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.

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MOROCCAN GLUT WITH COUSCOUS

Dear Amelia,
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

Serves 4

1 cup instant couscous
1½ cups boiling water
olive oil
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.


PRAWNS THE SECOND WAY

Dear Amelia,
More prawns! It’s the promised second recipe and it’s called Prawn and Prosciutto Ravioli.
I suppose it’s really a special-occasion dish because even though it’s not difficult, it does involve a bit of faffing around.
It’s also a Nanna creation, in that I combined about four different recipe ideas.
The garlic butter recipe is pinched from a top New Zealand chef called Adam Newell, who has won a Michelin star for his restaurant, Zibibbo.
Like all celebrity chefs worth their salt, Adam has an “absolute passion for food”.
At least that’s what it says on the fly-leaf of his cookbook, A Consuming Passion, which was given to me by your Great Uncle Gerard and his partner, Mignon, and is an excellent read.
In case you’re thinking of being a celebrity chef when you grow up, I should warn you that you will have to have “an absolute passion for food” every minute of every single day.
When you’re a celebrity chef, you’re never allowed to say things like, “I’m really tired and I couldn’t give a shit about the confit.”
Or, “Fuck seasonality. I want to eat strawberries in winter.”
You’re only allowed to say things like that when you’re like me and all you want to do is cook something nice, then eat it, then fall asleep in front of the telly.
A word on pasta machines.
I bought one 10 years ago and have never used it.
So, every time a chef on TV uses one to make pasta, your Grandpa says, “There’s a good idea, Michele. Why don’t you buy one of those?”
He thinks this is funny, but after 10 years it’s wearing a bit thin.
So I’ve decided that when I do use the pasta machine for the first time, I’m going to put your Grandpa’s fingers through the rollers.
In the meantime, I make ravioli with those wonton wrappers you buy in Chinese supermarkets (or, if you live in Albany, at Mariella’s Deli).
For this recipe I use the round gyoza skins so you get a nice half-moon shape, but if you can’t get hold of any, just use the square wonton wrappers and fold them into a triangle.
The ravioli are dead easy to make and just about everything is done in a food processor.
You can also make the garlic butter a day or even a week ahead.

PRAWN AND PROSCIUTTO RAVIOLI

Makes about 32 (enough for 4-6 people)

For the garlic butter (don’t panic, you won’t use all of this)
100g butter, softened
100ml extra virgin olive oil
handful flat-leaf parsley
2 cloves garlic
salt and pepper to taste
For the ravioli
Packet of gyoza skins or wonton wrappers
500g raw king prawns, peeled
50g prosciutto (about 4 slices), chopped
1 spring onion
salt and pepper
Other stuff
20 or so grape tomatoes (Nanna grows her own)
Another handful of parsley, chopped finely

To make the garlic butter, put all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until the parsley is chopped.
You won’t use all the garlic butter, so put what’s left in a tightly sealed container in the fridge.
It will keep for a couple of weeks and is great for garlic bread or on top of spuds or barbecued steak or fish.
To make the ravioli, wipe out the food processor bowl and drop in the prawn flesh and chopped prosciutto.
Pulse it until it’s all chopped up.
Finely chop the spring onions and mix them into the prawn mixture along with a little salt and pepper.
Fill a big pot with salted water and bring it to the boil while you’re assembling the ravioli.
To do this, first put some water in a small bowl.
Next, lay a gyoza skin on your chopping board and put a heaped teaspoonful of prawn mixture in the middle (see pic at end of recipe).
Dip your finger in the bowl of water, wet around the entire edge of the skin and then fold it over and press the edges together tightly to seal, pressing out any air as you go.
Repeat until all the prawn mixture is used up.
Cook the ravioli in the pot of boiling water for about 3 minutes.
While they’re cooking, fry the tomatoes in a big frypan in a little of the garlic butter.
When the ravioli are cooked, fish them out with a slotted spoon and put them in the frypan with the tomatoes, along with as much of the garlic butter as you think your arteries will stand (basically you need just enough to coat the ravioli).
Heat everything up for a couple of minutes then serve in big bowls sprinkled with the extra chopped parsley.
This is really nice eaten with broccolini.