A New Feature for 2016: What We Ate This Week!

So in 2015, The Runner and I tried to keep a record of everything that we had for dinner all year. We were diligent (mostly) in the recording, however we never actually DID anything with the information.  We should have entered it into a database (or at least an excel spreadsheet) and analysed, rated, remembered or at least done something with the info.  But we didn’t.  So now, we have 12 Months of barely legible scrawl which once we decode it will be a record of what we ate in 2015.  If/when I make time to put it all into excel and make sense of it.

However, it’s a new year and in 2016, we’re going to be more organised and do this properly.  Every week, I’m going to post what we ate- where it came from, whether we ate out, and if we’d make it again.  I’m sure patterns will start to emerge (we don’t eat a lot of fish at home) and it might get boring. (tacos again!)   Whatever it works out to be, it’s going to be a time capsule for the year!

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The week I became an adult…

How do you know when you’ve become an adult?  Is it when you turn 18 and can legally vote?  Is it when you move out of your parents’  house and start paying rent? Is it the day you earn your first pay check?  Is it when you get married?  Is it when you have children?

Having now accomplished most of the hallmarks of adulthood, I can say it’s none of those things—for me at least.  However, I can honestly say, that I became an adult this week.  For the first time since moving out of my mother’s house at 17, I actually own matching plates and matching pots and pans that did not come from Ikea.  It seems like such a small, unimportant baby step, but for me it was a giant leap into adulthood.    I now have “good plates” and “everyday plates” just like a real, live grown up adult.  Even to this day, in my mother’s house, you can tell what level of entertaining she’s doing based on what you eat off of.    If it’s the normal plates in the cupboard, you know you’re family and you may have to cook your own food, white plates are for casual entertaining and friends.  The white and silver set:  you’re special but possibly clumsy; the blue and white china set from my parent’s wedding:  you’re very special and the occasion is pretty fancy—but my great grandmother’s gold set with the flowers, that’s how you know you’ve arrived and that you’re a pretty big deal.  If she breaks out the gold cutlery to match, then you may be dining with the V.VIPs.   Many people never get to this level; it’s the highest level of entertaining in The Mom’s house.

So today, I’m having my first Adult Grown Up Dinner Party, and I have to say, it’s a big step and I’m not sure I’m actually ready for the responsibility of having nice things.  First of all, how do you decide in advance whether the friends you’re having over are “good plate” worthy.   How do you know who is up to the challenge of being a grown up?  Secondly, there is a lot more clean up required with the “good plates”, you’re not supposed to just throw them in the dishwasher… which again begs the question, how do you know if you’ll feel like washing plates after a full day of cooking and eating?  And… thirdly, will guests even know that they’re eating off of the good stuff- and if they don’t know, will they care if they get the every day plates?

Being a grown up is a minefield of decisions and first world problems.  I know I could ask The Runner’s advice, but he definitely won’t care or appreciate the gravity of the situation.  If there’s one thing I’ve already learned about marriage, it’s that my husband’s level of interest in plates and bowls is limited to how much he can actually fit on the plate.  He will have no opinion on this matter…I may have to call in the big guns for this one.  I may have to call The Mom for advice…and that’s my most important life lesson about being an adult.  No matter how grown up you think you are,  you’re never too old to run to your mother for help!

Stay tuned for more about this Sunday’s Dinner!

The next 12 months…

When I first started this blog it was meant to be about triathlons and recipes- mainly because at the time my boyfriend (now fiancee) was into triathlons and I had a stack of cookbooks that were gathering dust and that he was teasing me about.  I started in good faith dutifully cooking and writing but then somehow life got in the way.  Suddenly the blog was an outlet for unfamiliar feelings- first grief then happiness and finally coming to terms with both.  

I’m really thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to share the last 14 months with all of you.  Cathartic isn’t the word- but I’m not sure what the right word is.   It’s been helpful.  The only downside is that I feel like I veered from the blog’s true purpose- running, cooking, and eating and I feel bad for anyone who subscribed based on those three things.  I’d like to think that my New Years resolution will be to make the blog only about cooking and running but I know that’s not going to be completely true.  The next 12 months will be full of ups, and possibly a few downs as well (but hopefully not) as I become Mrs. Cook-Runner (yes, I’m thinking of hyphenating).  Unfortunately, because I don’t know what the future holds I can’t promise what the blog will hold- or what I will write about in it.  I can promise to try to get the blog back to its “roots.”

So here’s my early New Year’s Resolution– I will go back to the blog’s basics.   I will restart the regular Sunday recipe dinners in the new year and maybe we’ll even get The Runner to write about his experience doing triathlons or even some fancy new triathlon toy that he tests out- after all, the blog is about our life together so he should probably get a feature here and there. 

I’m hoping to publish a cookbook in August- not promising anything but planning a VERY exclusive, limited release booklet to a select handful of family and friends…   Anyway…. For those of you who are following the blog for recipes and triathlon tips, I’ll try to do better on that front.  For those of you who want to know what’s going on with a cook and her fiancée who appropriately enough live on Dine Street, stay tuned, there will be more of that as well!

 

Warning: Purple Carrots will turn your hands purple.

It’s challenge day and I’m up early preparing the pork.   I’m making the Slow Roasted Shoulder of Pork with Carrots and Crackling from Pete Evans’ My Kitchen Cookbook.

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I was really meant to do this last night but our “come over for a couple of quiet drinks” got a bit out of hand and turned into a mini dinner party.  I even roasted a chicken!

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I start the preparation by pounding garlic and fennel seeds with a mortar and pestle and smearing it all over the flesh of the pork.  It’s at this point that I realise that things have gone horribly wrong—I’ve bought a boneless pork shoulder not a bone in shoulder—not sure if it’s going to make a difference and with a cooking time of 6 hours according to the recipe, I know it’s going to be a while by the time I find out if it matters.

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This recipe is deceptively simple at first- rub the garlic-fennel mixture over the flesh of the pork and put it in the fridge flesh side up for a few hours.

I happily complete this first step and then turn my attention to dessert.  As you know, I was quite concerned about what dessert I would make but I decided on- my mother’s famous drunken Fruit Salad (fruit + Grand Marnier+ sugar= boozy AND healthy! WINNING!!!!!) and Suspiros—basically a Spanish take on a meringue –according to Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine.

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A magazine I stopped my subscription to after realising that their recipes are way too complicated, and the ingredients way too weird—oh and that I don’t have the income to support jaunting off to the Mediterranean’s finest 6 star resorts every week.  It’s a VERY aspirational magazine….  Do you know they actually had the nerve to include a recipe that called for “Female pork belly”?  What The Fudge?  One, who cares if it’s male or female; two, how would you know unless you killed the pig yourself; and three, where would you find it—my local butcher doesn’t even stock Pork Belly regularly let alone Female Pork Belly.  That and the number of recipes that require you to start them a day ahead meant the end of me and Australian Gourmet Traveller.  We had a lovely relationship for a couple of years and I did tear out a few hundred recipes that I thought I might cook but never have.  In an effort to de-clutter before The Runner gets even more exasperated over the number of recipes and cookbooks in the house, I have been purging some of my magazine recipes especially the “dream” recipes.  And they’re “dream” recipes because I was clearly drunk or dreaming when I tore them out of the magazine and thought I would ever cook them.   Things like Banh Mi with homemade bread and make your own XO sauce for stir fry prawns…. Seriously, what was I thinking???   So that’s how I came across Susspiros.  They’re very easy.  Pretty much they’re meringues with vanilla, cinnamon and chocolate.  Yum.  But of course they take 2-3 hours to cook in the oven so figuring out the timing of 6 hours of pork and 3 hours of meringue—yup, it’s 10:30 in the morning and I’m already behind on our 7:30 dinner.  OH well…..

I trod off to the store and get distracted in Dan Murphy’s looking for red dessert wine for the peaches I was going to make to go with the susspiros.  I couldn’t find it, but that didn’t stop me from wasting more time in Dan Murphy’s buying wine to have with dinner—plus some Guinness for The Runner.  Of course, the actual grocery shopping takes longer than expected and by the time I get home, I realise dinner will officially be very very very late.  But that’s ok, I don’t have to work tomorrow.

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The pork goes in the oven about 2:30 after I cut up carrots (the purple ones turn my hand quite a shade of purple) and pour warm chicken stock and warm water over the carrots and the pork.

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I cover the dish with 3 sheets of tin foil and sit and relax for 6 hours… well not quite but I do get to sit for a bit.

Also for dessert is drunken fruit salad- this is the fruit salad which we always made on Christmas morning.  Really, it may have just been a way to legitimize alcohol before 8am but it’s tasty and a family tradition that no one questions.   And people like it at dinner parties.  I definitely take after my mother and can be a bit heavy handed with the Grand Marnier (or so I’ve been told) so I resist the urge to add a little more in and just leave it to sit.

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The pork itself does take forever— probably because I’m also too nervous to unwrap the foil to check to see how it’s cooking.  But after about 5 hours I can’t take the suspense any longer and I check the pork.  Two things:  1, purple carrots don’t just turn hands purple, they actually turn everything purple and 2, all that liquid in the beginning means even more liquid at the end- which makes the roasting tray both heavy and splashy.  So great, now there’s purple juice on the floor.  I wrap the pork back up and stick in the oven for another 30 minutes.

Eventually, the timer goes off again and I take the purple pork out.  The next instruction is to peel off the rind and crank up the oven to make the crackling.  I follow the instructions to the t but the crackling does not crackle.  Very very very disappointing but after waiting and waiting and waiting, I give up on the crackling.

The pork is super juicy and super tender- I literally use two forks to shred it and it just falls apart.  YUM!  I strain the juices and pour them over the pork and voila!  Slow roasted pork with crackling and carrots served with slow roasted potatoes and blanched asparagus.

A Challenge!!!!!

So….. we’re having Sunday Dinner tomorrow night with 6 friends.  (I’m making Pete Evan’s Roast Pork Shoulder from his My Kitchen cookbook- FYI).  

But the question is– what to make for dessert?  Excuse me, sorry- what dairy free treat can I make for dessert?

As it turns out, most desserts– or at least most yummy desserts have cream, milk, or butter in them.  Ok, not all clearly but LOTS do.    I’ll give you a minute to think, but seriously, can you name a dessert that doesn’t include dairy in some way- either in the preparation or in serving?  Remember- no milk, butter, cream (whipped or pouring or ice) or yoghurt even.  

Exactly.  Very difficult.    So, that’s my challenge for today- find a delicious, dairy free dessert for tomorrow night.  I do have a cookbook of Vegan desserts but I think I need to do a trial run before unleashing them on non-vegans and non special diet followers.

Any advice or thoughts on dairy free dessert?

Wish me luck!

Evil Jungle Princess….

So lacking the rigor and structure and schedule of a full time job, I sort of neglected to actually remember to invite anyone over for dinner tonight.    We did issue a couple of last minute invitations this afternoon in Coogee but sadly no takers.  Oh well….

This week’s dinner is actually a family recipe.  Not my family, my brother in law’s family but it has special meaning because it was actually the last meal I ate with my Dad.  If I could go back and rewind that night, I would have enjoyed it more.  Except for my Mom and my youngest brother, my entire immediate family was there- The Runner, My Dad, two brothers, my sister, 3 nephews and 1 ½ nieces—my youngest niece just turned 1 but she was there.  It was a fantastic night, and little did I know how one of a kind it would be.  

The recipe is called Evil Jungle Princess Chicken- and it’s a recipe that my brother in law’s mother makes and passed down to him.  I’ve never made it before tonight and the recipe I have was delivered via two emails—one a list of ingredients and the other a list of direction—truly how a good family recipe should be delivered.

I can’t promise that it’s accurate—often family recipes omit a key ingredient because well, you can’t give away all of your secrets can you?  My mother passed down her famous corn casserole recipe to my cousin, only she forgot to include the eggs in the recipe.   She claims it was by accident but I have my doubts…the recipe is legendary and you can’t be too careful in who you pass on the secret to.

So, hopefully my brother in law doesn’t mind me sharing- but I’m making his famous Evil Jungle Princess Chicken Curry tonight!

First, I cut up about a pound of chicken and dice an onion which I throw into a big stock pot with canola oil, cayenne pepper, and chili powder.  I brown the onions and the chicken and once my eyes are watering and I’m coughing from all the chili—and sweating a bit actually, I throw in “a lot of garlic”—that’s what the recipe says but I have no idea what that actually means.  I debate internally for a sec and decide on 6 cloves—because that’s how much I have in the house.  Six cloves seems like an ample about a garlic, possibly not “a lot” but then I’m not going to leave the house now to go out and buy an unspecified amount of garlic.  I “add chicken stock” too- the quantity of chicken stock is vague so I make an executive decision and decide on about 500 ml to start with—no idea if this is too much or not enough!  But 500ml seems like enough to get things started but not so much that it will lead to evil jungle princess broth.

I finely cut two stalks of lemongrass and add that in, nearly slicing off my finger in the process.  Thankfully The Runner is there to bandage me up and I can continue on.  It was touch and go for a minute or two. 

 I add in a jalapeno and a long green chili- the recipe only says to add in a jalapeno, but I’m playing fast and loose with the rules.   And then the terror strikes me.  I’m on a 30 day dairy free challenge–if it’s too hot and spicy,  I won’t be able to drink milk, mango lassi, or any other cooling drink to quench the fire.   I suddenly realize that loading up a dish with chilies could be a bad idea. I can’t have dairy so if it does turn out to be blow your head off hot, I’m S.O.L as they say because there will be no cooling yogurt for me….. or milk… or cheese or cream cheese or sour cream or…  Uh oh. 

I put these negative thoughts to the back of my mind and toss in a tsp of fish sauce and then chop up 5 carrots and toss them in as well.  It’s looking a bit dry so I add more chicken stock which is either a good idea or a horribly bad one—who knows at this point.  I’m panicked about the chili-explosion which may await my taste buds and set the timer for 10 minutes and as the recipe dictates let the carrots cook for 10 minutes on a medium heat.

I use the ten minutes wisely by cutting up 5-6 potatoes—the recipe says 3-4 but figure a few extra never hurt anyone (especially The Runner) – and with the spare 8 minutes I Instagram a progress shot of dinner.  #doublefilter #herunsicook #Ishouldreallyfocusoncooking #hashtagsareabitannoying

Anyway, when the timer goes off I add dried mint (2 tsp), lemon juice (1 tsp), sugar (1 tsp), and potatoes.  It needs to cook for 30-40 minutes over low heat so I turn it down and leave it.  I wish I had a box of jiffy cornbread to serve with it but decide on rice instead—cornbread would have been amazing though- but it would require milk so is a no.  I try to be semi healthy by choosing a whole grain rice blend but also decide to chuck in a bit of white rice as well.  The Runner seems to have thwarted my plans because I cannot for the life of me find any white rice in our cabinet.  He’s going to force me to be healthy if it kills me!  I quietly shake my fist in anger and then find my secret stash of jasmine rice.   Bwahaha!

I can now move onto more pressing matters….. what wine will we have with dinner????

While I decide, I crack open an Anchor Steam beer- it’s a beer I remember my Dad liking, so it’s a weird coincidence that they just happened to be in the Coogee Bay Hotel bottle shop today.  I don’t go in there often but somehow today I was there and so were they.  

Once the timer goes off, I add in a can coconut milk and a bit more fish sauce- no quantity given just “more fish sauce”.  I turn the heat to low and then cook for 5- 10 minutes—well, actually I’ll cook it until the rice is done in 15 minutes.  I chop in some fresh mint to throw in at the end- and that’s meant to be it. 

I say meant to be it because I’m sure it’s missing something but I’m not sure what.  It wasn’t spicy enough so I threw in another green chili or two– and garnished with a third.   It was quite minty but after mellowing for a few minutes it was actually ok.  The last line of the recipe in the email is “I’m sure you can handle it and will add more or less of the ingredients below depending on how spicy and sweet you want it.”  Yikes.  Panic.  Fingers crossed it turns out edible—and hopefully tasty as well!!!

It did!  It was delish, The Runner even went back for seconds.  What would I do differently next time?  Not much.

I would advise using quite big pieces of chicken- I think mine was cut too finely so it’s a bit like shredded chicken rather than chicken chunks but you might like the shreddedness.  As for the rest… It was an A+ for The Runner and super yum for me.  There’s also lots of room for variation next time—might try sweet potato and potato, or maybe some green peas in the curry.  It’s definitely a recipe to cook from taste not from recipe…. And it’s definitely a winner!

 

The goal for this week: Finish the Book and Do Yoga

So as we all know (if you read the blog), life is not the most exciting at the moment- I’m on a detox and reading a book that I hate.  Life is good otherwise, even in my ice cream-less, wine-less state, but reading a bad book is bringing me down.  That’s why, I have promised myself that I have to finish it this week.  Given that I’ve been thinking of any excuse not to read it, including developing a slightly worrying addictive to SongPop and Words with Friends on my phone, I’m a bit concerned that this goal might be a bit ambitious.

But, I’m drawing a line in the sand.  I have to, I’m tired of the book, I want to see the movie and I want to read something else.  I don’t know what it’s going to take, but I’m going to get it done.  And to spur myself on and kick off my week of reading, I made Chicken Marengo for dinner tonight…..  

Now before I get into Chicken Marengo and how it relates to Les Mis, I have to tell you that I’m a bit sad.  I’ve had to put Sunday night dinners are on hold for the next few weeks due to our yoga challenge– which actually I’m quite enjoying.  I think yoga could make me a better person- not sure how but it feels like something that has the potential to.  Anyway, we do a 5pm class on Sunday, which means it’s virtually impossible to have people over for dinner and go to yoga class.   It’s a bit of a shame, because I enjoy the class, but can’t do both, clearly something to figure out long term, but in the short term, Sunday Dinner is on hold.  They’ll be back on March 31st with a pre-birthday, post detox, Easter extravaganza…. or something.   I still cook on Sundays, but it’s too hectic to have people over, and do yoga, and cook.  Anyway, slight digression….

So tonight, I made Chicken Marengo, because I’m going to finish Les Mis this week, I hope.  I’m 85% of the way through, and fingers crossed, it will be done by this time next week.  Chicken Marengo is supposedly what Napoleon ate after the Battle of Marengo.  According to Wikipedia, (and tradition),  “Napoleon demanded a quick meal after the battle and his chef Dunand was forced to work with the meager results of a forage: a chicken (and some eggs), tomatoesonionsgarlic, herbs, olive oil, and crayfish. The chef cut up the chicken (reportedly with a sabre) and fried it in olive oil, made a sauce from the tomatoes, garlic and onions (plus a bit of cognac from Napoleon’s flask), cooked the crayfish, fried the eggs and served them as a garnish, with some of the soldier’s bread ration on the side. Napoleon reportedly liked the dish and (having won the battle) considered it lucky. He refused to have the ingredients altered on future occasions even when his chef tried to omit the crayfish.”  

So- the connection is that Les Miserables is from 19th century France, and so is this dish.  Yes, it’s a tenuous connection at best but, hopefully it will be the inspiration I need to power through the last few hundred pages (sigh!).  One little known fact about Chicken Marengo, I made it at Summer Camp one year, don’t ask me what year, but it was when I went to a Summer Language Camp (because that’s the sort of thing that you do when you’re grow up in DC- slightly pretentious, but very educational!)  I think I was pretty young, and to be honest, I remember making Chicken Marengo more than anything else about the camp (sorry Mom!)  Well, enough procrastinating, I have Les Mis to finish… but just in case you’re wondering- Chicken Marengo is very tasty.  It’s basically Chicken with onion, mushrooms, tomato, and brandy, it’s gluten free-  unlike the homemade bagel I wolfed down this morning!  (shhhhhhh, it was a special occasion!)Image

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..how can you go wrong??  It was super tasty!