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.

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


  • 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.

Cankerous tomatoes?


My father grows tomatoes. Every week or so in summer he'll show up at the lunch table with an ice cream tub half-full of them. They're pathetic looking things, really. Small, diminutive, snub-nosed deformed orbs, wrinkled and splattered with scars and discolouration. They've got nothing on the large, firm, fire-engine red examples of pristine tomato-ness you can find at the supermarket. The things my dad brings to the table are the runts of the tomato community, the hunchbacked oddities.

They're my favourite fruit in the world. You take one of these cankerous things, still warm from the summer sun, and tear it into pieces with your knife (it's far too weak to be cut into slices). It'll dribble and spit seeds all over you, soggify your sandwich bread, and stain your pants. But when you eat it- oh, when you eat it, everything makes sense. There's a sudden epiphany, a realisation that this is what tomatoes are meant to taste like. All those snooty model tomatoes at the supermarket, the blue blooded hoi-polloi, the elite and the beautiful, they're just a pretty façade with nothing of substance inside. My dad's tomatoes taste like the essence of the fruit, the truth of what tomatoes were before we came along and decided what they should look like.

There is a similar experience to be had at Torbreck, in the Barossa Valley. Tasting their offerings is like a rebirth of sorts, an awakening. Because, like my dad's tomatoes, these wines make you suddenly aware of how it issupposed to be. Take grenache- you see this little kid all over the place. Shiraz grenache blends are popular, as are grenache shiraz mouvedres (usually called GSM). Very rarely would you see him on his own. He's the Paul Giamatti of the wine world- always playing a supporting role. It took Torbreck to see him in Big Momma's House and realise he had the potential to do an American Splendor or Sideways. So, finally, grenache was given a part fit for him. A leading role, a capella, on his own at last. The Torbreck Les Amis Old Vine Grenache is, simply, spectacular. None of the limp-wristed 'softening out the shiraz' for this little firecracker- this wine dominates your senses from the outset, but does so without overpowering you. It's a seductive, inky, silky masterpiece of fruit and smoke and pepper and humid afternoons in the tropics.

And it is what one may call a touch pricey- it'll set you back one hundred and eighty magical beans for a bottle. But I see it this way- you can enjoy the Mona Lisa without buying it, and the same is true here. Simply pay a visit to my pals in the Barossa and they'll be more than happy to introduce you to this suave and gentlemanly fellow. If you can't manage that, then there are always tomatoes.

[Tim's note: Rowan asked me to supply a photo of tomatoes for this post, but unfortunately I had none of his Dad's ugly-but-delicious tomatoes on hand. I apologise for the above perfect tomatoes that perpetuate the unrealistic standard the MEDIA sets to which few backyard tomatoes can aspire, and which only serves to lower the self esteem of delicious tomatoes everywhere that believe being tasty isn't good enough.]