HOW NOT TO LOOK GOOD IN THE KITCHEN

PekingDuck_Michele1

Dear Amelia,
As you can see from the photo, I was on my knees by the time I finished cooking the Peking Duck last Saturday night.
We didn’t get to eat it until 9.17pm, which was unfortunate because my synapses stopped firing round about 8.04.
By then the kitchen and I looked like the Wreck of the Hesperus.
You may remember that the recipe I decided to use was from Gok Cooks Chinese by everyone’s favourite fashionista Gok Wan, of How To Look Good Naked fame.
As a result of what we now call The Night of the Long Ducks I actually emailed Gok’s people and asked if his next TV series could be titled How To Look Good Fully Clothed with Half a Star Anise and Three Cucumber Sticks In Your Bra.
No, I haven’t heard back from them and, yes, it was a long and messy process this road to Peking Duck-ness – almost Nanna’s kryptonite.
Not that Gok’s roast duck and plum sauce recipes were the culprits. They were both reasonably simple and extremely delicious.
But I almost lost the will to live during the Chinese pancake-making thing. It took FOREVER.
If your Grandpa hadn’t woken up and waved another bottle of wine under my nose I reckon I would’ve been a goner.
Your Grandpa actually had to have a 30-minute ziz during this latest culinary adventure.
Not because of the lengthy preparation process (although that didn’t help), but because he’d got out of bed before dawn to drive up Mt Melville and take photos of the sun rising over Albany, then he’d run around taking pics of the Australia Day citizenship ceremony at the council offices.
Unsurprisingly, by 7.34pm he was buggered.
His sunrise photos, though, are stunning. Here are three of them.

Photo by Leith Phillips

Photo by Leith Phillips

Photo by Leith Phillips

Photo by Leith Phillips

Photo by Leith Phillips

Photo by Leith Phillips

Next up is a picture of what your thumbs look like after they’ve prised open 16 very hot, thin Chinese pancakes to make 32 even thinner ones (the words “painful” and “shit, shit, shit” more or less cover this last stage of what is basically a 357-step process).

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I’ve decided that my next challenge on the culinary front will be to make a chocolate cake using nothing but three cherry tomatoes and a potato masher.
I suspect it might be easier.
That said, in a minute I’ll give you the instructions for Poppa Wan’s Easy Peking Duck.
In the meantime here’s some BREAKING NEWS (well, not technically “breaking” because I’ve already done it once):
If you live in regional WA you can listen to me chat about a recipe on ABC Radio’s WA Regional Drive show with Barry Nicholls.
I started last week and I’ll be on every Thursday at 5.45pm in a segment called What’s For Tea?
Barry, the Regional Drive show’s presenter, is a father of four kids under the age of 8.
Thursday is his night for cooking dinner apparently.
Edit: Oops, I’m actually on once a month. I’ll let you know when my next segment is.

One year ago on this blog: Curried Glut

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POPPA WAN’S EASY PEKING DUCK WITH PLUM SAUCE AND CHINESE PANCAKES

From Gok Cooks Chinese by Gok Wan

Serves 4

The duck
Buy yourself a 2kg duck from the supermarket and pat it dry with paper towels.
Leave the neck attached.
Sprinkle the inside of the cavity ALL AROUND with 3 teaspoons of five-spice powder. This is not easy. Swearing is just about compulsory.
Into the cavity, stuff  2 star anise, 1 peeled onion cut into 8 wedges, 2 spring onions and 4 peeled cloves of garlic that you’ve bashed with the flat side of your knife, and a 5cm piece of ginger that’s been peeled and sliced.
It’s a tight fit but you’ll manage to get it all in with a bit of pushing and shoving.
Close the cavity as tightly as possible by pulling the skin together and threading a bamboo skewer through it to secure it.
Grab another skewer and prick the duck all over. Make sure you do this lots and lots of times – more than you think you should probably do – so the fat runs out and bastes the duck.
Grind some salt over the skin and put the duck on a rack in a deep roasting tin.
Roast it in a 180C oven for 1 hour then increase the temperature to 220C and cook until the duck is done (the recipe says 25 minutes but mine took another hour, during which time I lowered the temp again – it still tasted good).
Let the duck rest on the bench top for 15 minutes while you self-flagellate with a wire whisk because, like a moron, you decided to make your own Chinese pancakes from scratch.

The plum sauce
This is fab.
Grab a medium saucepan and into it put 4 stoned and roughly chopped plums, 1 tablespoon water, ½ teaspoon of five-spice powder, half a de-seeded and chopped fresh red chilli, 1 tablespoon each of honey, light soy sauce and Chinese rice wine, 1 crushed clove of garlic, 2 rounded teaspoons brown sugar, ½ teaspoon ground white pepper and half a star anise (you’ll find a broken one down the bottom of the packet).
Bring to the boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 40 minutes, until the plums are very soft (you can add more water if it looks like it might boil dry but I didn’t need any).
Blend with a stick blender until smooth. Adjust to taste with more soy sauce and honey if needed (we liked it just the way it was).

Keeping the pancakes moist until I'm ready to cook them. The kitchen scissors are there in case I want to end it all by gouging my eyes out.

Keeping the pancakes moist until I’m ready to cook them. I don’t know why the kitchen scissors are there. Probably in case I want to end it all by gouging my eyes out.

Cooking the bastards. They puff up and then you have to separate them with your bare hands.

Cooking the bastards one by one. They puff up and then you have to separate them into two. With your bare hands. While they’re still hot.

Keeping them warm in a steamer. An hour of my life I'll never get back.

Keeping them warm in a steamer. An hour of my life I’ll never get back.

The Chinese pancakes
Buy them.
If you’re a masochist who wants to make your own, you’ll find the recipe I used here.
If I ever make Gok’s Peking Duck again (Look! There goes a flying pig!), I’ll serve the duck and plum sauce with Chinese broccoli or something.

How to eat it
Cut up the duck meat and put it on serving plate. Put the plum sauce in a bowl.
Thinly slice some spring onions and cut a cucumber into matchsticks. Put these on another serving plate.
To eat, spread some plum sauce on a pancake, top it with some spring onion, some cucumber sticks and some duck, roll it up and put it in your mouth.
Be prepared for some of it to fall into your bra.

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HAPPY AUSTRALIA DAY

Sheep looking happy in Goomalling

Sheep looking happy in Goomalling. It’s obviously not Australia Day.

Dear Amelia,
Much as you wouldn’t want to be a turkey at Christmas, you definitely wouldn’t want to be a lamb on Australia Day.
Woolies was packed to the rafters with dead ones this week, or various bits and pieces of them, including full legs at $10 off.
I don’t know when this “tradition” of eating lamb on our national day started but I suspect it wasn’t very long ago (in fact I think it’s only been a “tradition” since 2005 when the Meat and Livestock marketing people teamed up with Aussie loudmouth Sam Kekovich and bombarded us with lamb ads).
I asked your Grandpa what he wanted for our Australia Day dinner tonight and he said Peking Duck, and while I don’t usually reward him for being a smart-arse, that’s what we’re having.
He kindly found me an “easy” recipe in Gok Cooks Chinese, a really terrific book from the lovely Gok Wan of TV’s How to Look Good Naked fame.

gok wan
I say “really terrific book” but I haven’t actually cooked anything from it yet.
What I HAVE done is read it from cover to cover, so at least it’s a start.
For the Peking Duck, Gok says to buy a pack of duck pancakes at the supermarket.
Hahahahahahaha.
So I’m going to have to make my own using a recipe off the Internet (only three ingredients but a difficult-sounding rolling technique – alcohol may have to be applied to mouth).
Seeing as Peking Duck isn’t very Australian, I thought I should also make the effort to bake some pumpkin scones.
The recipe is from the 1970 edition of the Australian Women’s Weekly Cookbook, which was given to me as a wedding present in 1974 by a lady called Ali Mealey, who was a neighbour of your Great Grandma and Grandpa in Bunbury.
The Mealeys were a big boisterous family of carnival people (they set up their amusement stalls at country shows all over the State) and Ali had a heart of pure gold.
This book has been so well used, the dust jacket actually disintegrated and then the entire hard cover dropped off.
It’s THE go-to book if you want to make Strawberry Hazlenut Gateau, which I have done on many occasions over the years but not lately because it contains obscene amounts of whipped cream.
It’s made up of layers of hazelnut meringue sandwiched together with melted chocolate, whipped cream and sliced strawberries, then covered with more whipped cream and strawberries.
Here’s a pic of it from my AWW Cookbook.

strawberry hazlenut gateau
But back to the scones…
Before you start, you need to know two of the Australian Women’s Weekly set-in-stone scone rules from 1970:
1. Cut sharply and evenly with your scone cutter. Don’t twist it.
2. Never cut a cooked scone with a knife – always break it open with your fingers.
I’ve got no idea why you have to do this, or what will happen to you if you don’t.
That’s because I’ve never been one to tempt fate.
Even as a kid I wouldn’t wear blue and green without a colour in between.
I didn’t step on a crack until I was 23.

 

One year ago on this blog: Echidna Pavlova

 

pumpkin scone

PUMPKIN SCONES

Makes about 12

30g softened butter
¼ cup caster sugar
1 cup cooked, mashed pumpkin (about 340g)
1 egg
2½ cups self-raising flour
pinch salt
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ – ½ cup milk, depending on dryness of pumpkin

Preheat oven to 230C.
Beat butter and sugar together.
Add pumpkin and mix well.
Fold in sifted dry ingredients alternately with ¼ cup milk.
If necessary, add remaining milk to make a soft but not sticky dough.
Turn mixture on to a floured surface and knead lightly.
Pat out to 2cm thickness and cut out scones with a floured 5cm cutter.
Place the scones in a greased 28x18cm lamington/slice tin and glaze the tops with a little milk.
Bake scones for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.
Cool the scones uncovered on a wire rack if you like firm, crisp tops.
Wrap them in a tea towel as soon as they come out of the oven if you prefer them soft.

pumpkin scones


A NEW YEAR, A NEW BABY AND A NICE BIT OF DUCK

Xmas 2012 kitchen small

Dear Amelia,
Welcome to 2013 and your very own bubblegum pink kitchen, which you were supposed to get for your birthday in September but it didn’t arrive in time.
When it did arrive in October – flat-packed in a cardboard box – it occurred to us for the first time that it would have to be built from scratch.
And that it would be like assembling your portable cot (aka thatstupidfuckingthing) but multiplied by a million.
This realisation was so traumatic, we decided not to think about it again until Christmas.
Long story short: If you had any doubts about your Grandpa’s devotion to you, this kiddy kitchen and its 147 individual screws should dispel them once and for all.
It took him four and a half hours to assemble the damn thing and he didn’t swear once – an incredible indicator of personal growth if you ask me.

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The fact that you kept jumping up and down and clapping your hands and shouting, “Wow! Look Nanna! Wow!” certainly helped things along.
So did the hugs when times got tough.

Ella the Wonderdog asserting ownership of your Grandpa via the time-honoured dog practice of putting a paw on his testicles

You’ll notice that Ella the Wonderdog is asserting ownership of your Grandpa via the time-honoured dog practice of putting a paw on his testicles

Uncle Paul pitched in as well, letting you eat his T-shirt until you were able to cook something more substantial on your new stovetop.

Amelia2
Here are some pictures of the lovely Christmas table your Mum set.
Christmas2012_6
Christmas2012_7

Finally, here’s a picture of your Mum getting dinner ready while your Dad attends to the important business of opening a six-pack of beer.
You’ll notice your Mum is a slightly different shape.
That’s because of your baby brother, who is due to enter this world in May.
I KNOW! It’s so exciting.

Christmas2012_3_1
We had a wonderful Christmas with you all but we were very glad to get back to the cool weather of Albany.
Perth had its longest December heatwave in 70 years while we were staying up there: 39.6C on Christmas Day, 40.5C the following Saturday, bloody awful in between.
When we were driving home on Boxing Day, the temperature as we passed through Williams was 39C. By the time we got to Albany it was 22C. Bliss.
On New Year’s Eve we partied like it was 1999, your Grandpa and I, 1999 being the year after 1998, which was the last time we actually went out to a NYE party.
Our tradition now is to stay at home, eat good food, drink French champagne, sing very badly and loudly, dance around the lounge room, then pass out at half past ten.
We had beautiful Albany oysters with the first bottle of Veuve, then a really delicious duck dish, then ice cream with home-made strawberry topping (I was supposed to make berry clafoutis but I was too buggered).
The duck recipe looks like major work but it’s actually very simple.
Just grind your spices and make your sauce beforehand.
The rest comes together really quickly.
You’ll find the original recipe for this dish here.
It requires you to perform surgery on two whole ducks (no thanks) and add cornflour to the sauce (no need).
It also adds cinnamon and salt to the spice rub but I forgot to put it in (no great loss – it was still delicious).
I served this with sauteed potatoes and a salad that included homegrown rocket, mizuna, parsley and chives.

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SPICED DUCK WITH GINGER GLAZE
From a recipe by JeanMarie Brownson, Chicago Tribune

Serves 4


4 duck breasts
Spice rub, see recipe below
Ginger glazing sauce, heated, see below

handful of fresh parsley, roughly chopped 



Pat the duck breasts dry with paper towels.
Sprinkle the spice rub on a big dinner plate and coat the duck breasts lightly on each side.
Put the breasts on a rack set over a plate or baking dish (this will catch any drips of blood), cover and put in the fridge for 1 hour or up to 24 hours.
Make the Ginger Glazing Sauce before you cook the duck breasts. Reheat it when the duck breasts are in the oven.
Pre-heat oven to 200C. Heat a large ovenproof frying pan (see note) over low heat until hot.
Add breasts, skin side down, in a single layer.
Cook over low heat without turning until skin is crisp and brown, about 10 minutes.
Turn breasts over, put them in the oven and cook until medium rare, about 10 minutes.
To serve, slice the duck breasts, pour over some of the ginger sauce and sprinkle with parsley.
Serve the rest of the sauce separately.
Note: You don’t need to use an ovenproof frying pan. I used an ordinary non-stick frying pan and then transferred the duck breasts to a hot baking dish (I put the baking dish in the oven when it was pre-heating).
Even though I cooked this for two instead of four, I still made the full amount of sauce. Because we’re greedy pigs. And because the ginger marmalade was on special at Woolies.

SPICE RUB
1 heaped tbsp whole coriander seeds
1 star anise
1 tsp whole cloves

Grind everything in an electric spice mill/coffee grinder or mortar and pestle until you have a fine-ish powder.

GINGER GLAZING SAUCE
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 tbsp butter
½ cup dry white wine
1½ cups low-salt chicken stock
4 tbsp (1/3 cup) ginger marmalade
2 tsp balsamic vinegar (or more to taste)
freshly ground salt and pepper

Cook shallots in butter in a saucepan over medium heat until golden, about 3 minutes.
Stir in the wine and boil until it’s reduced to a glaze, about 3 minutes.
Stir in the stock and simmer until reduced by half, about 20 minutes.
Add the ginger marmalade, balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste, and stir until the marmalade is incorporated and the sauce is hot.

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TODDLER MASTERCHEF

Dear Amelia,
Look what Nanna got you for your second birthday next month.
As I write, it’s winging its way to Albany from the USA, courtesy of Fishpond, which had it reduced from $245 to $101 WITH FREE POSTAGE!
You love helping to cook even though you’re such a little thing. You’ll be beside yourself when you see it.


I just hope that when you’re 35 and you’re reading this blog post, you’ll look up into the ether (which, unfortunately, is where Nanna will be unless she lives to be 92) and say, “Well, Nan, that kiddy kitchen is what put me on the road to my multi-million-dollar cookbook and cooking show deal, not to mention my boutique vineyard with rich husband and unbearably chic bistro attached.”
Or whatever.
This celebrity chef obsession may not last another 33 years.
Who knows? Maybe by the time you’ve grown up, people won’t want to be foodies any more.
Maybe squash players will have made a comeback. Or people will want to be graphic designers again. Or disco dancers.
To be honest, whatever you want to do is fine by me.
But just in case foodies are here to stay, here are a few tips on how to be a ridgy-didge, card-carrying one.
First up, you mustn’t ever buy things, you must source them, and whatever you source must be called “produce”.
Quality is paramount, so everything should be be free-range, organic, seasonal and locally produced and preferably from a farmers’ market, farm-gate food stall, market gardener, orchardist, local fisherperson, enthusiastic smallholder or anywhere else you spot wall-to-wall wankers carrying string bags.
That means no garlic from Argentina and no frozen peas, even if you’ve just worked nine hours straight and are absolutely buggered.
Learn how to pronounce bruschetta. Make risotto. Shave a truffle.
Find out what sous vide means and who Cheong Liew is (clue: not an Asian toilet).
Remember: Nothing says “foodie” like a fridge full of dead dicky birds that are really difficult to source.
I’m talking about guinea fowl, partridge, snipe or even the occasional pink-eared duck.
Here is a picture of the pink-eared duck, which, according to Field and Game Australia Inc, is available for recreational hunting in Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territory.


Here is a picture of what it would look like if it was cooked in orange sauce.


If you’re unfamiliar with the term dicky bird, click here.
The richly layered lyrics of this song bring back many happy childhood memories for Nanna.
I hope you enjoy them too.
Speaking of dead dicky birds, Nanna cooked the thighs of two of them the other night.
They weren’t free-range, unfortunately, because I haven’t been able to source free-range chicken thighs with skin on and bones in down here in the town that time forgot.
The recipe is Nigella Lawson’s take on a classic dish called Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic.
It uses chicken pieces instead of a whole chook and because the garlic is roasted in its skin, it’s sweet and creamy and not at all overpowering.
It’s a really lovely dish.
Grandpa and I ate it by candlelight then fell asleep in front of a recorded episode of Boardwalk Empire.
Who said romance is dead?

CHICKEN WITH 20 CLOVES OF GARLIC

Serves 2

You’ll find Nigella’s recipe for 4 people here, or in her book, Kitchen, on page 328.
For two people I halved the amount of chicken and garlic but kept the same amount of vermouth for the sauce.

First you preheat the oven to 180C and find a casserole dish that takes 4 skin-on, bones-in chicken thighs in one layer.
It needs to have a lid and be suitable for use on top of the stove as well as in the oven.
Next, finely slice three spring onions, strip the leaves from two sprigs of thyme and separate 20 cloves from a couple of bulbs of garlic (but don’t peel them).
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil over high heat in the casserole dish and cook the chicken thighs on the skin side only until they’re brown.
Remove them to a bowl, lower the heat a little and fry the spring onions and thyme leaves for a couple of minutes.
Chuck in 10 garlic cloves, put the chicken thighs on top (skin-side up), then top these with the other 10 garlic cloves and two whole sprigs of thyme.
Pour 30ml of vermouth or white wine into the pan (I used vermouth) and any chicken juices from the bowl.
Season with salt and pepper, cover with a lid and cook in the oven for 1½ hours.
I served this with mash and some Torbay asparagus that your Grandpa sourced at the local farmers’ market.
It was the first of the season. Wonderful stuff.


A TALE OF TWO NOODLES

Dear Amelia,
I’ve been making Duck Noodles forever.
The recipe is adapted from a Women’s Weekly recipe for Duck Kway Teow, where “kway teow” means “rice noodles” (or if it doesn’t, blame Ask.com).
You can make it in a wok or in a big electric frypan, the electric frypan being useful if you ever have to cook in the spare bedroom for two months because your kitchen has been gutted.
(You may have noticed when you visit that the scent of oyster sauce still lingers around the chest of drawers in your room).
Duck Noodles tastes truly spectacular when you make it with half a roast duck from a Chinese bbq shop, which I can’t do any more because Chinese bbq shops are thin on the ground down here (actually, they’re non-existent).
I use the Luv-a-Duck vacuum packs instead and they work really well, plus they keep in the fridge for months.
Your Grandpa loves Duck Noodles so much, we used to do the 106km-round trip to Denmark (the town, not the country, more’s the pity) to buy the Luv-a-Duck Chinese-style Roast Half Ducks in the supermarket there.
Bloody ridiculous, even for us.
Luckily, you can now get the Luv-a-Duck duck shanks here in Albany, and they’re fine.
If this hadn’t happened, we would’ve had to investigate the wildlife down at Eyre Park.
Yes! The ones you like to feed.

I’ll soon be using Erawan brand dried rice noodles to make this because I can no longer get Wokka vacuum-packed Cantonese flat noodles, which are really quick to prepare AND they actually separate when you pour over boiling water and stir with two forks.
Unfortunately, in keeping with its policy of giving its customers the shits whenever possible, our local Woolies no longer stocks Wokka flat noodles and I’m down to my last packet.
Two words of warning before you go any further: duck farts.

DUCK NOODLES

Serves 3 adults

½ roast duck from a Chinese bbq shop
or
1 Luv-a-Duck Chinese-style Roast Half Duck
or
1 Luv-a-Duck Chinese-style Roast Duck Shanks (2 per pack)
250g dried rice noodles – medium thickness
1 tbsp oil (peanut or vegetable)
1 bunch spring onions
½ bunch English spinach
2 tbsp (40ml) soy sauce
2 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tsp brown sugar
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tsp sambal oelek
bunch of chives (optional)

Remove duck meat from bones and slice into smallish bits.
Chop off the top half of the spring onions and put them in the bin. Slice the rest thinly.
Wash the English spinach well and squeeze dry. Bunch the leaves together, roll them up and slice roughly.
Prepare/cook noodles according to packet directions, strain into a colander and rinse under cold running water until cold. Leave them to drain.
Put the soy and oyster sauces, the brown sugar, garlic and sambal oelek into a small bowl and mix well.
Heat the oil in a wok or electric frypan on high heat.
When it’s smoking, add the duck meat and spring onions and stir-fry for a couple of minutes.
Next add the spinach and stir-fry until just wilted.
Lower the heat a little and tip in the noodles and the bowlful of sauce ingredients, stirring everything around until it’s combined and nice and hot.
Ladle into bowls and snip chives over the top. Serve immediately.