HERBS, SPICES AND SPINNING TOPS

Dear Amelia,
It’s International Top Spinning Day on Wednesday.
I mention this because I have a spinning top I bought at a shop called Chapels on Whatley last time we were up in Perth.
The string that spins my spinning top was pre-wound but seeing as you were kind enough to unwind it last time you visited (you were like greased lightning – Nanna didn’t stand a chance), I had to go on YouTube to find out how to fix it up.
Luckily, you can Google all sorts of things these days and it’s amazing what you find.
In this case it was a helpful American man with tattooed legs.


What this man doesn’t know about spinning tops you could engrave on a gnat’s toenail, which is probably why 40,220 people have watched his spinning-top tutorial.
Not that it did me much good. I got the hang of the string-winding procedure but was hopeless with the actual throwing and spinning bit.
Thank God I know how to change a light bulb because at least I was able to take part in Change A Light Day, which was today, as was You Matter To Me Day.
Later this month we can look forward to World Porridge Day, Be Bald and Be Free Day, and Chucky The Notorious Killer Doll Day.
All up, there are more than 150 specially named “Days” during October, most of them in the US.
I asked your Grandpa what he would choose if he could name his own Day and he said International Who Gives A Shit Day.
He’s out of sorts because he forgot that it was Global James Bond Day on Friday.
But seeing as he thought that on Global James Bond Day you were allowed to shoot people rather than just unfriend them on Facebook, it’s probably a good thing his memory isn’t what it used to be.
It’s obvious that every special-interest group and its dog is hopping on this “Day” bandwagon, so seeing as I’m a special-interest group (I’m especially interested in me) I’ve decided that from now on, today will be called International Make Your Own Herb and Spice Mix Day.
When it came to choosing a name for today it was either that or International Do the Washing, Change the Sheets and Sweep the Floor Day, because basically they were the only other things I did.
I was inspired to make my own herb and spice mixes by these two people.
1. Mignon, my friend and your Great Aunty, who (obviously!) I know.
2. Kiran from Kiran’s Cooking Club, who I don’t know but who has a beautiful-looking blog that you’ll find here.
Mignon is an excellent cook and the only person I know who can say, “I’m passionate about food,” without sounding like a wanker.
She’s started an online store selling natural (as in no nasty added bits) freeze-dried and powdered fruits and other really good things.
It’s called Tastebom and you’ll find it at www.tastebom.com.
Here’s a picture of some of the Tastebom products Mignon gave me to experiment with when she came down to Albany from Perth last week.


I started with the Tasmanian dried lavender you see to the right of the photo and made my own Herbes de Provence mix, Herbes de Provence being unavailable down here in the town that time forgot.
Then I used the Herbes de Provence to make Nigella’s St Tropez Chicken.
Spurred on by herby success and the fact that Kiran is Indian and has his own food company, I then made garam masala using this recipe on his blog.
I want to make a Chicken and Spinach Curry, and authentic garam masala is an essential ingredient.
I’ll post the curry recipe another day but in the meantime here’s a picture of the garam masala mix and the ingredients that go into its making.

The smell in the kitchen when you make this is fabulous

Unsurprisingly, after all the mixing, cooking and futile top-spinning, Nanna was a bit buggered.
But as luck would have it, tomorrow has just been declared If You’re Called Michele You’re Allowed To Do Nothing Day.

HERBES DE PROVENCE

Makes 3½ tbsps (using 20ml tbsps)

If you look on the Internet you’ll find a million recipes for this. Ideally it should include dried savory but I couldn’t find any so I substituted dried sage and dried basil.

1 tbsp dried thyme
1 tbsp dried savory (or 2 tsp dried sage and 2 tsp dried basil)
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried lavender
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp fennel seeds

Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

NIGELLA LAWSON’S ST TROPEZ CHICKEN

This is a seriously delicious dish.
The original recipe calls for a large chicken jointed into 10 pieces but there’s no way you can cook a chicken breast for almost 2½ hours without it being as dry as sticks. Believe me, I’ve tried.
In order to succeed, you’d need breasts that were resistant to nuclear attack and carved from Dolly Parton’s bigger-breasted sister.

Serves 6

10 chicken pieces (bone in, skin on, preferably thighs, drumsticks and wings)
juice of 1 lemon
60ml olive oil
60ml honey
60ml white wine
2 cloves garlic, bruised
1 tbsp Herbes de Provence (but mixed herbs would do)

Put the chicken pieces into a big shallow dish or large zip-lock plastic bag.
Put the lemon juice, oil, honey and wine into a bowl and whisk until the honey is dissolved.
Pour the lemon mixture over the chicken and mix in the garlic and herbs.
Marinate in the fridge, covered, for up to two days (the longer the better).
Preheat the oven to 170C.
Pour the chicken and marinade into a roasting dish, making sure the chicken pieces are skin-side up.
Cover with foil and cook for 1½ to 2 hours (Nigella says 2 but I reckon this is too long).
Remove the foil, turn the heat up to 220C and cook for another 15 minutes or until the chicken is bronzed and St Tropez-ish.
Remove the chicken to a warm plate, skim the excess fat from the roasting pan, pour in half a cup of wine or water and deglaze the pan juices over a medium heat.
Pour this sauce over the chicken to serve.

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GETTING CLUCKY

Dear Amelia,
I was lying in bed this morning thinking about Beyonce’s pelvic floor.
It’s Mother’s Day tomorrow and I was thinking that if I had never been a mother, I would never have ended up with you.
Then it occurred to me that if I had never been a mother I also wouldn’t wet myself when I sneeze.
Then I wondered if Beyonce is doing her pelvic floor exercises on a regular basis.
Let’s hope so or she’ll end up like me.
It’s Beyonce’s first Mother’s Day this year.
I wonder if she’ll get a cup of tea in bed.
If she does, it won’t be made by her daughter, Blue Ivy, because Blue Ivy is only four months old.
Plus, Blue Ivy is too busy getting her feet photographed.
She has the most photographed feet in the world.


I often wonder what celebrities do on days like Mother’s Day.
Take the Real Housewives of Orange County for example, whose real hair colour can only be discerned by looking at their pubes.

Do they put on a big communal barbecue down at the park so their kids don’t have to go through the trauma of trying to tell them apart?
Or do they think, “Mmmm, I wouldn’t say no to Nigella’s One-Pan Sage and Onion Chicken and Sausage for dinner.”
Which is what I would think, so here’s the recipe.

ONE-PAN SAGE-AND-ONION CHICKEN AND SAUSAGE

Serves 4-6

1 lemon
1 lge onion, cut into eighths
one-third of a cup of olive oil
2 tsp English mustard
1 tbsp dried sage
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
freshly ground black pepper
1 whole chicken cut into 8 pieces (save the backs for stock or chuck them out)
or
8 chicken pieces (must have bone in and skin on)
8 chipolata sausages

Cut the lemon in half, squeeze out the juice, then cut each half into quarters.
Put the lemon juice and the 8 pieces of rind into a big zip-lock freezer bag with the onion, olive oil, mustard, dried sage, Worcestershire sauce and a few grinds of black pepper.
Squelch everything around in the bag until it’s well mixed.
Add the chicken pieces and squelch it around a bit more.
Seal the bag and put it in the fridge to marinate (overnight is best but four hours is enough).
Pre-heat the oven to 200C.
Put the chicken in a big roasting pan, skin-side up, and tip the remaining contents of the bag evenly over the top.
Roast for 30 mins then add the chipolata sausages, tucking them around the chicken pieces.
Cook for another 45 minutes, turning the chipolatas over after 20 minutes so they brown evenly.
Serve on a big platter (chuck out the roasted lemon rinds if you want but they actually taste really nice).
This recipe is cooked at a lower temperature and has less oil and sage than the original recipe, which you’ll find at nigella.com or in her book, Feast.
I also use chicken pieces (thighs and/or drumsticks and/or wings) because I find the chicken breasts from the whole chook get too dry.
Thighs are the best, as Beyonce would no doubt agree.


DONNA HAY, SUPERSTAR

Dear Amelia,
I recently saw a restaurant menu that listed a dish called Prawns Two Ways.
In our house that would mean putting them in your mouth with your right hand AND your left, which we usually do anyway because we love prawns your Grandpa and I.
But it made me think that I should give you two of my favourite prawn recipes.
They’re my favourites because they both involve enough butter to harden every single artery in your body by bedtime, which is why they taste so good.
The first is a recipe for Garlic and Tarragon Prawns that I came across in a Donna Hay magazine I was reading at the hairdressers.
I didn’t feel comfortable tearing it out because I knew I’d probably get caught, so I had to hunt around town for my own copy.
It was in the 10th Anniversary edition, which unfortunately was sold out, but on the up side I now know exactly how many newsagents there are in our little corner of the Great Southern.
I eventually found the mag for free, would you believe, as part of a Donna Hay app for the iPad.
It was obviously in my stars that this recipe and I should be together so I cooked it for all of us for Christmas lunch while you were sitting in your high chair pushing bits of banana in your ear.
The prawns were so totally amazing that despite the fact I think Donna Hay looks disturbingly like Neil Perry (could they be the same person, do you think?), I wrote this grovelling little song for her.
You have to sing it to the tune of Hosanna, one of the hit songs from that old musical, Jesus Christ Superstar.
If you want to check out the original on YouTube, you’ll find it here.

Donna Hay Superstar
Ho Donna
Hey Donna
Donna Donna ho
Donna Hay
Donna ho
Don-naaaa
Hey DH, DH
Can I use crème fraiche?
Donna ho
Donna Hay
Superstar
I was telling a friend in Perth that I was cooking the prawns again on the weekend and she said, “You’re turning the OVEN on? TOMORROW? Are you INSANE?”
Seeing as the summer temperatures here in the deep south are always somewhere between marvellous and exceptional, I’d forgotten it’s so hot in Perth at the moment you could fry an egg on Eric Ripper’s head.
So I reckon if you’re suffering through a heatwave you could always cook the prawns in the garlic butter in a frypan instead of baking them (OK, you’d still have to turn on the oven to roast the garlic but it’s a small price to pay for such deliciousness).
By the way, I grow my own tarragon because that’s what Nannas do.
Feel free to substitute the dried variety, I’m sure it would be fine.

GARLIC AND TARRAGON PRAWNS

Serves 4

1 head garlic, unpeeled
1 tbsp olive oil
60g butter, softened
4 or 5 sprigs of French tarragon, chopped
1 tsp Spencer’s crushed chilli/dried chilli flakes
salt and pepper to taste
24 raw king prawns, peeled, with tails intact
lemon wedges to serve

Preheat the oven to 180C.
If you’ve forgotten to take the butter out of the fridge, microwave it for 10-15 seconds to make it soft.
Place the garlic on a baking tray, drizzle with the oil and roast it in the oven for 20-30 minutes, until soft when squeezed.
While the garlic is roasting, butterfly the prawns by cutting down their backs (but not all the way through) and removing those stringy bits that are their intestinal tracts.
Spread the prawns out flat and put them in a single layer in a big shallow roasting pan (see pic at end of recipe).
When the garlic is cooked, increase the oven temperature to 220C.
Slice the top from the garlic bulb and squeeze the roasted garlic from each clove into a bowl.
Add the butter, tarragon, chilli, salt and pepper and mash everything together with a fork.
Top each butterflied prawn with some of the garlic butter and roast for about 8 minutes until cooked through.
Serve with lemon wedges.