We've had breakfast at Ellacure twice now, and both times I ordered a side serving of Hollandaise sauce. Ellacure's Hollandaise has a special piquancy as it contains seeded mustard. Yum! This reminded me to start using mustard again in cooking. It adds a spicy kick and an interesting texture.
This is the mustard I'm currently using at home. It is from
Dijon in France, but of course there are also local suppliers.
Two exciting milestones occurred today ... this is my 200th post since starting the blog in July 2005, and the blog reached 20,000 hits a couple of hours ago! Cool bananas. In case you're wondering, the two posts on wattalapam (the recipe here, and more musings here) still get far more hits than anything else. Together they account for about for about half the traffic the blog has ever had! Anyway ... on to today's thoughts ...
Growing up in a series of small towns in New Zealand, I didn't have many educated role models. My teachers had degrees of course, but I was too shy to speak to them about the future. Maybe some of my friends' parents had degrees too. In any case, no one in my immediate world had even completed high school, and my parents were hostile to the idea of me doing so. 'You don't want to end up a perpetual student', my dad said, circling job vacancies for unskilled school leavers. The thing was, I did want to become a perpetual student. I just didn't know it then, and didn't know that one person's 'perpetual student' is another person's 'lifelong learner'. Lifelong learning sounds much more positive, don't you think?
Anyway, I was an obedient child and left school at 16 to start an office job, as I had no other visible options. (Well, single motherhood was a popular choice among my high school cohort ...) Fortunately, I was accepted into a part time correspondence course at a university and achieved my undergraduate degree over seven years while working full time. Phew. Several more university qualifications have followed ... I guess education is addictive.
In the almost thirty years since leaving school I've also done dozens of shorter courses. From driving (yet another skill my parents chose not to impart to their daughters); to pottery, silver jewellery making, sewing and woodworking (reminding me how inartistic I am); to anthropology, French, Bahasa Indonesia, chemistry and forensics; to various courses in food hygiene, cooking and cheese making. Guess I'm officially a course junkie! One of the blogs I follow recently had a lovely article on how and why to become a lifelong learner, which lists lots of good reasons we should all keep learning. Apparently it makes us more interesting, independent, healthy and satisfied. The article also has some great links to free online course providers.
Pardon my possibly dodgy French, but 'fennel au gratin' sounds a little more elegant than 'fennel with a cheesy crust'! Fennel is an odd-looking vegetable with a crisp white bulb and feathery green leaves. It has a slightly aniseed-y taste, and is in season right now (autumn) here in Canberra.
Fresh fennel looks like this ...
... and my cooked version looks like this
To make this delicious side dish, you'll need fresh fennel, parmesan cheese, and pepper and salt to taste. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Wash the fennel and discard outer layers if they're dry or discoloured. Chop the bulb and leaves into bite-sized chunks, and zap in a covered dish in the microwave for a couple of minutes to soften. Then lay the fennel flat in the bottom of an oven dish, sprinkle with grated parmesan and salt and pepper, and bake for about half an hour. Enjoy!
My favourite fruit is once again available in my favourite shop. Feijoas (also known as pineapple guavas, as their flavour is like a combination of the two) are only available for about a month each year, so don't miss out.
How to eat a feijoa? Some people make them into
jams or marmalades, but I prefer to slice them in half,
1 cup cream
1/4 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1 vanilla bean, split
4 (extra) tablespoons caster sugar
Place cream and vanilla bean in saucepan and bring to boil. Remove vanilla bean and allow to cool 15 minutes. Whisk egg yolks with sugar until well combined. Pour cream mixture into egg mixture and combine well. (Some recipes say to strain the mixture at this stage; I prefer not to as it's fun to see the tiny vanilla bean seeds in the finished dessert.) Pour into four ramekins, place them in a baking dish and add enough cold water to come up halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake at 160 degrees C for about one hour. Cool at room temperature. Refrigerate until cold. Sprinkle one tablespoon of caster sugar on to top of each custard and grill (or use blowtorch) to heat the sugar until it caramelises. Serve warm or cold.
I don't have a blowtorch – culinary or otherwise – but get
pretty good results by grilling the desserts for about five minutes
You can vary this recipe in many ways ... for example, by placing some fruit (passion fruit pulp, or mandarin segments, say) in the bottom of the ramekins before pouring the cream mixture in. Or you could leave the vanilla out, and add either a tablespoon of Japanese (matcha) green tea powder or a tablespoon of instant coffee to the warm cream to make green tea or coffee flavoured crème brûlée.
For several years now I've been recording what I cook at home (in a Excel spreadsheet – how nerdy is that?) and doing an annual number crunch to find out what we've been eating. The results from 2011–2012 are here, 2010–2011 are here, and 2009–2010 are here. This year's list is a bit underwhelming. Think it may be time I diversified a bit! Anyway, here's what we ate the most:
There have been a few new entrants to the menu lately –avocado macaroni cheese and all manner of vegetable omelettes, for example – but I need to try some more new recipes, or maybe trawl the spreadsheet to be reminded of some old favourites.
No matter what I make, cooking is still a joy. I've been away from home for several weeks lately –on holiday, at a course, at a conference, and showing a friend around Sydney – and felt quite discombobulated being away from cooking facilities. Some people find mindfulness in meditation ... I find it in cooking! And housework. (Don't tell anyone. It is very unfashionable to enjoy cleaning one's own house.)
Like my recipe for camembert tarts, I think of this as a Friday night novelty food. It doesn't exactly cover all the food groups, but is delicious and celebratory. Hey, the weekend is just around the corner!
You'll need some large potatoes, grated cheese (cheddar, or whatever you like) and pepper and salt to taste.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C (about 350 degrees F). Scrub the outsides of the potatoes and prick them with a fork. Bake potatoes for about twenty minutes, or long enough for their skins to toughen a little. Then pop them in the microwave and cook for about ten minutes, until they're soft in the middle. Remove them from the microwave and slice through the top. Scoop the white part of each potato out and mash it with cheese, pepper and salt. Return the cheesy potato mixture to the potato skins, and return them to the oven to reheat (about twenty minutes or so).
Eat and enjoy!
Not the most photogenic of meals ... but it does taste
Recently a younger colleague said she wouldn't call herself a feminist. She's smart, sassy, independent, and has a PhD and a penchant for trekking in Nepal. A perfect example of everything feminism has achieved, if you ask me!
Although I grew up in the 1980s, it may as well have been the 1950s in my family and in the small New Zealand towns I grew up in. My parents made it very clear that my sister and me, as mere females, would not be educated beyond the minimum, and needn't get any high and mighty ideas about university or careers. My dad spoke of getting us 'married off'. (Seriously.) Accordingly we both left school at sixteen to start full time jobs and start paying our parents for the privilege of living under their roof. We don't have any brothers so can't really say whether they would have been treated differently – allowed to finish school or encouraged to get a trade or profession – but I suspect things would have different for boys. There was an all-pervading attitude that girls were inferior and deserved less.
Fast forward a few years. I left that oppressive world, put myself through a degree (and then a couple more), and life is good. I have a job I love, a bank account to call my own, and a partner who treats me as an equal. I'm incredibly aware that had past generations of women not fought for basic rights – the rights to vote, to attend university, to obtain and retain employment, and to control their fertility – I could not have had such a rewarding and satisfying life.
So, back to my friend, the non-feminist. It has become fashionable for younger women to say 'I'm not a feminist', and seemingly fail to acknowledge our foremothers' efforts to achieve equality between the genders. I'm usually a meek and mild person, but I had to challenge her statement. She explained that it wasn't so much the concept of equality she objected to (phew!) but the word itself. She thinks the 'femin' at the start of 'feminism' is somehow anti-male. An interesting point, but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater! Perhaps we just need a more inclusive term for people (male and female) who support equal rights. How about 'equalist'?
This week I'm in Fremantle, Western Australia, for the 6th IPEd National Editors Conference. I won't waffle on about the conference – there are numerous bloggers and tweeters doing that already – but wanted to share a few pics of this lovely maritime village. It's only about half an hour from Perth, yet feels like a country town.
This evening we went to dinner at some friends' place. We have a regular arrangement where one of us makes the main course and the other dessert, and vice versa next time. Tonight it was my turn to provide dessert, and I made a cardamom-spiced rice pudding:
Anyway, our friends have three small boys, and are attempting to get them to try new flavours. Fair enough! Thomas (aged six) proclaimed 'it makes my throat burn' and 'dessert is supposed to be yummy'. Daniel (aged four) was speechless. Mark (aged three) said 'I can't eat this'.
Thankfully, most of the adults enjoyed the dessert ... and I have sufficient self esteem not to take all the rejections personally! Any suggestions for what I should make next time?
We usually try to stop in Bowral for coffee (and maybe a meal) when driving between Sydney and Canberra. It's a good place to stretch legs and there are plenty of cafés to choose from. Janek's Café in Corbett Plaza, Wingecaribee Street, has some delicious all-day breakfast offerings.
The English breakfast ... fried eggs, bacon, pork sausage, bubble and
squeak, house made baked beans, brown sauce and
an English muffin, and a long black
Comments: the highlight was the home made baked beans. Lots of brown sauce to go with the sausages and bacon! Coffee was excellent.
Eggs Benedict with fresh Atlantic salmon
and avocado, and a flat white
Comments: lashings of Hollandaise! Yum. It was a nice change to try this dish with fresh rather than smoked salmon, and the avocado added an extra creaminess. The coffee hit the spot.
We liked it. Don't forget to pack an extra jumper if you're passing through Bowral ... it may be a charming wee town, but it's often chilly there!
Anyway, my friend Lisa recently recommended a recipe for avocado macaroni cheese (or 'mac and cheese', as the Americans would have it). Lisa's recipe sounded delicious but a bit fiddly. It had lots of ingredients, such as coriander [cilantro] and lime juice. I decided to try something simpler ... simply adding a mashed avocado to the cheese sauce before combining it with the cooked pasta. Seriously YUMMO.
Try it. I dare you! Oh, and if anyone wants a recipe for macaroni cheese (home made, not from a packet mix) please say so. I'd be happy to post one here.
This is the point where I have to confess I should have read the recipe again before attempting it ;-) While C&Z clearly stated that the bananas should be peeled and sliced before freezing, I just put the bananas in the freezer whole. It turns out it is actually quite difficult to peel and chop a frozen banana. I eventually managed to do it with a sharp vegetable knife, then struck the next hurdle. My blender – a reasonably robust model – was reluctant to mulch the hard chunks of banana. Eventually I achieved a vague sorbet, but not without anxieties about the motor burning out ...
In the end it was delicious, if not exactly picturesque