Before we get too settled in at our current address, we have decided to move this blog, The Slow Chef, to a dedicated website. Our new address is
I hope you will come over and visit!
Trish and Nick
Before we get too settled in at our current address, we have decided to move this blog, The Slow Chef, to a dedicated website. Our new address is
I hope you will come over and visit!
Trish and Nick
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:
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!
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.
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.
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”.
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?
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?
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:
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.
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
3/4 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.
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.
Theory: If you are going to eat, you should grow, catch or hunt your own food.
Practice: If only! The Slow Chef and I aspire to this theory, having been inspired by The Dirty Life recently, and Living The Good Life in the past but the reality is that we are not very good at it…until yesterday!
The Slow Chef headed out on the high seas (Laguna Bay) with our friend and neighbour, Ricardo. They were under strict instructions from their nagging wives to catch enough fish for dinner, but these instructions are rarely followed (by the fish, not the men).
The boat was launched at 9am with Ricardo and Nick crossing the bar in perfect conditions: a warm 23 degrees, light breeze, the water a shimmering aqua blue and flat as a dance floor.
In 3 hours, Ricardo and Nick caught 4 huge snapper and 3 sweet lip. The snapper were so big Ricardo suggested Nick needed a larger esky; a bit ambitious considering the current model returns empty more often than not. The suggestion by the Slow Chef to purchase another esky (remember that I handle the finances) made me contemplate the ‘real cost’ of these fish when you consider running a boat, purchasing rods, reels, leures and all the other ‘essential’ paraphernalia that today’s hunter requires. I wonder how Nick would go if I sold it all on EBay and left him a sharpened stick?
Once the boat was pulled out of the water, the fish were cleaned and gutted at the tables conveniently located by the boat ramp (have you ever tried to clean fish scales off your outdoor paving? Impossible!) Sharing the bounty, they filletted the 2 largest fish and kept 2 whole for dinner that night.
While The Slow Chef cleaned the boat, I was instructed to take the whole snapper and fill the cavity with garlic, ginger, lemon and soy sauce. I was amazed that I was about to follow cooking instructions from a guy who 20 years ago (I know, it’s a long time but I’m female and rarely forget something a bloke does wrong) decided to bake muffins and threw away half the mixture because it wouldn’t fit into the 6 hole muffin tin. He made one batch and thought the remaining mixture was an error. Clearly over the years he has earned back my respect and I now happily manhandled the enormous beast (the fish, not Nick) onto a sheet of baking paper layed out on our not-nearly-big-enough baking tray and followed his recipe. I took poetic licence and placed more slices of ginger, garlic and soy sauce over the top of the fish then wrapped the snapper in more baking paper. The fish and tray were then covered in foil ready to cook on the BBQ that evening.
On a freezing night (freezing for Noosa – must have been 13 degrees) we heated the BBQ on our verandah to 200 degrees then placed the overloaded baking tray on a wire rack to avoid burning the underside of the fish. The burners were turned to low and the BBQ temperature dropped to about 160 degrees. After 40 minutes, we peeled back the foil and baking paper: perfection! Served with a simple salad and rice the flesh had a creamy texture so moist and delicate a denture-wearing penioner would have signed with pleasure.
There seemed to be an ingredient missing, perhaps something sweet like mirin to balance the salty soy sauce but we fixed that by drinking a bottle of Moet our friend Michael had given us as a gift when he last stayed. Whole snapper and Moet. What more can a woman ask for?