Winter is here…

It’s hard to be believe that we’re nearly halfway through 2015.  Yikes.  Where has the time gone….

The weather has been really changeable in Sydney the past few weeks, but I know winter has officially arrived because I’ve made chili.  I’m also writing this under my electric blanked with my ugg boots on- so…. yep, it’s Winter.

I’m sure I’ve written about this before but growing up Chili (or chili con carne as they call it here) was always a winter food growing up.  So I know it’s officially a cold winter’s day when I feel like a big warm bowl of chili.  That day came on Saturday when I turned to The Runner and announced that I felt like making Chili.

Unlike most things I cook, with chili I don’t really follow a recipe.  Well, I do- but I really don’t.

Years ago, probably 15+ years ago, I asked The Mom for her chili recipe.  At the time, I was expecting precise instructions and measurements and an easy to follow recipe passed down with love from mother to daughter.  This is not what my mother gave me.

The Mom gave me the same directions to make chili that you would give an unwanted guest to your house.

Example:  “So you go down that road until you get to the other road and then you turn rightish and go around the corner and stop at the tree and then you sort of go a bit further and a bit further and then you’re there.”

Ummmmm.  NO.  Those are basically directions to get lost.  If someone ever gives you those directions to a party, just stop.  They don’t want you there.  They probably didn’t even want you to know that they were having a party but you found out and they gave you a pity invite.  Sigh.  That is basically the recipe I was given by my mother.  I know, for those of you know what a wonderful mother I have, it’s hard to believe.  But it’s true….

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And there’s the proof.  Not one measurement, not one detail.  It almost asks more questions than it answers.  How many onions?  How much garlic?  What size can of tomatoes?  How many cans?  How much chili????  How long do you cook it for?   For a recipe with so little information, it actually makes the best chili in the world.  Not that I’ve ventured to try other recipes (why mess with perfection??)  Over time, I’ve added my own touches- this time I added a bit of beer and also a bit of chocolate and cinnamon because well, you can tweak perfection slightly.  But looking at the internet, none of the other recipes sound as good.

What got me started on this little research project was my colleague at work, let’s call her “Jen.”  Jen was planning to make chili for dinner after work today.  In my book, that’s a no.  Chili is not an after work dish.  Chili needs to simmer, mellow, develop over a few hours.  It is the perfect Sunday dish- you can leave it to cook while you read the paper, do the laundry and get ready for the week ahead.  “Jen” was planning to use the Hairy Bikers Chili recipe.   I read the recipe, and it’s a no from me.  They put red wine and flour in their chili.  Really????????/ NO!  I can’t condone that.  It’s chili con carne not spaghetti bolognese.  So then I started doing more research….

Food Network and Betty Crocker get two spicy chili covered thumbs up.  Yum!

BBC Good Food– for a non-American entry, you’re not half bad.

Epicurious– I like you, but I think you’re over complicating things.  It’s total time is 11 hours and 45 minutes.   Yes, you read that correctly- nearly half a day!  You also want me to chill it overnight and come back to it to skim the fat.  I’ll be honest, you lost me Epicurious.  Same thing Gourmet Traveller– 21 ingredients is pushing my chili friendship.

Taste– bacon in chili?  hmmmm…. the jury is out on you.  I love bacon and I love chili.  But I’m not sure….

Jamie Oliver– chickpeas in chili?  I. can’t.even.  Go home Jamie, your chili is drunk.  Get out of my sight.  In fact, I’m mad at myself for even including you in my chili roundup.

Ugh.  That put me off….  but I persisted and found some pretty cool recipes….

The Amateur Gourmet’s Best Chili Of Your Life– big call but I’m willing to try it

Chili Con Jamie– Dammit Jamie Oliver, I wanted to hate you for the one with chickpeas, but this one sounds pretty awesome– coffee and cinnamon sticks with chili made from brisket… my mouth says yes and my stomach says please.

Needless to say, I could go on…. there were options with chocolate, recipes for chocolate and beer, bloggers putting their twist on it- hello Nessa Family Kitchen and your spiced chocolate chip chili, pigpig’s corner’s chocolate stout and ancho chili con carne and Get In My Gob’s Coffee Chocolate Chili Con Carne.

I suppose at the end of the day, everyone has their own take on chili con carne. There’s not one right recipe.  You’ll never hear the judges on Masterchef arguing that a dish is not “technically” a chili con carne.  Without knowing it, that was the the gift that The Mom gave me when she gave me her recipe.  She gave me the basics but lets me choose my own adventure every time I make it!

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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!

It’s Challenge Day– Don’t Freekah Out….

Sorry about the bad pun, but there’s no need to Freekah out about this challenge…. Coogee is apparently a Freekah free suburb, so we’re already off to a bad start.  No Freekah in Randwick yesterday either.  Don’t get me started on a rant about Coogee, because 90% of the time it’s ok, but every now and again it lets me down and I miss Thomas Dux, and I miss living in the city.  We’re not going to go there today-  we won’t talk about the illegal hostel next door with loud backpackers or the fact that earlier this week there was not a black bean in sight or the lack of parking.  We’re going to ignore the fact that for the second time this week, not a single store in Randwick or Coogee had what I needed and think positively- Our local Maloney’s normally has lots of lovely, special, gourmet ingredients (and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream- even though they are $13 a pint) and generally speaking I can find what I need in Maloney’s or in Randwick….not so with Freekah, not so today.    Grrrrr.  Annoying!  OH well, no need to freekah out completely, according to Google I can substitute buckwheat, cous cous or bulghur which is what I’ll do, but I am slightly bummed about it.  Oh well, the challenge is on!

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I start with the “Tabbouleh” with Preserved Lemon, very easy, and actually much quicker since I’m using Buckwheat which takes 20 minutes roughly to cook instead of Freekah which takes 50. Image

It’s all very easy, the buckwheat is washed and then put into boiling water to simmer covered for 20 minutes, and in the mean time I chop parsley and coriander in my handy Tupperware easy chopper.  (No, I’m not sponsored by Tupperware, but I am a big fan of a few of their products!)  I measure 40g of raisins and dump them into a bowl with the coriander and parsley.  I then grab a quarter of a preserved lemon, which I’ve actually never cooked with before.  I turn to the note on p.140 for helpful hints, and then I realise that p.140 is a recipe in the lemon chapter for making my own preserved lemons….  Really George and Gary?  Really????  Do people do things like this?  Preserve their own lemons?  Did George and Gary really think this would come in handy for people?  Does anyone who bought this cookbook think   “Great, preserved lemons, a really handy recipe for future use”—yeah right, I can’t imagine any situation where I would preserve my own lemons,  not when I can buy a whole jar for like $5 even in Coogee.

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So the tabouleh is mostly done except for combining everything and waiting 13 more minutes for the buckwheat to cook.  Onto the broccoli and egg….

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A special note on Broccoli.  Broccoli and I are not best friends, we’re not even mates, we sort of stare at each other from across the room and give each other the evil eye.   On the other hand, The Mom and broccoli are BFFs.  In fact, The Mom might even own shares in broccoli or sit on The Broccoli Appreciation Board, she loves it so much.  I rarely, if ever, eat broccoli as an adult, probably because I was force fed it at least 5 or 6 times a week growing up.   Ok, I exaggerate slightly, it probably wasn’t that often, maybe only 3-4 times a week, possibly only 1 or 2, but it felt like more.  A lot more.  The Mom LOVES broccoli, I remember being 4 or maybe 5 years old and being forced to eat broccoli for dinner and getting in trouble with my babysitter because I spat it out into my napkin, because as vegetables go, it’s a bit gross.  Yes, it looks like a tree, yes it’s harmless enough, unlike other vegetables like beetroot, yuck but it’s not in my top 5 vegetables…  Artichokes, Asparagus, Zucchini, Corn, and peas—those are all fantastic vegetables….. Broccoli?? Not so much.   Anyway…..I digress, but the 4 or 5 year old me sitting at the table staring down at the rainbow shag carpet crying and not wanting to eat another spec of broccoli has still not made peace with broccoli and generally speaking doesn’t let the 32 year old me buy it, cook it or eat it in most circumstances.  Broccoli and I have had a love-hate relationship for years.   The Mom loves it, I hate it.  Without a doubt, there is broccoli in The Mom’s fridge right now ready to be steamed and eaten, and for one of the only times in my adult life, there is broccoli in my house about to be cooked….

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I pretty much know this escapade is going to end in tears already, not just because of the broccoli but because the first step is to put the broiler on a high heat.  Our wonky oven door which has been broken since November could be on its last legs and could be the undoing of me today….  I’m also going to bake/broil the lamb which could also end in tears for the same reason but let’s just keep our fingers crossed for the moment…

The lamb I’m hoping will cook itself- it’s in a dish with salt and pepper, cinnamon and vanilla balsamic, and rosemary and oregano olive oil and a couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary.  I’ve also worked out the exact place to put the kitchen step so that the wonky door can semi rest on it, thus reducing (or increasing) the likelihood of a serious accident.  Just ignore the sound of the other door hinge about to give out every time I open the oven door.

I throw the lamb in for about 20 minutes and while I do that I start the broccoli concoction.  It’s pretty straight forward.  I dice the onion and sauté for about 7 minutes, and then add bacon.  That cooks for a couple of minutes and then I put the dreaded broccoli in to cook for 3-4 minutes.  Everything is fine, but of course this is when the doorbell rings.   I believe there are laws of entertaining, and one of them is that inevitably everyone will arrive at the same time that there’s loads to be done.    Tonight was no exception, literally just as everything needed to be sautéed, stirred, etc. people turned up!  For once in my life, I was ahead of schedule (very rare) and when the doorbell rang, I was only one step from being ready.  I just had to separate the egg and whack the broccoli with the egg under the broiler….that and chop and macerate the strawberries for dessert.    The broccoli and egg was actually really easy to make and quite tasty considering it was broccoli!

Overall, I would make both dishes again, and possibly even branch out into other things from the book.  Both recipes were really easy to follow and not nearly as intimidating as first imagined.    Even the broccoli wasn’t half bad!  Granted, I didn’t make my own preserved lemons, but still, it was pretty easy, simple and not confusing.  Dessert was simple, although The Runner wasn’t convinced on it, Store bought meringue with strawberries soaked in balsamic vinegar, blueberries, and cream.  I loved it.  We served wine from the Hunter Valley with dinner, Ballabourneen’s Three Amigos and Tintilla’s 2011 Sapphira Sangiovese.

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Spoonbread- The DC Edition

SO being at home with The Mom, who really deserves a better nickname than The Mom, is fantastic.  Really, it’s like holding up a mirror into the future because she and I are a lot alike.  It’s quite funny.  I’ve actually been spending the day looking at photos in the basement and there are quite a few photos where I’m under 2 and already starting to mimic my mother’s gestures and actions.  It’s funny, people who knew my Dad, used to tell me that I reminded them of him, people who know my Mom, tend to think I’m her clone.  The weird thing is, I see it too.

Anyway, aside from our love of entertaining- and The Runner will attest that I like cooking but I LOVE entertaining- my Mom and I share a love of kitchen utensils.  Seriously, neither of us have ever met a kitchen gadget that we wouldn’t buy- cherry pitter- she has one, butter cutter- yep one of those too, milk frother- got it, vacuum wine sealer- check, melon baller- don’t make me laugh- of course she has one!  So if you can imagine being a small child growing up in the land of 1,000 kitchen accessories, it does shape your outlook on life- in a great way.  The Mom is literally the only person I know with more kitchen stuff than I do.  I’m a total girl- I like shoes and handbags and make up and jewellery, but I salivate- sal-i-vate over Williams-Sonoma……Mmmmmmmm.  It’s not normal, I know, but I’ve come by it honestly.  So I’m really excited to do a He Runs, I Cook from The Mom’s House—although I feel like I should do a 12 course, butter cutting, melon balling extravaganza while I’m here—and I probably would have if Thanksgiving weren’t last week.  Instead, I’ll be cooking from THE MOST EXPENSIVE COOKBOOK I’VE EVER COOKED FROM….(not that I’ve gotten my grubby mitts on lots of expensive cookbooks), “Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine.”

I wrote a little about it in my previous post, but I actually sat down last night and read it—that’s right read it from start to finish.  The book itself isn’t just a book of recipes, it actually tells the story of each family member from grandparents to parents to aunts and uncles, and possibly even a few others.  It’s written by two sisters who were living in New York and seriously, what a gem!   I started off looking for a recipe but by the end, I was enthralled by the family history.  It’s seriously, such a great idea and I can’t think of another cookbook that I own that does the same.  It’s small enough to read as a novel, yet the recipes are simple and sound tasty enough to use as a cookbook.  I’m sold!  Not quite sold enough to cough up $350 for a new one on Amazon.com, but I am bidding on one on Ebay at the moment so fingers crossed.  It’s only new, and the opening bid was $5… I’m not overly optimistic!

Anyway, this book is fantastic- and not just because the first chapter based on the Grandfather is all about making homemade wine……yessssssssssssss!  Unfortunately, I don’t have the facilities or the patience to make wine, and thanks to our lovely friends in the Hunter Valley, The Runner and I have a seemingly endless supply of fantastic wine.  If we didn’t, the idea of testing out a recipe for strawberry wine is vaguely appealing, but I am extremely thankful that we live in the 21st century where liquor stores are ubiquitous and you can order wine over the internet.  The book also has recipes for canning, jamming, and making marmalades.  None of which do I have any interest in.  What’s the point of buying 3 pounds of tomatoes and spending hours coring, blanching, peeling and boiling them when you can buy Canned tomatoes in the store for 99 cents.  Anyway, wine making and tomato canning are things I’ll do One Day….as in One Day/Some day/Never! 

The book also has some delicious ice cream recipes—and if there’s one thing that The Mom and I have in common—ice cream is our favourite food.  Legend has it that The Mom had ice cream sundaes every single day that she was pregnant with me, and I don’t doubt it’s true—I LOVE Ice Cream.  No, really.  I LOVE it.  Seriously, I’m like Cookie Monster’s long lost human twin, Ice Cream Monster.  Love it, love it, love it, love it.  Always have, always will.  In high school, I used to have a bowl of ice cream every day after school- mint chocolate chip or cookies and cream.  It’s actually a miracle that I’m not morbidly obese…. (and yes, Ben and Jerry’s Mint Chocolate Cookie is pretty much the best thing ever).  Anyway, another vote for Spoonbread being awesome, it has awesome ice cream recipes.

So to recap, the book has recipes for two of my three favourite things- Ice cream and wine.  I think I might increase my Ebay bid.  I understand why it caused a phenomena in the 70s.  It’s causing a slight moral dilemma for me, I really want to quietly and secretly slip the book back to Sydney so I can delight in its yummy-ness on a longer term basis.  I know it’s wrong because The Mom loves The Book, but would she miss it?  Yes.  And she reads the blog…..hmmmm, let’s increase the Ebay bid.

Anyway, aside from all this, it does have some really amazing recipes-  Peach gingerbread upside down cake, made with fresh, homemade gingerbread, baked steaks, white potato and cheese casserole, like 8 different ways to make sweet potatoes, southern fried corn, pineapple upside down cupcakes, eggnog pie.  The list goes on…. Of course, there are some low points like scrambled brains- and yes, they mean actual brains not eggs, and of course squirrel, rabbit, opossum and other road kill delights- but that’s only one part of one chapter.  The hardest thing is that I don’t know what to make for dinner tonight- and I made a list of possibilities.  Do I make The Mom’s favourite macaroni and cheese or crab meatloaf or a classic fried chicken?  Do I go out on a limb with Ginger Ale Salad or Chicken in the Pot or Tipsy Cake?  Is it more of a Stuffed Eggplant occasion?  Whatever it is, the recipes all seem to be really simple with pretty simple ingredients and they sound pretty tasty…..  Overall, this cookbook is a winner.  No, I don’t know first hand, but The Mom and her friends can’t possibly be wrong!