September 28, 2009
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.
September 22, 2009
My first corkscrew was a true gentleman: The Duke of Cork. He was a good mate- a double hinged waiter's friend with a pleasant grip. He and I parted ways when I was late for a flight and had to take all my luggage on board, sans hijacking instruments. For a while I screwed around with whichever corkscrew would open up for me. Sometimes it was the cheap and nasty disposable corkscrew whores you find in hotel rooms, sometimes it was a high class girl with gorgeous pins, sleek lines and a smooth sigh as she opened my bottle, so to speak. Though I enjoyed those hedonistic days, I decided it was time to settle down with someone more permanent. I found my true love in Chile, in an antique store. She's a little past her prime, it's true, but I wouldn't have her any other way. She's an old goat's horn, starting to split and splinter, with a blackened old screw rudely jutting out, ready to get stuck into any bottle it sees. She's no nicely levered lass- this delighful old bat is stubborn as a mule. Once you've got her in the cork (no mean feat) you've got to do the old fashioned bottle between the legs trick to get anywhere at all.
And all this is ending. Every winemaker in the Clare Valley turned their backs on cork almost ten years ago now, turning to aluminium Stelvin screw caps. Henschke will shortly release all their wines under a nifty glass cap, including their super premium Hill of Grace. A wander along the aisles of any bottle shop in the country will make it clear who's winning the battle. Cork is losing friends fast.
I'm not so naïeve as to think that romantics like me stand a chance against the forward march of economics (and one bottle in ten ruined by cork taint is a hard argument to counter), so let this stand not as an impediment to the Stelvin stampede, but simply as an ode to a centuries-old part of winemaking. Who among us wine drinkers doesn't feel the onset of salivation as soon as we hear that glorious sound of a bottle being liberated from its cork? Who would be happy to replace a soaring champagne cork with a metal cap and a keyring bottle opener? The humble cork has done its job- perhaps imperfectly- but it has done it for long enough to deserve a proper farewell, instead of this hurried redundancy. I grew up with a wine-cork pin board, with a sandwich toaster held open with reused corks, with fake beards applied using the burnt end of an old cork. Many a camping trip has been enriched by the frantic search for something, anything, to get a cork out of a bottle (and enriched even further by the eventual success).
Enough remeniscing, though. Our spongy wooden friends are still around, though in dwindling numbers. I'll save the eulogy for their funeral, and simply end with a plea for all to savour these glorious, endangered seals while they still last.
September 12, 2009
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 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.
September 9, 2009
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.
- 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.