasking in the kitchen doesn’t occur naturally to him.

This recipe calls for several steps:

  1. make meat mixture and cool
  2. assemble pastry cases
  3. make mushy pea mix
  4. make gravy

As he is assembling the pies, I remind him to boil the potatoes that he has ready in a saucepan, but to put the bag of frozen peas back into the freezer until he needs them. At this point I step away from the kitchen. My blood pressure is rising and I am not coping very well. Far better for me to have a glass of wine in another room.

Half an hour later I am hailed to the dining table and presented with a delicious dinner fit to be served, well, in the finest caravan in Wooloomooloo. How lucky am I? I have a wonderful husband AND he can cook…if only I would let him.

My Favourite Wedding Gift

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The Slow Chef and I have been married for a wonderful 18 years. We still have many wedding gifts we were given all those years ago but I can honestly say that one of my favourite gifts was from a relative so distant that I don’t think we can really be called ‘related’. And, I had never met them. Still haven’t to this day. But I will always hold dear the present they sent us; an empty recipe book titled ‘Cook’s Favourites’. It was probably a play on words; my maiden name and their surname was Cook.

Over the first few years of our marriage I  carefully clipped recipes from magazines that I considered classy, like waldorf salad. Apple and nuts in a salad! The height of sophistication. Chicken and avocado filo parcels – so stylish! Imagine taking the time to carefully wrap fine ingredients in delicate layers of thin-as-silk pastry. Remember, I grew up in a large family. Meals were big, efficient and filling. I loved them but I rarely saw anything delicate or fancy.

As we progressed through the early years of our marriage, sophisticated recipes became practical, cheap meals that could be thrown together while babies screamed and toddlers raged. They were mostly vegetarian; pumpkin, basil and goats cheese tart or salad nicoise, as meat was expensive and we were trying to juggle kids, a business and a household budget.

About 7 years into our marriage my recipes (yes – I had taken over the wedding gift and assumed ownership) became homely; strawberries and cream sponge, homemade lemonade. At the time we were renting a house in Sydney. The garden was full of rose bushes, camelias, gardenias and citrus trees. I tended that garden as though it were my own. The recipes collected during the 3 years we lived in Roseville contained the ingredients sourced from our garden; lemon meringue pie, pasta with pesto sauce. Our driveway was lined with parsley and basil plants, each plant a foot wide. We invited the neighbours to help themselves as we could never use it all.

My recipes then became hand written. They were transcribed from friends; slices I had tasted and loved at an afternoon tea like raspberry shortbread and vanilla custard slice.

About 10 years into our marriage I clearly became nostalgic for my heritage. I began collecting recipes that flavoured my childhood; my Gran’s (and therefore my Mum’s) mayonnaise (I’ve never tasted a mayonnaise as good), my cousin Trina’s simple fruit slice:

3/4 lb butter
3 eggs
3/4 kg dried mixed fruit
3 cups brown sugar
3 cups SR Flour
Bake at 180 degrees C for 30 mins. Slice while warm.

(You may need to halve this recipe as it is based on afternoon tea in the Cook household).

In recent years I have recorded recipes from friends in Noosa; Jenny’s choc chip cookies, Lisa’s salmon dip in a bread cob (try keeping me away from this at a party), and Jenny’s onion jam (she’s a great cook).

My most prized recipe is my Dad’s tomato relish. It was originally made by my gran but Dad made it his own. I can still remember the overwhelming smell of our kitchen when he was cooking it; a plastic laundry tub full of chopped onions, another of diced  tomatoes and a massive stock pot of vinegar and spices simmering on the stove. When Dad died suddenly last September one of the first things my brother, Geoff, sobbed was “Oh God, he never told us how he read the cards.” We all groaned, our hearts breaking even further. We had Dad’s relish recipe but we had no idea how he could tell you every card in a pack that was facing away from him (towards you), by feeling the top right corner. I wish he had written it down somewhere. Perhaps he has and we just haven’t looked hard enough.

My ‘Cook’s Favourites’ recipe book is like a photo album of our marriage to date; an historical record. The most prized possession I could ever ask to inherit from my Mum is her cookbook: a black ring-binder full of the recipes and memories of my childhood.

So, today, I presented Nick, The Slow Chef, with his very own ‘Cook’s Favourites’ recipe book from Kikki.K. I hope he will record the recipes he is learning and one day perhaps Zach will be the recipient of his father’s ‘Cook’s Favourites’; recipes, memories and love.

Off to a Flakey Start

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Winter in Noosa is my favourite time of year. The days are glorious; clear blue skies, the sun sinks into your skin warming you to the core. There is no vitamin D deficiency here. (According to Dr Oz we all need 15 minutes of direct sun exposure per day. I have no idea why he mentioned an s-shaped poop on Oprah’s farewell show but I doubt it is relevent to this article.)

On as-mentioned glorious winter’s day, Nick and his fishing buddy, Ricardo, head across the bar, over Laguna Bay to anchor at Jew Shoal, north of Granite Bay, Noosa National Park. 26.375°S and 153.116°E to be exact – look it up if you have the time or inclination, but don’t tell anyone else!

Lines were cast and The Slow Chef hauled in an 80cm blacktip reef shark. Ricardo filleted the flake quickly and efficiently providing enough meat for our family of 5 for tea.

In four hours the fishermen caught a smorgasbord of juvenile snapper, commonly known as pinkies – plenty for Ricardo’s family.

The final gift was a bream (not sure what he was doing so far out in the bay) that The Slow Chef fried in butter for lunch upon his return.

Cleaning, gutting and filleting fish outside the home is a wonderful thing to do, as I have mentioned before. The carcasses are offered to other fisherman on the boat ramp for use in their crab pots. We are not crab-eaters (too fiddly) so we don’t bother with pots.

That evening, The Slow Chef teamed up with our 16 year old daughter to prepare dinner. He crumbed and fried the flake. She made an Asian crispy noodle salad. The combination was perfect. You can not beat eating fish straight from the ocean. The flesh is so soft and flakey (no pun intended) it literally melts in your mouth. The sweetened vinegar in the salad added a tang to the fish (like adding lemon) and the crisp noodles and cabbage contrast the texture.

Whilst we are still a (very) long way off being self-sufficient, we are almost one step closer with cabbages a month or so away from picking. In the meantime, I’m happy to buy cabbage from the farmer’s market for a repeat performance of this meal. I just have to send the hunters back out for more fish.