Tuesday, March 30, 2010

My weekend was:

I love to prepare food for people, so it didn't take much convincing for me to volunteer to cook for Rob’s botany field trip on the weekend: a total of 21 students and 6 staff. We did a scaled down version of my birthday dinner. I’d been busy during the week and had made a double batch (each) of Turkish Delight, Baklava and Nummoora (semolina cake).

So Saturday dawned, and after dropping Rob off at Uni I headed to Salamanca to buy herbs from the Hmong people. The smell of fresh mint and parsley filled the car- I love that fragrance, better than any expensive perfume! After packing the van with ingredients and equipment I drove to Orford to the camp behind Spring Beach. It has a commercial kitchen so it was going to be nice to spread out and have enough room to prepare the food.

After unpacking, I got the eggplants burning nicely on the hotplate to create lovely smoky baba ghannooj. Meanwhile I set about roasting walnuts in the oven and juicing lemons for the dips and salad. Unfortunately my luck ran out with the big food processor – I pressed all the buttons and fiddled with it but couldn’t get it to work. It would have been great as I would have only had to do 1 batch of each of the three dips. I had come prepared though, so out came our dinky little 500mL food processor. I’m surprised it didn’t blow up cause I had to do the hummus, baba ghannooj and muhammara (red pepper & walnut) in 5 batches!

After a quick clean up, I set up the tables in a long row, the gym is perhaps not as nice a setting as the royal tennis club, but it didn’t look too bad with the white tablecloth, magenta runner, Moroccan lanterns and candles.

Next was top and tailing the beans for the Loubyeh bi Zayt (green beans cooked with tomatoes, olive oil and allspice). I was in the middle of this when everyone arrived, which was excellent timing. The kitchen became a hive of activity; my Sous-chef (Rob) made lamb kofte with Ras el Hanout, mint, red onion and lemon rind, and my kitchen assistants chopped mint, parsley, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers and radishes. I got the beans going at the stove, and got used to directing other people in the kitchen!

Whilst Rob grilled the lamb kofte and the Za’atar chicken kebabs, I set out the dips and cacik, drizzling them with olive oil and decorating them with paprika and herbs. In the final rush I tossed the salads and sprinkled them with sumac, and then we took all the dishes out to the long table.

The students were suitably impressed and appreciative. Rob introduced me as their chef for the evening and ran through the menu. Then everyone tucked in, apart from an occasional “ohh” or “ahh” all was silent for awhile. After clearing the main course from the table we sat chatting over the sweets.It was a great evening, and although I was satisfied I was pretty tired by the end of it all. Cooking for more than 6 people always increases my respect for real chefs- it is pretty tough, both mentally (making sure everything is ready at the right time) and physically (it was such a long day for me, and my back and knees are still recovering). But the pain must be easily forgotten, like women having more than one baby. On Monday I brought in the leftover sweets for my workmates, and afterwards I agreed to do it for our Christmas lunch this year!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Family Politics

You may have noticed in the recent Tasmanian state election a number of the candidates were following in their father’s footsteps. I’m not sure if it’s genetic or learned behaviour but it got me thinking about my ancestors. My parents both love to tell us about our family history. It is quite varied between the two of them; my father’s family are from Tasmania and NSW, and my mother’s family fled post war Hungary for a new life in Tasmania. So I’ve grown up hearing stories about great, great grandfathers, mothers, uncles, different cultures and life experiences.

We do have a few political skeletons in the cupboard. Take this guy. My great, great, grandfather, Mr James Sinclair Taylor McGowen. What a great moustache!

He was born in 1855 on board a ship coming to Australia with his parents from Lancashire, England. They named him after his father, but his middle names were after the ship’s captain and the doctor. The title has been passed down through the first born sons – so my brother is the fourth J.S.T. McGowen. They eventually settled in Sydney, and following in his father’s footsteps he became a boilermaker. He became increasingly involved in trade unions and the Labor party of New South Wales. Known as “Honest Jim” he was well known and liked in working class circles, and apparently based on his amiable personality, public image, devotion to principles, loyalty to others, and his honesty, he became the First Labor Premier of NSW. Now you wouldn’t find many politicians these days being elected on those character traits!

His wife, Emily, wasn’t a quiet stay at home mum either (although could have been with nine children!) She was in London for the Women’s Suffrage Coronation Procession in 1911. She led the Australian contingent with Mrs Margaret Fisher, the wife of the Australian Prime Minister, and Australian suffragist extraordinaire, Vida Goldstein. Now there’s something to be proud of.

Emily McGowen (2nd from the right), picture courtesy of http://primeministers.naa.gov.au

My grandfather moved to Tasmania, and having looked up to his grandfather as a child, became involved in the local political scene. He was the Mayor of Launceston in 1958-59, and then elected as a Liberal member of the House of Assembly in 1961. Groovy 60’s glasses aren’t they. My grandmother remembers being hassled by the local press when she was the mayoress about what she was going to wear to functions so they could describe it in detail.

Photo courtesy of http://www.parliament.tas.gov.au

So there you have it- a personal history lesson. The political bug seems to skip a generation in my family. So I do wonder if history will repeat itself amongst my siblings. I don’t think it will be me!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Canadian Dinner

We have some great Canadian friends staying in Hobart for the next couple of months and they invited us around for their signature dish- Canadian Cedar Planked Salmon.
Unfortunately Cedar is a bit harder to come by in Hobart- but some pieces of maple were substituted.

The plank is soaked overnight in water (to prevent it catching a light- in theory- see below).

Then the salmon fillets are placed on top, ours were liberally coated in a lemon, Dijon and chive sauce and placed directly onto the grill. The BBQ is then covered and the salmon cooks slowly whilst being infused with a slight smoky flavour.

As you can see our experience was a bit more exciting- don’t worry no cooks were harmed during the process!
The salmon was not what I expected- I thought it would produce a texture similar to pan frying- but the salmon literally melted in my mouth. It was one of the best fish dishes I’ve ever eaten. Our friends served it with a dill sauce, steamed pink eyes and asparagus.
Now not that we needed it (especially after great home-made guacamole and oysters as an entrée) they finished us off with a Nigella quadruple chocolate loaf cake. We had seduced them with Nigella (the cook) when they first visited us 5 years ago, and sent a convert off into the wilds of New Brunswick. We hadn’t tried this recipe ourselves- but now we will. Our hosts couldn’t help themselves and actually turned it into a quintuple cake by adding a chocolate ganache! Nigella would indeed be proud.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Our weekend was:

Checking out the Italian Pantry’s new expanded premises- a lolly shop scenario for us. Cheese, pasta, wine, vegetable seeds, nuts, prosciutto, the list goes on.

Cooking dinner for our friends- roast pork, cooked on a bed of leeks and carrots with white wine and sherry vinegar. The first apple tarte tatin for the season, apples of choice were coxes orange pippins, Rob’s favourite. It was all delicious and the crackling was superb!

Breakfast on our friend’s deck in the sun- orange muffins with quince jelly with Mimosa cocktails and coffee! So hot for Tasmania at this time of year, a relaxing start to our Sunday.

Visiting the Market- I love this market, it’s so much nicer to shop for presents here than most other places! Found perfect presents for 3 upcoming birthdays (of the 7 in March/April). Tried Jo and Michelle’s truffles too- delicious and guilt free!

Swimming and walking at the beach- Nigella was very lucky - 4 beach walks in as many days. I even went swimming to escape the unusual stickiness; Hobart is not normally this humid.

Visiting the block- a quick visit to walk around and check on the trees in the orchard. We should get a few apples this year from the trees we planted in 2007. Nigella and Rob enjoyed some golf, tee off from the hut site to the green just near the water hazard. Nigella loves this activity and helpfully (not) picks up the balls and drops them into the water hazard (the dam!)

Cooking a favourite recipe -Chicken under bricks from Patricia Wells’ book Trattoria. In our case the electric grill folds over and is heavy enough to keep the chicken flat. Cooked in less than half an hour. Served with steamed and buttered pink eyes and runner beans (cooked with onions, tomatoes, garlic and allspice). A Sunday night feast.

Making the most of a rainy day- a late breakfast of soft boiled eggs and Steve’s rye bread toast. Baking Anzac biscuits and a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. Reading a favourite book on the couch whilst watching the rain pour down.

How was your weekend?

Thursday, March 4, 2010


I’d like you to meet my cute little Koala friend.
My talented sister knitted him for me for Christmas.
He was my favourite present. So cute and useful!
Sadly, I think it may be the start of a teapot and cosy collection though....
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