Eggs on the weekend

Scrambled eggs

There are a lot of great things about the weekend, but eating eggs would have to be in the top five. Make no mistake, eating eggs is thoroughly mundane — you won't be recalling your egg eating to your friends on Monday at work ("Dude, I was out last night and picked up this totally sweet carton of eggs, took them back to my place and just ate the shit out of them!") — but what it lacks in excitement it more than makes up in purity and simplicity.

A creamy yolk, a firm but yielding white. Full of fat and protein yet not the slightest bit overwhelming. If you're eating eggs on a Sunday morning, you know that life's pretty good. It's hard to stay mad, tired, or hungover when you're eating eggs. And that's why I eat eggs on the weekend.

Scrambled eggs

Ingredients (serves 1):

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 tsp cracked black or white pepper
  • 1.5 tbsp crème fraîche
  • Salt, to taste1

1. Whisk together the eggs and pepper in a small saucepan, then add the butter and place over a medium heat.
2. Stir frequently with a wooden spoon, scraping egg off the bottom and sides and bottom of the saucepan as it sets. As the pan gets hotter you'll have to stir more frequently. Keep going until the eggs are creamy and done to your preference2.
3. As soon as the eggs are done, remove from the heat and add the creme fraiche. Beat this in well, then season with salt and serve immediately over thick buttered toast. Be aware that although the crème fraîche will drop the temperature, the eggs will continue to cook in the pan.

(1) Add the salt after the eggs are cooked — adding it at the beginning will produce a watery rather than creamy consistency.
(2) My preference is eggs that are only just set, with the consistency of a thick porridge. If your breakfast can support a fork skewered upright into it, you've gone too far. Way too far.

Microwaves are fun and useful

Potato gnocchi with gorgonzola and rocket

Why didn't anyone tell me you could microwave potatoes? Here I was making gnocchi, feeling hungry and impatient while my potatoes baked or lazy and compromising while they boiled, while this whole time I could have been zapping them and saving the fuss. It's perfect, really. Unlike baking the potatoes are thoroughly cooked in less than 10 minutes, and unlike boiling you're not adding any horrible, dreaded water.

Here's how it's done: Clean your potatoes and leave their skins on (I've switched from sebago to desiree potatoes for gnocchi, by the way), then pierce four times with a sharp knife. Don't skip this step or your potatoes will explode. Place in a microwave safe dish and cook on high. Cook for 6 minutes for 1 potato, adding 2-3 minutes for every extra potato. Once finished, leave in the microwave to rest for another 5 minutes. Congratulations, your potatoes are cooked!

In this case I used my totally rocking mashed potato to make gnocchi with gorgonzola and rocket. The gorgonzola sauce simple but extremely rich, so be careful not to reduce the cream by too much. The rocket seemed like a good idea in my mind, but I'm not convinced it adds much. Fresh or barely wilted the texture is a little harsh, but cook it any further and it loses a lot of flavour. My recommendation: leave it out.

Gorgonzola sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 clove garlic, very finely diced
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2/3 cup of cream
  • White pepper, freshly ground
  • Gorgonzola, to taste1
  • 1/4 tsp truffle oil

1. Cook the garlic and bay leaf gently over a low-medium heat in the butter for 4 minutes.
2. Add the cream and a splash of water and bring to a simmer. Reduce by a quarter, then remove from the heat and break up the gorgonzola into the sauce. Season with white pepper, garnish with truffle oil, and stir.

(1) A little goes a long way — 30g should be plenty for 1 serving.

Beetroot tzatziki

Beetroot tzatziki

It's about time I posted a recipe. There have been a few posts lately, but the last recipe was the Aussie burger back in February, and I doubt many of you need instructions on how to make a tasty burger. I enjoy posting recipes, but it's as much for my own reference as anything — I don't know about you, but I rarely use the recipes I see on food blogs. It's not for lack of trust in their authors, either. Rather I like to soak up the appetizing photos and steal interesting combinations/techniques to apply to whatever ingredients I have on hand. I may not use everything I see straight away, but it all gets mentally filed away.

This beetroot tzatziki is an example of a recipe that I saw in the wild (in the food section of a newspaper, actually) and set about making months later. Some of the original elements are still there, but the gaps have been filled in with common sense. Beetroot pairs classically with orange and dill, turning an otherwise standard tzatziki into something completely new. Serve it as a dip or with grilled lamb (squeeze lemon over your lamb to balance out the sweetness of the tzatziki) and enjoy.

Beetroot tzatziki

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups grated beetroot1
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice2
  • 1 tsp orange zest
  • 1.3 tbsp finely chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup strained greek yoghurt3
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt, to taste

1. Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well to distribute everything. Taste for seasoning, and consider adding some more salt and lemon juice — these sorts of dips usually benefit from an extra kick of flavour.
2. Leave in the fridge overnight to allow the flavours to infuse.

(1) Boil beetroots whole, then allow to cool slightly before removing the skin and grating. For what its worth, these would have to be the easiest things to grate in the world.
(2) A word of advice: zest the orange first, it's much easier to zest an intact citrus.
(3) Strained yoghurt is exactly what it sounds like. Buy a tub of Greek style yoghurt and sit the contents in a fine mesh strainer over a bowl in the fridge overnight. Discard the liquid in the bowl and save the now-much-thicker yoghurt for tzatziki and marinades.

Do you struggle with the pain of defrosting?

freezer

Defrosting is a subject close to my heart, dear reader. You see, since my hot water heater broke on the longest weekend of the year I've become unwillingly acquainted with cold showers, and the invigorating experience — although character-building — has left me with little tolerance for anything frozen.

Defrosting frozen ingredients can be a pain. If we were all organised and planned ahead we'd have put that frozen steak in the fridge the night before. But we're not. Instead we got home from work 30 minutes before dinner, and patiently waited for it to defrost on the kitchen counter, before giving up and putting it on 'defrost' in the microwave with lackluster results1. In my head this is the part of the infomercial where failing to cut the overripe tomato with the splintered end of a wooden spoon, the attractive but sensibly-dressed housewife throws her hands up and exclaims, "There's got to be a better way!"

And there is! No longer will you have to struggle with molten lava or the power of prayer only to end up with meat that's cooked on the outside and frozen on the inside.

What you need is something warm enough to heat up the food without being warm enough to cook it. The air in most kitchens is pretty warm, but air is a terrible conductor of heat. Water is better, which is why some people defrost items in their kitchen sinks. This works, particularly for irregularly-shaped ingredients such as a whole chicken, but you have to remember to change the water regularly.

Defrosting

The best heat conductor in any household kitchen is obvious when you think about it: pots and pans. Metal's excellent heat conduction is one of the reasons we use it on the stovetop, but it's just as useful at room temperature. The heavier the pan, the better — more heat capacitance means a longer time before the pan cools down too much to be effective. For flat, regularly-shaped objects such as bread and filleted meat this method works efficiently without adverse effects, using equipment you already have. Give it a try — it also works to bring refrigerated meat up to room temperature more quickly than the kitchen bench.

And you can have it all for 0 easy payments of $0.00!

The most labour-intensive scrambled egg pie ever

Stupid Thomas Keller. "Oooh look at me, I make pastry by hand, I'm a three star chef, I cook my meat in a bag". Smug bastard, thinks he's so good just beacuse he can make the quiche that ruined my Saturday.

When I started this blog I said that it would be about the journey, and anyone who's ever learned a valuable life lesson will know that the journey has both highs and lows. In the past I've been diligent documenting my successes (although recently I haven't been diligent documenting anything), but don't be misled into believing that there haven't been failures. The thing is, it's hard enough writing an entry about even the most unusual and delicious foods, which makes mustering up 300 words about a failed or forgettable meal next to impossible.

Photographing it is the other challenge. Good food's easy: try to make it look as tasty as possible. But with failures the challenge lies not in making bad food look good, but in deciding how to make it look just the right amount of bad. Do you exaggerate the bad and risk grossing out your readers, or try to dress it up at the risk of making it look a mediocre attempt at good?

But I digress. Back to the failure in question: quiche. Thomas Keller's quiche has a reputation for being the gold standard in quiche. "It's almost sexual", he writes in Bouchon, "a great quiche". If he was referring to me weeping after it's finished then he's spot on. You see as pedantic as Keller's instructions are, it's difficult to get right and when it fails, it fails epically.

The problem is not the custard. The custard is perfect and I won't hear a word against it. The problem is the crust. The pastry's high butter content makes it a pleasure to roll and a luxury to eat, but very prone to leaking. He has you roll the pastry out to just under 1/4 inch (3/16 to be precise) and I'd recommended erring on the side of too thick.

Lining the 22 cm ring mold without breaking the pastry is where I struggle — the sides are vertical and tall so there's a lot of extra pastry around the circumference that bends and folds as you nudge the base to the edges. I can't offer any advice on this step since I haven't got it right yet, but I suspect that if you develop a major break here you'll have a hard time patching it. The final tip that is actually different to the book (but that Keller has since recommended) is to add the custard to the pie shell as soon as it finishes blind baking. This will help to quickly coagulate any custard that touches the hot crust and hopefully assist in plugging microscopic leaks.

My leaks, however, were most assuredly macroscopic. What I ended up doing was scooping the almost-set custard from the spill tray underneath the quiche, then returned it to the quiche shell and mixed it up into a sort of scrambled egg pie. It sounds gross and it's lightyears away from the smooth set custard I should have had, but it's actually not too far from your typical overcooked quiche.

The flavour of the ingredients saved the day, and I've been able to enjoy this for lunch at work. If I made it again though, I'd use less onion confit as 2 cups is way more than needed in my opinion. Hah, look at me trying to fiddle with Thomas Keller's recipe. Me. The guy who made this:

quiche

Cucumber review #41: Apple cucumbers

Apple cucumber

They taste like a cucumber, but look like an apple. Only they don't look that much like an apple. They are: apple cucumbers.

I found these in the markets the other day and had to buy one. On first bite I was disappointed that they didn't taste like apples with the texture of cucumber, but that's my own fault for not buying cucumber apples. Compared with their elongated counterparts they were slightly lacking in flavour and had tougher skins, but it's possible that I was sold an immature or low-quality piece of fruit. That's the risk you run buying exotic produce: the consumer is unfamiliar and will tend to buy on novelty alone, so there's not as much incentive to be pedantic about quality.

Still, it was good to be able to cross 'apple cucumber' off my list of 'Cucumbers to eat before I die', and sliced thinly it fit right in with smoked salmon, dijon mustard, and cracker pepper for lunch.

Salmon & apple cucumber sandwich

(A post where I review a cucumber — try finding that kind of toe-curling excitement at any other food blog!)

The return of the second pancake

A few things happen when you stop posting on your blog. First, TypePad starts to display a "10 Tips for finding new blog topics" banner above your empty new post form that doesn't fail to patronise. Not long after that the spammers notice a long-deserted place to squat, and undo their bindles of incomprehensible comments littered with links to cheap Mexican Viagra. Finally, sadly, understandably, your readers depart for fresher pastures. To those of you who are still reading — because you subscribe to the RSS feed, no doubt — thank you, and sorry.

You see, while I have been busy with work, there are two factors to blame for my radio silence. The first is boring and sounds like an excuse: my laptop is broken so I don't have access to my photos or the photo editing software I use to touch up my Hungry Man frozen meals into passable foodie fare. However far more importantly is that I've spent the last couple of weeks both preparing for and subsequently partaking in 2 and a half wonderful weeks in Japan.

The trip was amazing, interesting, and delicious — thanks for asking — and there will be plenty of time to write about it all. But for now, I rest. Flying nine hours through the sleepless night to start work that day is a surefire way to render restful vacation a distant memory, but the weekend approaches and the markets are open late. And I have new knives.

And I could really go for a home-cooked meal.

Wine as slouch-hatted gaucho in tattered pants

Firstly- apologies on Tim's behalf for the lack of updates. He and I have both recently started full time jobs (he's fixing people, I'm licking rocks), and I guess we're slowly getting used to this 'work' concept we've heard so much about. Enough with excuses though- let's get on with it.

Imagine this: a limp-wristed, clean-nailed, quiche-eating effete ponce in a ruffled shirt, plus fours and golf shoes arrives at an rowdy outback pub and asks for a glass of ice water. This, give or take a burly man in a torn singlet, is what can happen if you go wine tasting in the Barossa Valley for the first time. You expect a mild day in the Autumn sun with some lovely wine, but it can get serious quickly when you come face to face with a broad shouldered shiraz blocking your path. Bold, rugged, rough edged and gravel-voiced, this is not a wine to be toyed with.

I grew up among these kind of bottled blokes, so on a recent trip to Argentina (purely in order to write this post) I was keen to head down Mendoza way and introduce myself to a bottle or two.

Burger with the lot thanks, mate

Aussie burger

Nationalism's a funny thing. Intellectually I find it sort of stupid when people tout their nationality as if it were some sort of personal or moral characteristic, as if they were responsible for not being the kid born 2 seconds later in whatever country they passionately rally against. But at the same time, when I think about the deliciousness, the sheer edible genius one would get down here if they ordered a 'burger with the lot', I can't help thinking Australia is objectively better than your stupid country.

What defines 'the lot' varies depending on were you go, but there's no doubt that it includes beetroot (beets) and a fried egg. Some would include grilled pineapple with that, and while it's ubiquitous up north, down here in South Australia it's not necessarily a given. And I'm not really a fan.

Regardless of what you put on your burger, the burger-making basics still apply. In making a burger one should try to construct it so that each bite contains a bit of everything. This is impossible to achieve with a fried egg — rather, one is advised to eat around the burger to ensure that last bite contains yolk. It's also easy to inadvertent made a burger middle-heavy. That is, all of the ingredients get piled into the middle, making the edge of the burger simply meat and bread, or even worse, just bread. I find that by making the burger edge-heavy, some of the ingredients naturally slide to the middle and it all works out.

Man that sounded obsessive.

For the burger patty itself, 100% beef is hard to beat. It's easy to do, and by definition couldn't possibly be more beefy. Just salt the outside to encourage caramelisation and you're laughing.

Aussie burger with the lot

The amounts will vary depending on your preference. I don't mean to insult your intelligence by telling you how to make a burger, rather this is what works for me in terms of timing.

Ingredients:

  • Burger buns, halved horizontally
  • Minced beef1
  • Cos lettuce, julienned
  • Cooked beetroot, sliced into rounds2
  • Cheddar cheese, sliced
  • Onions, finely sliced into rounds
  • Eggs
  • Ripe tomato, sliced
  • Dijon mustard
  • Salt & pepper, to taste

1. Divide the beef mince and shape into burgers 1cm thick and a little wider than your burger buns3. Heat both the oven grill/broiler and a heavy frying pan.
2. Add a generous glug of oil to the pan. Salt one side of the burger and place it salt-side-down in the pan. Throw in the onions and salt these too. Meanwhile, place the burger bun halves cut-side up and toast under the broiler then set aside (leaving the broiler on).
3. Salt the burgers then flip and cook until just done. Remove the onions when they're golden brown and cooked.
4. Remove the burgers to a tray and top with cheese. Place this briefly under the broiler to melt the cheese. Meanwhile, fry the eggs in the frying pan. If your pan is cast iron and still very hot, you can probably do this off the flame with the residual heat in the pan.
5. Now everything's ready and in place. Here's how I construct my burger from bottom to top: Bun, lettuce, beetroot, burger, cheese, onions, pepper, fried egg, salt, tomato, dijon mustard, bun. Serve immediately.

(1) A cut with some fat, like chuck, works best.
(2) You can use canned beetroot — most places do — or boil raw beetroot until completely tender, then drain and rub the skin off while warm.
(3) They will shrink as they cook.

Pastitsio

Pastitsio

Continuing the Greek theme, I give you pastitsio, the ultimate in Greek comfort food. Much like lasagna, baked ziti, and other baked pasta dishes this is one of those meals that you find yourself sneaking back to a few hours after dinner. When I made this particular batch, if it weren't for my competing desire to leave some for the following day's lunch I'm quite convinced I would have eaten the whole thing in one sitting.

Simplistically, pastitsio is a later of pasta (ziti or macaroni, fastitiously arranged in rows if you can be bothered), topped with an aromatic bolognese, a thick layer of béchamel, some grated cheese, and baked. All of these layers are important and delicious, but the element that really makes a pastitsio sing is the bolognese. Unlike an Italian bolognese this is flavoured with cloves, cinnamon, Greek oregano and bay, which should be used in large amounts to impart a noticable flavour. The recipe for this bolognese is below, but for the rest I'm simply describing the process since the exact amounts will vary depending on the size of your dish.

For the pasta, as well as being tossed with parmesan (or any hard cheese) the pasta is mixed with egg — not so much for flavour but rather to glue the pasta together for easy and attractive servings. The béchamel is your basic white sauce: butter, flour, milk, salt, white pepper, and a grating of nutmeg. Once it's all assembled, grate some cheese on top and bake at 180ºC until golden on top (about 50 minutes).

Pastitsio bolognese sauce

Ingredients:

  • 600g beef mince
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 5 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
  • 12 cloves
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 400g canned tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp red wine
  • 1 tsp dried Greek oregano
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 anchovy
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste

1. Heat a heavy pan until very hot, then add the olive oil, beef mince, and some salt. Cook, stirring and breaking up occasionally until the meat is very well browned, then remove and set aside.
2. In the oil left behind in the pan, add the onion, garlic, and cloves and turn the heat down to low. Cook until the onion is translucent.
3. Add the remaining ingredients, the reserved beef, and 1/2 cup of water, then cover and cook on a low heat for 2 hours.