Our hungry eyes

Braised chicken pasta

When I was a kid, Dad would buy a roast chicken from the chip shop around the corner most Saturdays. He'd spread two pieces of bread generously with butter, then shred the meat from the chicken carcass and pile it between the buttered slices while we stood patiently next to him in the kitchen. With a flat palm he'd press down on the sandwich, then hand it to us with the faint impression of the base of his fingers still barely visible on the warm white bread. Other days my brother, my sister and I would sit on stools behind the kitchen counter where Mum served bowls of Campbell's tomato soup. She'd then take a plate of grilled cheese on toast from the oven and our hungry eyes would follow it to the placemat in front of us. We'd takes slices to dip, always emptying the plate before we'd finish our soup.

I have a lot of memories of the food I ate growing up, but above are the only ones I have of lunchtime. Roll them together with a big bowl of pasta and you can understand why this spiralli with tomato-braised chicken is pure nostalgia. The sauce is intentionally left a little soupy so that once you've finished the pasta and chicken you can pick up the bowl and slurp the buttery leftovers or (if you're not afraid of nostalgia overload) mop them up with garlic bread.

Pasta with tomato-braised chicken

Ingredients:

  • 200g dried pasta, cooked in lightly salted water
  • 2 chicken legs
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 carrot, peeled and halved
  • 1 celery stick, halved
  • 1 shallot, halved
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup passata (pureed tomatoes)
  • 2 tsp sour cream
  • Grated parmesan
  • 3 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • Salt, to taste

1. Place the carrot, celery & shallot in a saucepan with the butter, chicken stock, passata, and a cup of water. Bring to a boil & simmer until the carrot is very tender and the liquid reduced by about a third. Salt to taste.
2. Add the chicken legs to the pan and simmer until cooked through, then remove and separate the chicken meat from the bones & skin (discard the skin & bones). Remove the whole vegetables from the sauce and add back the chicken meat.
3. Remove from the heat and stir through the sour cream and cooked pasta. Serve in bowls being sure to spoon over some of the juices, then scatter with grated parmesan and thyme leaves.

The second pancake workout plan

Rhubarb cake

I've done it, I've figured out how you can eat cake for every meal and stay in shape. This isn't some fad diet, it doesn't involve skim milk, portion adjustments, forgoing cream, or partially hydrophosphorylated nanoengineered seafood-derived fat substitutes (or the previously unheard of medical conditions they precipitate). It's not complicated at all, and in fact I feel somewhat silly that it's taken me this long to work it out.

Are you ready? Okay, here is it:

Make the cake yourself.

"But Tim", you say. "I use my Kitchen Aid four times a day and I weigh 900 pounds". There's your mistake — I'm talking about really making the cake yourself — by hand. No food processors, no electric whisks, no immersion blenders, just two arms, a tall glass of water, and a light breakfast. Have you ever tried creaming sugar and butter by hand? It's hard work. I learned this for myself when I tried to make Amy's Rhubarb Cake using little more than a fork and a large square bowl. That's the other thing: use square mixing bowls, and you're guaranteed to burn off a brownie's worth of calories in frustration alone. Trust me, this is going to huge*.

You can probably tell that I'm not much of a pastry cook. I like the idea of sweets, and done well it can be a beautiful thing, but the truth is I don't have much of a sweet tooth. I do however have a girlfriend who is soon to return from a year overseas, and every intention of spoiling her.

It's rhubarb season here in Australia, and combined with my love of a a bit of sour with my sugar this seemed a natural place to start. Using what I had I replaced 'soured milk' with buttermilk and cooked it in a cake tin, adjusting times accordingly. Despite my modifications it turned out terrifically — a sugary crunch from the top, a moist banana-cake-like crumb, and bursts of tangy rhubarb flavour in every bite.

Rhubarb cake - slice

Rhubarb cake

Adapted from In This Instance by way of Amy.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups of brown sugar
  • 110g (1 stick) of softened unsalted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup of buttermilk
  • 1.5 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups of chopped rhubarb
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon

1. Preheat your oven to 175ºC/350ºF. Cream the butter, brown sugar, and egg, then mix in the milk & vanilla.
2. Add the flour, salt, and baking soda and mix until there aren't any big lumps left. Finally stir in the chopped rhubarb.
3. Pour in to a greased 22 cm (9 inch) cake tin. Mix together the extra sugar and cinnamon, and scatter evenly over the cake batter. Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

*Disclaimer: Individual results vary. May cause weight gain.

An ace up your sleeve

Roast chicken with mustard sauce

What would you serve at a special dinner party if you didn't know who was coming? If you wanted to impress but knew nothing about your guests and what they liked? Would you play it safe with something homely and reliable, or go out an a limb hoping to wow them with the unexpected?

Personally I would err on the side of caution. A lot of people are not very adventurous eaters and feel uncomfortable beyond the safe and familiar: roast chicken, meat & three veg, and pork & beans, etc. Of course these people should be challenged, but choose your moment — if your date is grossed out by their warm beef tongue entrée you might well be getting cold shoulder for dessert. The best thing about unadventurous eaters is that they'll be surprised by even the most timid deviation from the mean, so a small adjustment to a classic recipe is all it takes to make them think you're Thomas Keller (although they won't think that, because they don't know Thomas Keller is).

This chicken dish is one of those aces that I keep up my sleeve for special occasions. It has all the flavours and textures of a classic French roast chicken with a couple of adjustments to elevate it above a standard Sunday roast. The recipe below is only a rough guide, but I'm happy to answer any questions in the comments.

Roast chicken breast with mustard & brown butter sauce

Potato gnocchi

Microwave a couple of large desiree potatoes for 10-20 minutes or until completely tender. Remove the skins and pass twice through a potato ricer. Season well with salt then chop through 1 part flour for every 4 parts of potato flesh by weight. Bring this together to form a homogenous dough, then divide and roll out into 2 cm-thick ropes. Chop into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces. Boil, drain, and toss with olive oil. Set aside on grease-proof paper and arrange so they're not touching each other (or they'll stick together).


Mustard & brown butter sauce

In a saucepan over a high heat, cook 3 tbsp of unsalted butter until browned. Whisk in 2 tbsp of brown chicken stock, 1 tbsp of dijon mustard, and 1 tbsp of crème fraîche (or sour cream). Simmer gently until reduced by one third then remove from the heat until ready to serve.


Roast chicken & shallots

Take a whole chicken and remove the legs, wingtips, wishbone, and back (you now have what's called a 'chicken crown'). Season with salt & pepper. Sear the skin of the breast on all sides in a heavy pan, then place breasts-up and roast in a very hot oven (230ºC/450ºF) for 25-30 minutes. Throw a couple of skin-on shallots into the pan to roast as well. When cooked, remove from the oven, cover in foil, and rest for 10 minutes.


Putting it all together

While the chicken is resting, remove the tough outer layers of skin from the roasted shallots. Heat a few tablespoons of butter and a few of olive oil in a non-stick pan until the butter is foaming. Add the gnocchi, the skinned shallots, some salt and fresh thyme leaves and sautée over a medium-high heat on both sides until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper.

Meanwhile cook green beans in salted water for 5 minutes, then remove, shock in cold water, cut in half, and set aside.

Once the chicken is rested, carve the breasts and place in the centre of the plate. Around this arrange the gnocchi & shallots, then spoon over some sauce. Finally, scatter the green beans and serve.

Dip bonus round: Feta ghanoush & grilled pita

Feta ghanoush

Peeking in through the bottom-right corner of my hummus post was another dip, one I like to call feta ghanoush. The inspiration was born out of a surplus of spoilable pantry items before a short trip out of town, but I owe the name to Ivy and her tasty-looking Fetatziki. Think of the possibilities! Olive fetapenade! Baked fetato skins! Umm... Fetarte tatin?

Other than the addition of marinated feta & honey, this doesn't deviate far from a standard baba ghanoush. Grilling the eggplant couldn't be easier if you have a gas stove — poke a few holes in the eggplant skin and set it directly over a medium-low flame for 10 minutes, turning once. It will hiss, spit, become wrinkled and smell of smoke (like your Mum!), but once cooked the skin comes off easily and you can use it in dips, or seasoned and mashed as a simple side for grilled meat.

Baba ghanoush and hummus are traditionally served with some kind of flatbread such as pita. It could be total heresy for all I know, but I like to grill one side of the pita quickly under a very hot broiler, so one side is crisp and smokey while the other is chewy and warm. If that's wrong then I don't wanna be right.

Feta ghanoush

Ingredients:

  • 1 roasted eggplant, skin removed
  • 150g marinated feta1
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp tahini
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp honey
  • Salt & black pepper, to taste

1. Combine everything in a blender and blitz until smooth. Adjust seasoning to taste, then serve drizzled with olive oil.

(1) Mine was marinated in pepper, Greek oregano, parsley, and olive oil, but really it doesn't have to be with anything in particular or marinated at all.

To whom it may concern,

Hummus

We drank wine from McLaren Vale, bought cheese from the central markets, played beach cricket at Henley, danced to Curtis Mayfield at Supermild. You went off to explore Australia and when you came back you stayed with me while looking for a house. I'd come home from work to find you lounging around on the couches like a pride of lions and I would cook you dinner. When you found a cute cottage in Gilberton we went out for pizza to celebrate — Andy in that green jacket looking like you'd won the PGA masters, Daphne and Maggie looking beautiful as always.

Daphne, Andy, and Maggie, this post is for you. Although we've only had a year together, what an amazing year it's been. I'll miss you guys, but I understand that you are needed by your respective countries to solve all of their problems with your awesomeness.

See you in Greece,

Tim

P.S. Dapho, Here's that hummus recipe I forgot to give you.

Hummus

Ingredients:

  • 400g of cooked chickpeas1
  • 1.5 tbsp of tahini
  • 3 tbsp of lemon juice
  • 2 clove of garlics, minced
  • 1/3 cup of olive oil
  • Pinch of turmeric
  • Pinch of smoked paprika
  • Salt, to taste
  • Extra virgin olive oil & smoked paprika to garnish

1. Combine all but the last 2 items on the ingredient list in a food processor and blend until smooth. Salt to taste, and if necessary adjust the tahini and lemon juice to taste.
2. Drizzled with extra virgin olive oil & dust with some smoked paprika. Serve alongside warm toasted pita breads.

(1) My name's Tim and I use Savings brand canned chickpeas for my hummus (Hi Tim). Those of you from other countries or, god forbid, other hemispheres who don't know Savings brand would be familiar with its international equivalents. Savings brand is Coles supermarket's budget range. It inhabits the brand sub-basement far below their (respectable) "You'll Love Coles" range, on the bottom shelf where its sparse, Soviet-inspired labels are mostly hidden from view. I was brought up in a "Oh don't be silly, it all comes from the same factory" household, but let me put it this way: with Savings brand, you get what you pay for.

But you know what? Good on Coles for cutting corners and passing the savings on to you (me). Their chickpeas — cooked enough to taste good but not enough to be considered done — have exactly the right amount of inferiority for hummus. We're not talking about hard here, just a slight bite that gives the puréed hummus a rustic mouthfeel. Trust me on this.

(Slightly undercooking chickpeas from dry should give similar results)

Feta crumble II: Electric boogaloo

Stuffed eggplant with feta crumble

Spoiler alert! This was awesome.

You might recall from the recent pork entry that I was unsatisfied with the feta crumble. The flavours were all there, but the crumble's texture was stodgy and lacked any of the satisfying bite I was expecting. I intended not to follow that exact recipe again, but the promise that drew me to try it in the first place was still there. The seed was planted, and I was determined to make a satisfying feta crumble.

This time though, I used the crumble as a filling for stuffed eggplant. I have Peter's stuffed eggplants to thank for the inspiration and rough idea of how to cook the thing. I'm sure he won't mind that I bastardised his recipe, because this turned out really, really well. The eggplant's skin could have been more tender (not entirely sure how to make this happen), and I can see this becoming a staple side dish in the second pancake household.

The changes made to the crumble were minor, and more or less along the lines of what my gut told me the first time I was making it. Rather than mix the crumble ingredients into the beans I baked the eggplant stuffed with the beans and scattered the crumble over the cooked eggplant for a final blast under the grill before serving.

Stuffed eggplants with feta crumble

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium-sized eggplant
  • 1 cup of baked beans
  • 1/2 cup of fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup of crumbled Greek feta
  • 1/4 tsp dried Greek oregano
  • Olive oil for cooking
  • Extra-virgin olive oil for finishing
  • Salt & black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 200ºC (400ºF).
2. Cut the eggplant in half lengthways and scoop most of the flesh out of both halves. Roughly chop the eggplant flesh, salt it well, and set aside on top of a piece of cheesecloth for 5-10 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, prepare the crumble: combine the feta, bread crumbs, oregano, and some cracked black pepper in a bowl.
3. Bring the baked beans a 2/3 cup of water to a simmer. Take the eggplant pulp, fold the edges of the cheesecloth up and wring out all of the excess water from the eggplant. Add this pulp to the simmering beans and cook until reduced by 3/4 (the mixture should be quite wet but not soupy).
4. Pile the baked beans mixture into the shelled-out eggplants and place on a baking tray in the oven. Cook for 50 minutes.
5. When the eggplant is cooked through, remove the tray and turn on the grill (broiler). While it heaps up, generously scatted the crumble mixture over the eggplants. Drizzle with olive oil and place under the grill for 5 minutes or until browned. Serve drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil.

Not your average pork & beans

Pork rib eye & feta crumble

I posted a recipe the other day for George Calombaris' baked beans that are used in this dish. Like the beans this recipe comes from his cookbook The Press Club, and like the beans it didn't quite live up to its promise. The principles are there — baked beans is a classical pairing with pork and a classic in itself — but in making both of them I found myself going against my own cooking instincts in order to stay faithful to the recipe.

There are plenty of great things about this dish, don't get me the wrong. The idea of juicy pork topped with hearty beans and a salty, crispy crumble sounds great, doesn't it? What's more, Calombaris recommends serving it with a jus infused with Greek coffee, and the flavours work terrifically.

Unfortunately the feta crumble topping — the very thing that sets this recipe apart from regular old pork and beans — lets it down. It didn't feel right to be mixing the crumble ingredients together with the saucy baked beans, but I did it anyway. The results were predictable: unpleasantly soggy in the middle, and poorly crisped on the outside. It's hard to believe that they would make it this way in the restaurant.

I don't want to shamelessly plunder another of the book's recipes, especially since it's nothing to write home about. Instead a short description should suffice:

Pork rib eye with feta crumble

Full recipe in George Calombaris' The Press Club cookbook.

Combine bread crumbs, diced red onion, and crumbled feta and stir this through a portion of baked beans. Refrigerate until needed. Fry a pork rib chop on both sides in oil and butter until medium/medium-well. Top some of the crumble & bean mixture and grill under the broiler until browned on top. Serve with greek coffee jus.

A bit disappointing really, but you haven't heard the last of feta crumble.

My intestines, they hurt

Jerusalem artichoke soup

Oh God, kill me now. As I write this I sit gripped with pain, dreading the inevitability that the loud contortions of my small bowel are heralding. Apparently it's the inulin. I take small comfort in the words of John Goodyer who understands my predicament:

Written in 1621 of Jerusalem artichokes, "Which way soever they be dressed and eaten, they stir and cause a filthy loathsome stinking wind within the body, thereby causing the belly to be pained and tormented, and are a meat more fit for swine than men."

And yet a part of me is looking forward to the leftovers. A small percentage of people are intolerant of inulin-rich ingredients such as Jerusalem artichokes, and it bugs the hell out of me that there's a food I can't eat — even moreso that it's a delicious food.

Prior to making this soup, my only experience with Jerusalem artichokes was of buying one years ago by mistake and wondering what the hell was wrong with my ginger. While they might look like ginger, these tubers actually have an earthy taste, and a marvellously creamy texture when boiled for a soup. I could see them pairing very well with mushrooms, and while I'm against arbitrary truffing in an effort to make thing fancier a drizzle of truffle oil would pair quite nicely with that earthiness.

This is a delicious and extremely simple soup to make, and rest assured that only a small number can't handle the hardcore taste sensation that is Jerusalem artichoke.

Jerusalem artichoke soup

Ingredients (makes 2 generous servings):

  • 500g Jerusalem artichokes peeled and sliced
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 1/2 a small celery stick, finely diced
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • Splash of white wine
  • 2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp of butter for cooking plus a further tbsp to finish
  • 500ml chicken stock (or vegetable)
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • Healthy grating of nutmeg
  • Salt & white pepper

1. Cook the shallots, celery, and garlic in 2 tbsp of butter over a low heat until translucent, careful not to brown them. Add a splash of white wine and turn the heat up, simmering for 1 minute.
2. Add the sliced Jerusalem artichokes, mustard, nutmeg, chicken stock, and 500 ml of water and bring to a simmer. Simmer for for 20 minutes or until everything is tender, then puree with a stick blender and (optional) strain through a fine mesh sieve.
3. To finish, stir in the cream and remaining butter over gentle heat and season to taste. Drizzle with a grassy extra-virgin olive oil.

George Calombaris' baked beans

This is a quick entry to post a baked beans recipe from George Calombaris' book The Press Club that I'm using in a couple of upcoming posts. While it won't take you to baked beans heaven — it's not even baked — it's a fairly solid recipe that can be made in bulk and frozen, eaten on its own with a chunk of bread or used to accompany pretty much anything.

George Calombaris' baked beans

Ingredients:

  • 1kg dried cannellini beans
  • 2 carrots, peeled and finely diced
  • 4 sticks of celery, finely diced
  • 2 brown onions, finely diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup tomato ketchup
  • 4 cups passata (puréed tomatoes)
  • 1.25 cups sherry vinegar
  • 4 cups of brown chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
  • Olive oil

1. Soak the cannellini beans overnight submerged in water.
2. Sweat the diced vegetables over a medium heat in 3 tbsp of olive oil under translucent.
3. Add the remaining ingredients (except the beans) and bring to a simmer.
4. Strain the beans and add them to the pot. Cook for 5 hours or until the beans are just tender and have absorbed the stock.

Grilled lamb with white bean skordalia

Grilled lamb neck with white bean skordalia

I've gushed about Food Safari before, but is it okay if I gush a little more? Food Safari is a show about international cuisines that somehow manages to perfectly capture what it is to eat and cook in Australia. We don't have any unifying culinary tradition, but what we do have is a diverse range of high quality produce, and people of every background who are proud of their culture. There are the douchebags among us that would demand we all assimilate into one big ball of bland, but there's something pretty cool about the old Italian woman who is able to live and work here for 45 years but still has to speak to me in very broken English with her son translating. The fact that you can get away with it and still be part of a large, supported, mainstream community and not be marginalised is an achievement, and we're better for it.

The Greek community is huge in Australia. Melbourne is in fact noteworthy for having the largest Greek population of any city outside of Athens. It's not surprising that Melbourne is where you will find George Calombaris and his three restaurants. His flagship Press Club is famous for its modern Greek food, but he's not averse to slumming it.

This dish is more homestyle: neck of lamb braised with yoghurt & onion until, sliced and chargrilled, and served on white bean skordalia with a parsley and fennel salad. If it sounds finicky don't be put off, it's actually very simple. It's a great dish (I would however make the braise both sweeter and saltier next time) and an excellent way of serving front and center an otherwise tough cut of lamb. The standout though is the white bean skordalia which is pleasantly tart and full of flavour. I used a couple of spoonfuls with dinner, and scooped the rest up with crusty bread for lunch the next day.

Get the recipes and videos at the Food Safari website:

* The keen-eyed will notice that my fennel & parsley salad has fennel seeds in place of fresh fennel. This last-second substitution was necessitated by a dodgy fennel bulb