Everything's going to be okay

Orecchiette with fava beans, guanciale, and walnuts

I know this probably makes me a bad person, but I hate you. Well not all of you, just those of you from the Northern Hemisphere. I don't hate you anymore, it was just for the last 3 months. And hate may be too strong a word — I envy you. You with your bright, gloabally-warmed summers, frolicking fancy-free under the same sun that has shunned me and my upside-down kin. Well well well, haven't the tables turned? Sure it might be raining outside here while you ease into a mild Autumn, but it's spring now and ain't no one gonna take that away from me.

Daylight savings has started, and thankfully no one told the spring produce about the dreary weather. This means two things. First, it means that more often than not I'll be eating dinner (and hence photographing dinner) while it's still light, making for brighter, more natural pictures. Secondly, not only will the photos be brighter, but the food itself will be brighter. Juicy tomatoes, mangoes, fresh basil, outdoor grilling, that kind of thing. It's going to be great.

All throughout winter I look forward to cooking broad beans in spring. It's silly because I'm actually rather indifferent towards fresh favas, but my affinity for them is symbolic. These days you can get tomatoes in June and strawberries year-round, but fresh broad beans are never available out of season — once they start appearing in the markets, I know warm weather is close behind and everything's going to be okay.

This dish has fava beans declaring spring has sprung, with walnuts, guanciale and a touch of cream providing shades of the colder weather that's lingering after winter. It's perfect for this time of year, and might I add quite a handsome-looking dish to boot.

One tip that I've found useful when serving and photographing this kind of pasta sauce is to cook off the larger ingredients separately and set them aside while you make the sauce. When ready eat, toss the pasta and sauce together with some of the reserved ingredients, then plate up and scatter with what remains. The ingredients don't become limp and waterlogged from simmering in the sauce (unless that's the idea) and they'll taste great and look pristine for your blog.

Orecchiette with fava beans, guanciale, & walnuts

Ingredients (makes 1 serve):

  • 80g of orecchiette
  • 1/2 cup of fava beans/broad beans, double-peeled1 and blanched
  • 2 quarter-inch thick slices of guanciale, cut into pieces
  • 1/4 cup of walnuts, quartered and roasted2
  • 1/2 a clove of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup of cream
  • 1 tbsp of finely chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup of finely grated pecorio
  • Salt & pepper, to taste

1. Cook the orecchiette in salted, boiling water according to the instructions on the packet. Meanwhile make the sauce.
2. Pu the guanciale in a cold pan and place the pan over a medium heat. Saute until it starts to become crispy around the outside, then remove to a bowl, leaving the rendered fat behind.
3. Add the garlic to the fat and cook over a medium heat for 2 minutes, then add the cream, parsley, and seasoning. Simmer for 2 minutes until it starts to thicken.
4. When ready to serve, toss together the sauce & pasta with most of the guanciale, broad beans, and walnuts over a medium heat until the sauce thickens and just coats the pasta.
5. Scatter over the remaining pecorino, guanciale, broad beans, and walnuts, and serve.

(1) Those who have cooked with anything but the youngest fresh fava beans will know what I mean. Broad beans grow inside a pod, but the individual beans are themselves inside a second skin that can be fibrous and unpalatable. To double-peel broad beans, first remove from their pods, blanch in boiling water for 30 seconds, and cool under running cold water. They should now slip easily out of their skins.
(2) You can roast these in a dry pan, in a hot oven, or as I do under the oven grill (broiler), tossing every 30 seconds until they're done (about 2 minutes).

A lazy recipe writer's guide to moussaka


I've decided that it's more taxing to write a recipe for moussaka than it is to make the damn thing. Although the moussaka photo has been up on my flickr page for a few weeks now, I've been putting off writing the post because, ugh, who can be bothered? It's not that the recipe is even that complicated. Sure it is a multi-part recipe with grilling, bolognesing, béchamel saucing, and baking but you've done all of that before. What gets me is the futility of trying to perfect amounts. Your baking dish is bigger than mine, your eggplants are smaller than mine, but none of that matters. What this recipe boils down to is the following:


1. Cook some bolognese with cinnamon and cloves1, about 750 g of meat's worth.
2. Make a big batch of bechamel sauce, maybe 75 g of butter's worth2. Mix it with half to 1 whisked egg & a generous grating of nutmeg.
3. Season and grill a few layers worth of sliced eggplant.
4. Layering from the bottom up: Thin layer of bolognese, the eggplant, a sprinkling of dried Greek oregano, a thicker layer of bolognese, and the béchamel custard. Finally sprinkle with grated hard cheese, such as Greek kefalotiri (reggiano works fine, too).
5. Bake in a 175ºC/350ºF oven for an hour or until golden on top.

But is that enough? There has to come a point where a certain level of knowledge can be safely assumed, particularly with readers as talented as your fine selves. Are you flattered enough yet to forgive my laziness?

(1) I recommend my summer bolognese, adding 5 ground cloves and 1 whole stick of cinnamon at the beginning with the onions. A mixture of half lamb mince and half beef mince works well for this. Finish with a grating of nutmeg.
(2) We've made béchamel before, for macaroni cheese and tuna mornay. Make the sauce using butter, flour, milk, salt, and nutmeg, but unlike those recipes stop there and don't add cheese and such. Mario Batali, unsurprisingly, has also made it.

5 tips for a better burger

Burger with blue cheese & mushroom

It seems like every man — at least every man who's into cooking — will at one time in their life find themselves on a quest to create the perfect burger. There's always the option of buying pre-made burger mixes or simply grilling supermarket stock-standard mince, but if you're willing to get bogged down in meat:fat ratios and the like, delicious rewards await you. These days you don't even have to work empirically. I didn't have the time, tools, nor the stomach to eat dozens of burgers of variable quality in my search for perfection, but it's all been done before, allowing a simple literature review to substitute for original investigation.

Now when I talk about the perfect burger, I'm talking about the meat itself. The scope for toppings is unlimited and can vary on a whim, however when it comes to the meat I believe in the idea of the one true burger. Although I believe such a burger might exist, I'm okay with the idea that I might never eat it, and openly doubtful that I'll ever make it — a fact that I find rather freeing. Perfect is the enemy of good enough, and I there are a handful of simple techniques that can dramatically improve a burger, leaving the purists to fight over the long tail of diminishing returns.

Below are what I consider the most successful advances in burger technology:

  • No pre-ground meat: The problem with pre-ground is that the poor quality mince is made from scraps, and the 'premium' mince is too lean. Go for a braising cut such as chuck or brisket, which has a strong beefy flavour and the right fat content (25-30%), or experiment with mixtures. Grind it at home if you have the equipment, or select a cut and ask your butcher to do it. Persevere: I tried three butchers before I could find one that would do this for me — the rest claimed that their machines were too big to put through only 2 pounds of chuck.
  • Where's the beef? Some like to mix the minced beef with onions, herbs, or god forbid, bread crumbs, but that's what toppings are for. Let beef be beef.
  • Season well: Generously salt and pepper the outside of the raw burger just before it goes onto the heat. You'd be surprised at how much seasoning a burger can (and should) take.
  • Keep your cool: I keep the mince in the fridge right up until it's time to cook. This goes against all other advice for cooking meat, but with burgers a cool temperature will help the mince stay together and prevent too much fat melting away in the initial stages of cooking.
  • The Shake Shack Smash: As seen in this video, the shake shack smash is a thing and it really works. The key is to do it early — only 30 seconds into cooking — and to form your raw burgers a little thick so as to let the smash shape it to size. I used to always have a problem with perfectly-rolled-out burgers contracting into hockey pucks, but no longer. If you don't have Shake Shack's rigid metal spatulas, I find that pressing on a regular non-slotted spatula with a potato masher works nicely.

The above list is far from comprehensive (there are entire blogs dedicated to burgers alone), but those five simple tips have transformed burgerdom in the second pancake household.

As I was saying, the kinds of toppings are endless. The above burger was a good one so I thought I'd share: Baby spinach, blue brie (Kind Island Dairy), grilled portabello mushroom, and quick onion jam (onions, sugar, salt, worchestershire sauce, and tomato ketchup). Winner.

Hello world


I slept for close to 16 uninterrupted hours last night. A new personal best. Now that my night shifts have finished I'm looking forward to rejoining the real world. Work during gentlemanly hours, lunch during daylight, no physiological drops in core body temperature to herald the three-quarter point of my shift — it's going to be good. I've also been lucky that my return to normality seems to have coincided with a boost in the weather. It's springtime down here, and while we've oscillated between downpour and lovely, I have a feeling that things are about to hit their sunny stride.

To commemorate spring I made green, broad-beany falafel. I don't know why it took my so long to make falafel a second time. The first time it worked out perfectly — crisp on the outside, warm and soft on the inside. Hearty enough to make a meal on its own, and of course perfect as an economical vegetarian filling for pita bread. They were tasty this time as well, but I think the recipe could do with some small adjustments. Apparently making falfel with cooked beans is a recipe for disaster (too much moisture for deep frying), but perhaps incorporating some cooked chickpeas into the soaked bean mixture would boost up the creamy/nutty factor and soften the slightly raw edge these falafel had. I'll keep you informed.

I served these simply, with cucumber, tomato, and some sauces. For kick there was everyone's favourite sriracha, and for relief a tahini yoghurt sauce made from mixing tahini, greek yoghurt, lemon juice, salt, ground cumin, and a little olive oil. The exact amounts escape me but go ahead and experiment — it's really more of an art than a science.


Recipe inspired by and almost an exact replica of this felafel recipe from Buffalo Buffet (now One Big Kitchen).


  • 1.5 cups of dried broad beans, soaked overnight
  • 1.5 cups of dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
  • 1/2 cup of fresh coriander (cilantro), roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup of fresh parsley, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup of spring onion (scallion), chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp of cumin, ground
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper, ground
  • Vegetable/peanut oil for shallow frying

1. Remove the skins from the broad beans. If a couple are hard to remove and the bean is too tough to pierce with a sharp knife, throw it away.
2. Place all the ingredients except for the oil into a food processor and process until finely ground. The result should have the consistency of finely minced garlic and stay together when pressed into a ball. Don't stress out of there are a few slightly larger chunks on bean in there.
3. Heat 1-2 inches of oil in a heavy pot to medium-high heat. You'll need to experiment with what heat works for you, but it should take about a minute each side for the falafel to brown. Shape the felafel1, and cook in batches in the hot oil. Cook for a minute on each side, then remove to drain on kitchen paper and keep warm to serve.

(1) It's up to you how you shape these. In the middle eat there is actually a little mechanical device designed to shape felafel, or you could use the devices at the ends of your arms to form them into rounded patties about an inch thick. I used a two-spoons quenelle technique because it's mess-free and easy once you're used to it. Either way, just make sure your falafel are firmly formed together so they don't fall apart in the hot oil.

Make the smart choice

Grilled vegetable bake

You may have heard a bit recently about Smart Choices, the farce of a food labeling program that recommends Froot Loops and Cocoa Puffs as 'healthier alternatives'. Nutritionist and Smart Choices president Eileen Kennedy provides the money quote:

"You’re rushing around, you’re trying to think about healthy eating for your kids and you have a choice between a doughnut and a cereal," Dr. Kennedy said, evoking a hypothetical parent in the supermarket. "So Froot Loops is a better choice."

Seriously? Is this what we're up against? Come on, if you're "trying to think about healthy eating" and you're deciding between a doughnut and Froot Loops, I have news for you: you're doing it wrong. The most worrying thing is that Kennedy's quote may actually reflect some insight into the minds of today's food consumer. I know that we're in deep trouble and that change is incremental, but can't we do better than an industry-run fee-for-promotion program that defends its inclusion of patently unhealthy choices by claiming their target audience is the set that would send their kids to school with a stick of butter and a pack of cigarettes?

My retaliation is this vegetable bake. Of course with béchamel sauce there are healthier dishes out there, but if you ask me this is a smart choice. It's packed with nutrition, has no added sugar, only as much salt as you like, and by grilling the vegetables on a non-stick surface you can get away with very little oil. I made something similar a week earlier with feta crumble on top instead of béchamel, and if you ask me I think that one was actually better. It contains bolognese so it's not vegetarian, but here the bolognese plays only a supporting role and could just as easily be meat-free.

Grilled vegetables, mise en place

Grilled vegetable bake

Now maybe I'm just being lazy, but this is one of those use-whatever's-at-hand dishes that doesn't lend itself to a strict recipe.

Simply put, take a bunch of vegetables (e.g. zucchini, eggplant, capsicum, potato), slice into pieces and grill. Layer with a simple bolognese seasoned with cinnamon and cloves, then top with béchamel sauce and bread crumbs. Bake until golden. It's that simple.

The nostalgia party continues

Tuna mornay

Seven consecutive 12-hour night shifts. Gastroenteritis. Swine flu. What a fortnight!

With that hellish experience behind me I was understandably keen to seek out a little comfort, so a bowl of tuna mornay was in order. Now I know that I've been writing a lot about comfort food and childhood memories lately, but there's no way I can neglect to mention it here. This recipe is almost unchanged from my Mum's recipe, and eating it takes me right back to being a kid. Mum always serves it with white rice, and double-starch be damned, it's the only way to eat it. It's pretty retro, but undeniably awesome (like the bass solo from "Call Me Al").

The difference between the best and worst quality canned tuna is vast, so be sure to use something decent. Fresh corn is great if you've got it, but canned corn will do.

Tuna mornay


  • 425g can of tuna in oil, drained
  • 150g dried macaroni
  • 1/4 cup of corn kernels
  • 1/4 cup of bread crumbs
  • 3/4 cup of grated cheddar
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 500 ml milk
  • Juice of 1 small lemon
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt & black pepper, to taste

1. Cook the macaroni to al dente, and preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF.
2. Melt the butter with the flour and bay leaf over a medium heat, and cook stirring for 3 minutes. Start adding the milk gradually — add a little at a time and stir or whisk well until it is taken up, then continue until the milk as finished. Add the lemon juice, then bring to a low simmer and cook for 5 minutes. The béchamel should have the consistency of pouring cream — if not add a little more milk.
4. To the béchamel add the drained tuna, the cooked macaroni, the corn kernels, and 1/2 a cup of the cheese. Stir to combine, and season with salt and black pepper.
5. Pour everything into a casserole dish. Mix together the bread crumb with the remaining cheese and some black pepper, and sprinkle this over the casserole. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden on top.

Up all night

I've never been able to sleep during the day. I envy those who are able to take revitalising afternoon powernaps; these days I can barely sleep in past 8am. It's usually okay as there's always something to do (I include browsing food blogs and reading Dinosaur Comics in that), but as I attempt to reverse my sleep-wake cycle in anticipation of six weeks of night shifts it's inconvenient.

The nights themselves have been an interesting exercise in keeping myself occupied. Last night's entertainment included half a season of 30 Rock, trimming the fat from my music collection, and an early-morning visit to the supermarket. You would think that being alone in a supermarket at 3:30am would be peaceful, but take away the hum of shoppers and clutter of trolleys and the muzak becomes deafening. At one point I began to stare down one of the untouched, perfectly-stocked aisles and thought about the vast capitalist machine that has turned the simple joy of eating into a system where the drive to grow profits pushes quality right off the shelves, then I caught myself falling asleep standing up and realised I had no idea what day it was. I proceeded to the self-checkout with my items.

It'll be hard to cook and eat well while I'm on nights. I'm not even sure how meals work — if you wake up at 6pm do you eat cereal at dinner time? I'd like to think that I could be the guy who doesn't just scoff a box of barbecue shapes at 2am between respiratory arrests, but I'm not. What I've decided to do to keep the posts flowing is to gradually clear out the iPhoto archives. There are a number of meals that I have photographed without remembering to write down the recipe, so I'll post them here and leave it up to you as to whether you want me to make them again and post a recipe in a couple of weeks' time.

Basil gnocchi

The first is this basil & potato gnocchi. I usually serve gnocchi with a simple tomato and basil sauce, and wondered if it would be possible to get the basil flavour into the gnocchi themselves. Well it turns out that with enough basil it is possible. I blended one bunch of basil and chopped it through potato gnocchi made the usual way. I served them with Marcella Hazan's tomato sauce. You do know about Marcella Hazan's tomato sauce don't you?

Marcella Hazan's tomato sauce


  • 2 cups of best-quality canned tomatoes
  • 1 onion, peeled & halved
  • 5 tbsp (75 g) butter
  • Salt to taste

1. Combine everything in a saucepan and simmer gently for 45 minutes.
2. Remove and discard the onion halves. Crush the tomatoes with the back of a fork (or blend quickly with a stick blender), adjust seasoning, and serve.

Everything but the kitchen sink

As far as the Second Pancake is concerned, Tim is the Michelangelo of cooking. Everything's in perspective. He delivers beautiful, balanced, and truly satisfying food. The metaphor will make even more sense when he puts up his recipe for marble cake (you'll need a chisel) or the rhubarb pie he can only make over the course of several years lying on his back at the top of a chapel. I, however, am more along the lines of Jackson Pollock. I've got all the disorder, chaos, and mess of his work (though very little of the beauty, orchestration, or design). It is for this reason that you'll never be getting a recipe for soufflé or risotto from me. Minestrone, on the other hand, is right up my alley.

It's a mongrel of a soup, the old 'strone. A dog's breakfast. And, in the more literal sense, a human's lunch. My lunch, in fact. It's perfect for winter days when it's too cold to go shopping, you're too tired to put in much effort, and two carrots are poking their heads out of the crisper, begging to be used before they turn into sad, sorry, spongy semblances of their former selves. I'm sure there is, in some arcane tome, the original recipe for minestrone. I'm sure at one point it was possible to say what is and what is not minestrone. No more. The way it's going now, I'd be hard pressed to find a reason why a sock in a bucket can't call itself part of the long line of mighty and miserable minestrones. And that's just how it should be. Do you have water, a turnip, tomatoes and cumin? Hey, throw it in a pot and call it minestrone. Celery, lentils, and limes? Why not? Minestrone.

All this being said, I guess there are a few guiding lights for the minestrone faithful. Tomatoes are usually a good bet, plus some kind of beans, and I guess a bit of pasta and some veggies wont go astray. The beauty being that you have infinite capacity for experimentation. Is your pantry carrying carrots? Chop 'em up and toss 'em in. An abundance of asparagus? An excess of eggplants? A profusion of peas? A copiousness of courgettes? An oversupply of aubergines? A bounty of beans? A tendency to overdo simple alliterative wordplays? Whatever it is, let the magical gods of minestrone turn it into something delicious.

Given that this soup will always change depending upon what's in your cupboard, it's a little ridiculous to post a recipe. That being said, I can guarantee that if you put these things together and make them hot, they will taste divine:

Rowan's Ravishing MinestRowan-e


  • Red onion
  • Garlic
  • Sweet potato
  • Carrot
  • Celery
  • Pasta (I like little penne rigate, but whatever floats your boat)
  • Capsicum
  • Tomatoes
  • Kidney beans
  • Cannellini beans
  • Beef stock1
  • Chilli
  • Lime zest and juice
  • Salt, pepper, lemon pepper, cumin
  • Fresh basil, parsley, and loads of coriander (cilantro)

The cooking bit is about as tricky as tipping water out of a boot if the instructions are written on the heel:
Put the onion, garlic, and dry spices in olive oil and make it hot until they smell
Put the hard veggies in until they get a bit soft
Add water, stock, pasta and soft veggies,
When it's been simmering away long enough that the most distant corner of your house smells delicious, ladle out a bowlful, give it an extra dose of cracked pepper, add a
few toasted pine nuts, and start dipping thick slabs of buttery toast into your new concoction. The rest of the soup (you did make fifteen litres or so, right?) can go into every tupperware container you've got, thereby giving you delicious winter lunches for the next week.

(1) If you happen to have an old ham bone that you can let stew overnight to make
your own stock, all the better.

A potato salad for the rest of us

Indian potato salad

I love potatoes, and I love mayonnaise, but I just can't handle the combination. There's something about the standard creamy potato salad served at barbecues throughout summer that is too cloying, too much for me — I feel like one spoonful and I've exceeded my RDI of mayo three times over. It doesn't help that an alarming number of these potato salads also contain undercooked potatoes, so I tend to steer clear. I know I'm not alone: I was at a barbecue a few summers back when the topic seemed to hit a nerve in a friend's (now ex-) girlfriend who visibly annoyed asked, "Why are so many potato salads undercooked??" A voice offered charitably that maybe they're meant to be a little undercooked. "They're not okay, they're fucking not!"

Yeah, she was a psycho. But a psycho with a point.

Well you won't find any undercooked potatoes in this salad, and nor will you find mayonnaise. The salad itself is fresh and extremely simple to make, and tossed with a dressing that's tart and full of wonderful spices it's a refreshing change from the usual.

Indian potato salad

Ingredients (makes 1 generous serving, but doubles and triples easily):

  • 1 large desiree potato, boiled/steamed/microwaved with skin on
  • 1 small tomato, diced
  • 1 tsp minced shallot
  • 1/2 cup of fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves
  • 4 tsp vegetable oil (or any mostly flavourless oil)
  • 1 tsp spice mixture (recipe below)
  • 1/4 tsp tamarind concentrate1
  • Salt, to taste

1. Prepare the dressing by combining the oil, spice mixture, tamarind, and salt, and mixing well. Taste and adjust the sour/salty ratio as you like.
2. Chop the potato into medium chunks, and place in a bowl with the tomato, shallots, and half of the coriander. Pour over the dressing and toss to combine. Scatter the remaining coriander leaves over and serve.

Spice mixture

Used in the above recipe, this mixture also is a great base for a simple vegetarian curry.


  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 large dried chilli
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1/4 tsp ground turmeric

1. Toast the cumin, coriander, fennel seeds, and chilli. Cool and grind with the garam masala and turmeric, then store in a sealed container. For best flavour, use within a few days of grinding.

(1) This is a tricky one. There are so many different ways to get tamarind that unless your preparation is exactly the same a mine the balance of sourness will be different (mine is a very concentrated paste with the texture of molasses). Also, not everyone has easy access to tamarind in any form, so: If you have tamarind, use it to taste. Otherwise use lime or lemon juice, and I'd recommend about 1 tsp.

Just one more cookie before bed won't hurt...

Peanut butter & chocolate chip cookies

I don't usually worry about this sort of thing, but I'm pretty sure I've put on weight in the last 3 days. Currently I'm working in the country, and Lucy (who is back from Japan! Yay!) came to visit me for a week. On the last night she was here she made a big batch of cookies then flitted off back to Adelaide, leaving me alone with the cookies for a whole weekend. Of course I did what any sensible person would, and I ate them in moderation... at frequent intervals.

The cookies in question were Nikki's peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, and they're pretty damn damn tasty. My only criticism is that these weren't as chewy as advertised, which leads me to wonder aloud to all bakers: what makes for chewy cookies? Despite being a fan of chewy cookies I was able to nobly overcome my own personal biases for this recipe and eat about sixty of the things.

So I guess you could say that I have grown in more ways than one. It's touching, really.

Peanut butter choc chip cookies

Recipe from Nikki.

Ingredients (makes a bucketload of cookies):

  • 1/2 cup (110g) of butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup of white sugar
  • 1/2 cup of brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup of peanut butter
  • 1 cup of plain flour
  • 1 tsp of baking powder
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 cup of chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 190ºC (375ºF).
2. Cream the butter and sugar, then beat in the vanilla extract and egg. Beat in the peanut butter until the mixture until combined well.
3. Stir the flour, baking powder, and salt into the mixture until smooth, then mix in the chocolate chips.
4. Onto a sheet lined with baking paper, drop the dough in heaps tablespoons about 2 inches apart. Bake for 12 minutes or until golden.