Saturday, December 29, 2012

A fantastic challenge upset

A thousand years ago I was given a very special orange book. Way back when I didn't know my way around a kitchen and was terrified by recipe books devoid of pictures. Back when I regularly botched simple dinners and the thought of feeding anybody other than my nearest and dearest scared me witless. 

I have come a long way since then. These days I prefer my recipes complicated and can spend hours planning a dinner party menu or an 8 course degustation for someone dear. 18 months ago I decided to share my love of cooking with the world, in the form of this blog, tracking my new hobby of cooking every recipe in the special orange book, the iconic Australian kitchen bible, The Cook's Companion.

Expecting only a shiitake log for Christmas this year (I had dropped some heavy hints for that one!) I ripped open my surprise second present only to see a very familiar rainbow cover! I had ogled the updated version of TCC in bookshops, all the while feeling a sense of betrayal to my tatty but loved orange friend. My first thought when I opened my gift was WOW! which was immediately followed by the realisation that my challenge had just been extended by several years. Yikes.

Anybody who has the original version of this book needs to SERIOUSLY consider upgrading. There are so many fabulous new recipes and as the wonderful Stephanie herself pointed out, the marginal recipes are now indexed! I briefly entertained the thought of adding the marginal recipes to the challenge...but I am not completely insane and would like to finish this in the next decade. I have other recipe books that are suffering terrible neglect for which I feel a constant guilt.

So of course I have spent my quiet moments over the last few days updating my challenge spreadsheet (read: geek heaven). I was simultaneously amused and afraid to discover;
  • I am no longer a third of the way through the challenge. In fact my progress has now slipped back to  my being less than a quarter of the way through 
  • instead of 114 chapters of recipes, there are now 123
  • I have gone from having 3 chapters completed, to a big fat zero. There are additional recipes everywhere you look! 
  • there are now dedicated chapters for abalone, venison and pomegranates. There are more new chapters but these are the ones I was most excited about
  • And the best one of all....instead of 656 recipes I now have 984 amazing recipes to complete.
Bring it on!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

221/656 - Cold chinese white-cooked chicken with seared spring onion sauce

I paid a flying visit to Fairfield Farmers' Market a couple of weeks ago and happened across Yapunyah Meadow Grazed Chickenswho were set up conveniently alongside my milkman. I happily relieved them of a whopping 2kg chicken, wondering how on earth my little family of four would get through such a wonderfully large bird. Skimming through the book I was very excited to find this recipe in the chicken chapter that required a 2kg free range chicken. How perfect!

We tend to roast our chickens when they come to us all in one piece, and so I was very keen to see how a boiled chook would taste. The behemoth was boiled in water flavoured with ginger and spring onion (which smelled incredible!), but interestingly only for a very short time. It was then left to sit in the hot water for 45 minutes and finally, was dunked in a tub of ice cold water where it hung out for another hour. I will admit I was worried that it would not be cooked, and was pleasantly surprised at the amazing colour of the skin and meat when it was done.

If the chicken wasn't gorgeous enough, the spring onion sauce took it to a whole new level! I was so pleased I cooked rice to go with this dish as the sauce was way too fabulous to be left on the plate without anything to soak it up. 

We cut up the chicken as Stephanie suggested, in the Chinese manner with a very large, very sharp cleaver. I actually had Trev perform the dissection because I enjoy having two hands and my aim is not at all good. We were very amused at the level of spatter that ensued, and I would highly recommend the use of an apron, and possibly a face mask when performing this activity on such a juicy beast.  

Needless to say it was amazing and as suspected we were left with a small pile of yummy leftovers. Stephanie advised that the cooked chook will last for up to four days. I am a couple of weeks from hosting my second degustation 'event' so of course this has been added to the menu! 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

220/656 - Green beans with fermented black beans

Fermented black beans are hard to find! 

Of course I took myself down to Victoria Street in Richmond on a fermented bean search but had to scour at least four Chinese grocers before I struck gold. They are very smelly (the beans not the grocers) and so I have been storing them wrapped in a plastic bag and away from the other food in my pantry. And that's before the packet was even opened!  

I loved this recipe, very quick and full of tasty flavour. I will make these beans again soon, if only to prove to myself that I can cook them without nearly burning them to a crisp! We ate these lovely spicy beans in a very unconventional manner - inside Vietnamese rice paper rolls. They were a fabulous addition to the rolls, tucked inside with some seasoned vermicelli, cucumber, spring onion and wok fried marinated chicken. Rice paper rolls are one of my favourite things to make for dinner, mainly because we all roll our own and it's so EASY!  

I would have liked to take a picture of a gorgeous rice paper roll with lovely spicy beans poking out the top, but alas they disappeared so quickly there was just not the time.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

219/656 - Tom Yam Goong/Sour prawn soup

I am officially one third of the way through the book, hurrah!! Apart from Stephanie, I wonder if I might now own the most well used copy of The Cook's Companion. An amazing thought!

I made this soup on what was quite a hot day. An interesting choice given that it was a hot meal in more ways than one, with 10 fresh chillies and two teaspoons of chilli paste in there! The only change I made to the recipe was deciding not to leave the heads on the prawns. This was a decision that promised less mess at the dinner table and so while the soup was not as pretty to look at, I think the decision was a good one 

Jules is not usually fabulous with hot food, but on this night he jumped in boots and all. There was a testosterone fuelled discussion between the boys over dinner regarding whose mouth was burning more and of course who was best at handling the heat. When Jules saw the picture of the soup on my screen he said, "That's the soup that made me like chilli!"   

Music to the ears of a mother who loves a bit of heat in her food. Bring on the vindaloo. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

218/656 - Date and walnut biscuits

Social media is great for connecting with new people and I regularly chat with strangers online, usually about all things food! But until a couple of months ago I never imagined I would be busily mailing sweet treats to three people I had never met. Enter The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap.

The rules of the swap were simple; make three dozen cookies and send 12 to each of your selected matches. I made 37 of these beautiful biscuits (an extra one for tasting of course!) and sent them off to Amanda from Chewtown, Faaiza from Modest Munchies and Erin from Cut the cookie. It's a nerve-wracking thing sending your cooking to foodies you have never met! 

In return I was lucky enough to receive three wonderful packages myself. Two varieties of  beautiful shortbread from Sara of Belly Rumbles, three varieties of traditional Chinese cookies from V Vien of We Dare Food and cranberry and white chocolate cookies from Daisy of Never too Sweet. A whole lot of yum going on in this house at the moment!  

I used some old Leunig wrapping paper to wrap my cookie gifts. I have been hanging on to it for years waiting for the right time to use it and this felt like a special enough occasion.  

I normally don't post recipes, but of course I have made an exception this time so that the deliciousness of these biscuits can be experienced by all. 

Date and Walnut biscuits 
250g dates, stoned
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
75g butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
3 tbsp sour cream
175g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Preheat oven to 180° C (350° F) and grease baking trays, or line them with baking paper. Cut dates into pieces using scissors (I used a knife) and mix with walnuts. Cream butter and sugar (in a thermomix if you have one!) and beat in eggs until light, then beat in sour cream. Mix a third of the flour into the dates and nuts to coat them well. (I spent some time making sure all of the date pieces had been separated and coated at this point.) Combine remaining ingredients and stir into egg mixture with dates and nuts. Drop spoonfuls of batter onto baking trays. Bake for about 10 minutes until browned. Cool on a wire rack.

What a fabulous experience. Many thanks to Love and Olive Oil for making this fun Christmas activity possible. Bring on Cookie Swap 2013!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

217/656 - Walnut spread

It's hot, hot, hot here in Melbourne at the moment and last night required a cold drink and a lovely little cold snack to go with it.

I decided to make walnut spread and was happy to follow Stephanie's suggestion of including a whopping hunk of blue cheese into the mix. The resulting spread was a bit garlicky for my taste (there was a whole head of garlic in there!) and so I added extra walnut oil, walnuts and plenty of extra cheese. 

Apart from the fact that my I woke up this morning with icky, spicy garlic mouth, I would definitely make this dip again. Next time with a bit less garlic and probably with the addition of some crisp green pear slices for spreading and dipping. 

My beautiful walnut oil