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Monthly Archives: July 2011

While the Wife’s Away…

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The Slow Chef is a very generous man. He is more than happy for me to go away for a few days to visit family and friends (hmmm…). This week I had 3 nights in ol’ Sydney town.

Based on my visit to Sydney, here is a plan for the perfect day out:

  • Catch the train to Circular Quay, walk around to the Sydney Opera House, admiring the magnificent view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge as you go. Once at the Opera House, take a tour of this incredible building.
  • From the Opera House, wander through the Royal Botanic Gardens up to Macquarie Street. Once on Macquarie Street, be sure to look for number 133, History House. Not only is this beautiful sandstone building home to the Royal Australian Historical Society, but it is also the first home of The Slow Chef and I. About 20 years ago, we rented the top floor of the building, the old servants quarters.
  • From Macquarie Street head down Hunter Street to 330 George Street, opposite Wynyard station. A sneaky doorway next to the Peter Alexander store leads through to the upmarket Ivy complex. I recommend lunch at Sailors Thai at The Ivy where you can actually talk and be heard! The carpeted floor (so unique these days) means this chic restaurant not only looks gorgeous but is intimate and relaxing. Whilst not traditional Thai food, more Thai with an Australian twist, it is delicious. On my visit the restaurant was decorated with beautiful yellow orchids.
  • After an early lunch, catch the monorail to the Lyric Theatre at Star City and catch the matinee of Hairspray – The Musical. I’m a huge fan of all things musical and can honestly say this is one of the best shows I’ve seen. It’s definately heaps of fun.
  • Before the excitement of the show wears off, catch a cab to the Shangri-La Hotel in The Rocks and enjoy a cocktail or two, as the sun sets, at Blu Bar on 36. This is probably one of the best views in Sydney.

Just before I sat down to enjoy Hairspray, on above-mentioned perfect day, I received a text message from The Slow Chef “How do I grease a casserole dish?” Not the type of message I’m used to but I quickly phoned and suggested that he either coat the dish with melted butter or canola spray. “I’m cooking up a storm,” he declared. I’m pleased to advise he sounded incredibly happy. I think he sent me to Sydney just to have the kitchen to himself!

Later that evening I received a photo text message announcing the kids had rated his Chicken Mornay Bake a 9 out of 10. Perfect comfort food for a winters evening in…whilst I had a fantastic dinner out!

Squid Ink Pasta via Venice and Singapore

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Thirteen years ago, The Slow Chef and I were living in Singapore. One night, when dining in a new Italian restaurant we noticed squid ink linguine on the menu. Nick called over the beautiful Singaporean waitress and asked “Is this squid ink pasta or pasta with squid ink sauce?”
“Squid ink sauce,” she replied.
“Incredible. We haven’t seen that on a menu since a trip to Venice 12 months ago,” The Slow Chef boasted.

We were slightly alarmed when this comment resulted in the chef being summonsed from the kitchen. “Where in Venice did you eat this dish?” the Italian chef barked. (Were we in trouble?)
“I can’t remember the name of the restaurant but if you head over the Ponte di Rialto from the Piazza San Marco side, take the second street on your left and then turn right. It was a small restaurant with beautiful timber floors and a nautical theme,” The Slow Chef reminisced. As he spoke, his eyes stared at the ceiling and I could see him re-tracking the journey in his mind. (Nick has an amazing sense of direction. I don’t. I couldn’t read a map to save my life.)
“I worked there!” exclaimed the Chef, now extremely friendly. He had been in that very kitchen in Venice the year before but had moved to Singapore with his new wife, the Singaporean waitress, 6 months ago. We had an amazing dinner that may never have occurred had we been able to read Italian.

Let me explain. We moved to London when Hannah was 11 months old. We had always wanted to travel so rather than spend a fortune on a 6 week whirlwind honeymoon in Europe, we decided to move there and really experience the life and culture. Nick lined up a job and once we were settled in Richmond, Surrey, we started travelling. Every weekend we either visited places around England by car or flew to the continent. When Nick had two weeks annual leave we flew to Italy, spending a week in Florence and a week in Venice. As we could not speak or read a word of Italian, we decided at the start of the trip not to ask for translations or English menus but we would simply point to a couple of items on the menu and see what turned up.

It’s pretty hard to go wrong in Italy but we did have a few mishaps; a plate of thinly sliced salami served with…nothing! Just salami. Another shock was a plate of chopped liver. It was dry – no gravy, just cooked liver. Hannah, now 18 months old, ate through most of the dish whilst I re-ordered. Our selection method also resulted in some amazing dishes that we would probably not have ordered had we understood what they were. Squid ink linguini was one such dish.

You can imagine my shock when a huge bowl of black, glossy, oily pasta was dropped in front of me.  Definitely not something I had been expecting. Being the brave soul I am (OK, I’m not brave enough to consume an entire calves liver), I pressed on. The dish was amazing. Squid ink has quite a fishy flavour and a silky texture. I had never tasted anything like it. As my mouth and teeth were stained black, I insisted The Slow Chef share the dish so I didn’t look like the only side-show act in the room. He was also impressed. So much so, we have remembered the dish to this day.

Whilst we have not made the squid ink sauce ourselves, we do purchase the black squid ink pasta regularly from the Noosa Farmer’s Market, always keeping a pack in the cupboard.

Last night, being a Saturday and having nothing left in the fridge, The Slow Chef perused the pantry and decided to make Linguine Nero con Gamberi or Squid ink pasta with prawns.

The critics (kids) were pretty harsh, rating the dish a 6 (from 14 year old son who has decided he doesn’t like prawns) and 8 (from Holly who found the black pasta quite startling). I also rated the dish an 8 but that was due to the prawns (purchased from Woolworths by now 17 year old Hannah) being gritty.  Rather than drive to the shops especially to purchase prawns, Nick phoned through his order to Hannah, who was out and about with friends. She assumed the Fresh Food People would have fresh prawns behind their deli counter. They may have been fresh when they were caught a while ago, but they hadn’t been rinsed, so despite The Slow Chef peeling off all signs of shell, they were still a bit crunchy in the dish. Next time we will buy the prawns from Noosa Seafood Market where we are always happy with the produce.

Besides the slightly gritty prawns, the dish was fantastic – tonnes of garlic and olive oil, basil and parsley, and one finely chopped tomato. The addition of a chilli or two would also have enhanced the flavour.

After an amazing meal, we settled back on the couch to watch a movie. It was the perfect Saturday night in.

Chicken and Sweet Corn soup recipe

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The Slow Chef produced a delicious Chicken and Sweet Corn soup that he adapted (yes – he can even adapt recipes now!) from one on the Taste website.

4 cups chicken stock
shredded chicken (Nick used the 2 chicken breasts from our weekly boiled chicken/stock project)
1 tbs soy sauce
2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
1 tbs cornflour
1/4 cup water
2 x 420g can creamed corn
1 x 420g can corn kernels, drained
2 egg whites
6 green shallots, finely chopped
Salt & pepper

In a large saucepan mix stock, soy sauce and ginger and heat through. Combine cornflour and water until smooth. Mix cornflour mixture into stock. Cook for 2 minutes or until soup thickens slightly. Add the chicken, creamed corn, corn and cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through.

Whisk the egg whites in a small bowl. Gradually pour the egg whites into the soup, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.

Cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Add salt and pepper. Serve with green shallots sprinkled on top.

This is perfect for a quick meal or instead of takeaway – takes as long to make this as it does to phone through your order then drive and pick up. If you’re like me, you keep a few cans of corn in the cupboard, along with lentils, kidney beans, tinned tomatos, etc. and can throw together a meal in minutes. My friend and neighbour, Jan, is known in her house as “Crack a Can Jan” because she is so good at throwing together (assembling?) several cans of food to make a curry. With a bit of practice The Slow Chef might earn his own name such as “Take a Pick Nick”.

Seriously Sensational Paella

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I had one of those Sundays where I longed to lie in a hot bath but felt that 3pm (and 4pm) was too early. So, the minute 5pm came around I was in! A full hot bath, Tina Fey’s ‘Bossypants‘ to read, a piccolo of champagne (I’d love to tell you it was Moet but let’s face it, I know as much about wine and champagne as I do about football) and the music from ‘A River Somewhere‘ on the iPod dock. The door was locked so no stray kids could wonder in. Pure heaven.

As I lay immersed in chocolate salted water (I forgot to mention this earlier – it was a birthday present from my very thoughtful 17 year old daughter and not so thoughtful 14 year old son – he just signed the card) the most amazing smell wafted through the bathroom window; onions, chicken, bacon and chorizo sausage, frying. I confess I thought it was coming from our neighbours house.

Emerging from the steam-filled bathroom I discovered The Slow Chef quietly working (slaving?) in the kitchen. He looked peaceful. Just him, Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food and a huge bubbling pan of paella on the stove. I loved him even more in that moment. After all, the way to a woman’s heart is around her diet.

We had received a sachet of Tas-Saff saffron from my sister, Jo Cook from C & C Cupcake Factory, as a gift one Christmas. Knowing that we are a bit daft about cooking, Jo kindly included some notes explaining how to use saffron. We should have read them. As a result, The Slow Chef took Jamie’s advice and dropped the saffron filaments straight into the dish. No harm was done but we missed out on the seriously yellow colour and aroma achieved by its correct use.

Jo and Tas-Saff suggest that saffron be infused in liquid prior to cooking to activate the colour and flavour. Activation can be achieved in anywhere from 30 minutes to 24 hours: 60 milligrams of saffron to 2 tablespoons of boiling water in a covered light-proof dish. The longer you leave it, the more intense the colour and flavour. We will definitely use this method next time.

I was amazed how quickly this meal came together (especially for me as I didn’t have to do anything). After only 30 minutes, Nick produced a meal that I would have raved about if served in a restaurant, yet here I was at my own dining table!

Jamie’s recipe states the quantity serves 6 but I think 8 would be more realistic.

17 year old daughter was out babysitting and missed the meal-of-the-year but 14 year old son gave a solid score of 9, 10 year old daughter a 9 (incredible considering she lives on air) and my score: 9.5.

This is the perfect dish to impress friend’s at your next dinner party. Now, who’d like an invitation?

Amish Friendship Bread

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Have you heard of it? I hadn’t but apparently I haven’t lived. Everyone knows about Amish friendship bread (except the Amish who claim it has nothing to do with them).

I stumbled across Amish friendship bread when searching for a book on a recent trip. I am currently editing a book on self managed super fund investment strategies (written by The Slow Chef) and whilst I admire the text and am impressed by both its complexity and simplicity, I don’t want to read or think about investment strategies during holidays.

Therefore, whilst browsing the shelves of a new bookstore (this is pretty close to heaven for me) I chose a book based on the most important literary factor, the cover. Friendship Bread by Darien Lee was too beautiful to walk past. The title evoked a feeling of warmth, just what I needed for a winters evening snuggled up in bed.

I had no idea how much this book would affect me. When I wasn’t reading, I was  thinking about it. I am not a big fan of ‘chick lit’ as I generally find it predictable and uninspiring but the relationships in Friendship Bread felt familiar – not nasty or cruel, just genuine characters with a strong sense of friendship and community. In fact, they remind me of a wonderful group of woman I have recently become friends with in Noosa.

Amish friendship bread is a chain-letter-style recipe; one person gifts a bag of bread starter to a friend who then shares it with their friends. The basic bread, when cooked, is more like a cinnamon cake with the texture of a banana bread. And it is delicious.

The American Amish friendship bread recipe calls for a packet of instant pudding to be added to the cake mixture prior to baking. Having no idea what instant pudding is, I venture into the dessert section of our local IGA and discover that instant pudding is very similar to jelly crystals. Just add water or milk for a milky-jello. Why on earth anyone thought to add a packet of this to what is essentially a cake mix is beyond me. As you  may remember I rarely follow a recipe correctly, so I decided to eliminate this ingredient.

As I write this post The Slow Chef is hard at work in our home office (hopefully working on his book, no pressure). I am on a chair in front of the oven watching a loaf of friendship bread bake. The smell of cinnamon permeates the house as subtle as a real estate agent during an open for inspection.

When I remove the cake from the oven I realise it is a bit burnt and cracked (I was too busy writing to notice) but it smells wonderful. Then disaster strikes. The bread is stuck solid to the “non-stick” pan! I run a knife around the edges. Still wont budge. I gently shake each end of the pan and feel the cake pull away from the base. And pull-away it did. Right through the middle! There is almost as much cake stuck in the pan as on the baking rack and there is a hole in the middle filled with uncooked mixture!

I would ask 14-year-old-son to do a taste test but let’s face it, he’s 14 and inhales everything in sight. I doubt the cake would touch his taste buds long enough to get an accurate opinion. Instead I console myself by eating the cake in the pan that has finally decided to stop clinging on for dear life. If I close my eyes to avoid looking at the crumbling mess I can report that it tastes really delicious. Perhaps I’ll let The Slow Chef bake it next time. He would have to do a better job than me.

Now, who’d like a bag of friendship bread starter?