The decluttering of home and computer is still grinding on here in Albany, interrupted only by a visit to you last weekend and the inevitable follow-up head cold (damn you, day care).
Luckily, not snot, nor sleet, nor driving rain could keep us from enjoying ourselves while your Mum and Dad went off to your Aunty Justine’s wedding last Saturday.
Give a Nanna and her granddaughter a whole house to themselves and before long they’ll have pretend zoos, pretend shops, pretend parks and pretend “work” coming out of their earholes.
(Not to mention “cake” made with 10 pieces of chalk, a baby wipe, seven sultanas and your mother’s potato masher.)
Anyway, when I got home – sad, lonely and bereft at no longer being with you but strangely relieved to regain a life that didn’t involve jumping or hopping – I found something on my computer that I’d totally forgotten about.
It was like striking gold.
Here’s the story.
Back in my Early Nigella Period, I’d often visit Nigella.com and look at the forum, which was called Your Page.
It was heaven on a stick – dominated by a bunch of Nigella groupies who thought of themselves as forum royalty because they’d been there from the very start, and who maintained such an amazing mix of full-on fawning, saccharine sweetness and cold-blooded bitchiness, it made your eyes water.
Nanna loved the goings on in the forum. It made her snort her cup of tea over the computer screen on more than one occasion.
Sadly, Nigella closed it down. But not before Nanna copied and pasted the following gem, which was only up for a short time before a moderator trashed it.
It was posted by someone called Hiya on September 4, 2007, the day after the first episode of Nigella Express aired in the UK on BBC TV.
This was the episode in which Nigella referred to squid as “squiddies” (I know – gag).
Here’s what Hiya wrote:
“(I) sent (this) to the BBC too. I don’t expect a response, who would after watching that unctuous, toe-curling, self-promoting (paid for by the TV licence) exhibition of pathetic pouting and mealy-mouthed rubbish.
“‘Squiddies’ for God’s sake. This was enough to reach for the flight bag if I had one at home, but the surrounding nauseous nonsense of the programme was insulting as well. I’m not skint but the sight of Lordette Lawson making beds that colour-coordinated with the wallpaper, well!!, busy mobile texting to cares who in the black cab having exited the mews home!!
“I hope we did not pay for the kitchen as well – in fact, don’t tell me, I’d rather not know. Lord and Lordette Lawson and the kids eating chicken and spuds and peas – how dare you give this airtime? In fact I want an explanation for this gibberish because as I write this after a day’s work, I’m getting fed up with the constant promotion of pointless drivel. Bet this won’t be on the forum with all the other gushing.”
Call me shallow but when it comes to memorable writing I reckon you can’t beat a good rant.
Not that it’s got anything to do with today’s recipe, which comes from Aussie TV chef Iain “Huey” Hewitson and is a real corker.
I’ve made Braised East-West Oxtail twice now, the latest being last night because the weather’s still cold enough down here to warrant winter food.
Don’t be tempted to leave out the grated orange rind – it gives the dish a beautiful flavour.
If, like me, you’re not much of an orange eater and you think it’s wasteful to use only the rind, follow these three handy tips:
1. Wrap the de-rinded orange tightly in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge while you spend three hours looking for a recipe that uses the juice of just one orange.
2. Forget the orange is in the fridge until three weeks later.
3. Throw it out.
You’ll notice that a box that once contained a bottle of Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut champagne is reclining nonchalantly behind the plate of oxtail and couscous in the photo accompanying the recipe.
That’s because we’d knocked off the contents earlier in the evening to celebrate winning a work contract that we’re very pleased about.
Your Grandpa had to ask himself at the bottle shop if we were pleased enough to buy a bottle of Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque, which we love, love, love and which looks like this.
BRAISED EAST-WEST (VIA ALBANY) OXTAIL
This is my version of a recipe by Iain Hewitson, who in turn was inspired by American-Chinese chef, Ken Hom. You’ll find Huey’s original recipe here.
1.5 kg oxtail pieces
oil for frying
1 medium onion, chopped
3 shallots, finely sliced
4 garlic cloves, crushed
3 tbsp Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
2 tbsp mirin seasoning (or mirin if you can get it)
2 tbsp light soy sauce
3 tbsp hoisin sauce
grated rind of 1 orange
750g fresh tomatoes, diced
1 cup water
1 beef stock cube, crumbled
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
If you don’t want to cook this on top of the stove, preheat the oven to 160C.
Trim the excess fat from the oxtail pieces.
Bring a big heavy-based pot of water to the boil, add the oxtail pieces and simmer them for 15 minutes (a lot of scum will rise to the surface – just ignore it).
Fish the oxtail pieces out with tongs, drain them well in a colander and clean the heavy-based pot you’ve just cooked them in.
Put the pot over medium-high heat with a thin layer of oil in the bottom and brown the oxtail pieces all over.
Remove them to a plate covered with kitchen paper so the fat can drain off.
Lower the heat under the pot and gently sauté the onions and shallots until they start to soften, about 5 minutes.
Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for another couple of minutes.
Add all the remaining ingredients, stirring well, and bring to the boil.
Add the oxtail to the pot (in one layer if possible) then turn the heat down to very low, cover the pot tightly and simmer for 3 to 3½ hours (or put it in the oven for the same amount of time).
It’s ready when the meat pulls easily away from the bone.
Serve with couscous, rice or mashed potatoes.
Here is another eggplant recipe.
The buggers won’t stop growing.
It’s called Moroccan Eggplant with Couscous and it’s from Leanne Kitchen’s book, Grower’s Market: Cooking with Seasonal Produce.
Leanne Kitchen isn’t a celebrity chef but she should be because (a) look at her surname!!! and (b) look at her surname!!!
See all those bits of pink post-it notes sticking out the top?
They mark all the things I want to make.
So far I’ve only cooked one, even though I’ve had the book since 2006.
That’s not Leanne’s fault, it’s because my middle name is Procrastination.
Moroccan Eggplant with Couscous is really nice with lamb chops that have been grilled or barbecued.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely you’ll eat lamb chops until you’ve moved out of home because the thought of cooking baby sheep makes your mother hysterical.
When she was seven and realised what she was putting in her mouth, she became a vegetarian for almost a year.
It was a difficult period in our lives because she didn’t like vegetables.
You can imagine my relief when she was lured back to the dark side by a bacon sandwich and a Rainbow Brite doll.
Here is a picture of Rainbow Brite in case she’s extinct by the time you grow up.
Rainbow’s best friend was called Twink and she had a white horse called Starlite who had a rainbow mane.
It was round about this time your Mum decided she didn’t want to be called Kate any more; she wanted to be called Allora.
So we called her Allora.
“Allora! Dinner’s ready!”
“Allora! Time for bed!”
When you’re making Moroccan Eggplant with Couscous, it turns into bowl city but it’s well worth it because it tastes so good.
The original recipe contains cloves, which I hate because they always make me think of that scene in Marathon Man where Laurence Olivier is drilling into the roots of Dustin Hoffman’s teeth.
Feel free to add a pinch of powdered cloves if such things don’t bother you.
MOROCCAN EGGPLANT WITH COUSCOUS
1 cup instant couscous
1½ cups boiling water
1 onion, chopped small
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 big eggplant or the equivalent in mini skinny ones
3 tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp salt
big knob of butter
small bunch parsley, chopped
Put the couscous into a large bowl and pour over the boiling water. Let it stand for 10 minutes then fluff it up with a fork and put to one side.
Grab a frying pan that’s big enough to eventually hold all the couscous and veggies.
Put it over medium-low heat, add a little olive oil and cook the onion for about 10 minutes until it’s golden brown.
A couple of minutes before the end of cooking time, add the garlic and cook, stirring, just until the garlic is fragrant.
Scrape the onion and garlic into a bowl and put to one side.
While the onion’s cooking, cut the eggplant into 2cm chunks, leaving the skin on, and put into a big bowl.
In a small bowl (what did I tell you?), mix together the cumin, cinnamon, paprika and salt.
Shake this over the eggplant and mix everything thoroughly so the eggplant chunks are coated with the spice mixture.
Cover the bottom of the frying pan with olive oil – about half a centimetre deep – and cook the spiced eggplant over medium heat, turning it occasionally, for 25 minutes.
Scrape the eggplant into the bowl that’s holding the fried onion and garlic.
Melt the knob of butter in the frying pan over medium heat and tip in the couscous.
Cook it for a couple of minutes, stirring, then tip in the eggplant, onions and garlic and stir everything around for a few more minutes until hot.
Serve with chopped parsley scattered over the top.
Here’s a thing you’ll never do if Nanna’s got anything to do with it.
You’ll never spell “divine” like this: DEVINE.
There’s a design blogger who’s written the word devine at least 12 times in every one of her posts since she started blogging in 2009.
It drives me insane and I finally cracked last night and told her via her comments section that devine is where de grapes grow.
I mean, if you must overuse a word, you should at least learn how to spell it properly.
Surprisingly, my comment hasn’t been published.
But that could be because I also pointed out that “definately” is definitely not right and that people get bored WITH things, not bored OF them.
I made the mistake of mentioning my actions to Grandpa and he’s now threatening to put a star chart on the fridge to monitor my behaviour.
Apparently, I’ll get one gold star every time I’m nice to a cretin, two gold stars when I say “sugar” instead of “shit”, and three gold stars when I put the toilet seat back in the “up” position (he believes equality should cut both ways).
To be honest, Grandpa has been pushing his luck lately.
When I came home from work for lunch today, he said, “Here’s a treat!”
Yes! My lunch was on your special baby plate that doesn’t contain Bisphenol A!
If you ask me, Grandpa is very lucky it’s not lodged in his prostate gland.
I was writing about words because there’s a word you said on the weekend that had me jumping in the air and shouting, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
You said, “Nanny!” as you hurtled into my outstretched arms (at the very same moment I thought I also heard violins and a choir of angels singing “Hallelujah” but that could’ve been my imagination).
The next picture is what your Mum and Dad and Grandpa and I had for dinner after you were fast asleep in what your Grandpa calls “that stupid fucking thing” but is actually your very-difficult-to-assemble portable cot.
I can’t remember where I got the recipe for the chicken (I suspect it may have been from the Baltimore Sun online) but the couscous was invented by me, your loving Nanna.
SPICED ROAST CHICKEN WITH COUSCOUS
1 whole chicken
50g unsalted butter, softened
¾ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp paprika
¼ tsp turmeric
¼ tsp ground coriander
salt and pepper
1 cup instant couscous
1 sweet potato
a few handfuls of green beans
small bunch of parsley, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 180C.
Mix the cumin, paprika, turmeric and coriander into the butter.
Carefully slip your fingers under the skin of the chicken breast and loosen the skin away from the flesh all the way down to the legs.
Using a teaspoon, stuff the butter mixture under the skin, pushing it evenly all over the chook as far as it will go.
Be careful not to tear the skin.
Rub a little olive oil into the skin and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Put the chicken in a roasting tin and roast for about an hour and a half, or until the juices run clear, basting two or three times.
Half an hour before the chicken’s done, peel and cut the sweet potato into small cubes and add them to the roasting tin.
Ten minutes before the chicken is done, add the sliced green beans to the roasting tin and turn all the veggies to coat them in the juices.
Put the couscous in a big bowl, pour over one and a half cups of boiling water and let it stand for ten minutes. Fluff it up with a fork.
Carve the chook and put it on a serving platter.
Add the roast veggies to the couscous, pour over some of the pan juices and mix everything together.
Put the couscous on the platter, sprinkled with chopped parsley.
Serve with green salad leaves.