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Can’t stop cookin’

I could give up chocolate but I’m not a quitter.
~ Author Unknown

It’s so difficult to stop cooking!!!

Made a modified version of spiced brownie this morning – recipe courtesy Smitten Kitchen.

This one has a lethal amount of chocolate (partially hidden in the photo), butter, paprika, cardamom, cinnamon, cocoa. Sweet and moist…

It’s still a little difficult to think about what to cook without a recipe to guide me, but I feel myself getting a little more comfortable slowly with cooking – able to modify recipes and substitute things to avoid massive grocery bills – able to judge better when a cake is done – always having fun in the kitchen, amidst a few inevitable frustrating moments.

I think I’m coming to trust myself a little more now with recipes too, with folding and whisking, letting things work themselves out – and I find that this attitude extends a little more into life sometimes… sometimes I catch myself being so calm that I wonder where the old jumpy impatient me has gone. I still explode in accordance with my natural crazy passionate self – but at least I have a little more calm in my heart, too.

Cooking then, I think, is so good like that – like dancing. It’s art and expression, learning, exercising freedom, tripping over, getting up again – and just laughing throughout the process. Sometimes alone, sometimes with others. But you practise more with yourself and once you’re ok with laughing and crying comfortably alone, you have alot more fun. Both cooking and dancing do so much for my soul and teach me valuable lessons on how to live.

Here’s to a good week.

Dinner for 10

If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony.
~ Fernand Point

At my friends’ wedding a few weeks ago, a few of us came up with the idea of having a dinner party sometime. And it happened tonight! In a way that these well-intentioned “we should do…” discussions often never lead to. :-)

Thank God for the power of words, and super friends.

We had an amazing dinner party tonight. 10 of us for dinner, 4 of us to cook (Tim, Matt, Claire, myself). Nice, modern, sleek apartment kitchen to cook in & lounge to dine in (thanks Tim!).

7 dishes were cooked and served, all from the cookbook – 1 repeat (gotta stop repeating the oven-baked fish) and 6 new attempts.

Oven-Baked Fish with Tomato & Parsley – Page 105 (repeat)
and
#18 Chicken, Coconut & Cashew Nut Curry – Page 352
#19 Rice with butter & lemon – Page 356
#20 Carrot Salad with Cardamom, Ginger & Lemon – Page 357
#21 Prawns with Lemon, Peri Peri, Garlic & Feta – Page 102
#22 Lachmajou – Page 159 (topping only, as I have made pitta before)
#23 Lemon Creme Brulee – Page 262

We all did bits and pieces of everything, but I admit I stayed FAR away from the creme brulee, because the recipe was just a little intimidating… so full credit for the wonderfulness of this goes to Tim and Claire (the only thing I dared to do was separate some eggs for the 16 egg yolks required). Matt made the fish tonight, and it looked better than the picture – I certainly did not manage this in my last two attempts of the recipe!

Getting rid of prawn excrement for around 1kg of prawns was probably the most tedious part of the entire cooking process for me. Above is a picture of a prawn sitting perched on the grater…

We decided on who would do what pretty quickly, and then it was a flurry of chopping, frying, whisking, etc…

So it all went well, and time went by fast but not too quickly. And there were moments of relaxation, spilling a few things on the cookbook, laughing, feeling tired… and eating of course. All things necessary for life.

I feel like I want to write so much, about the sound of my friends’ voices and laughter, the sunset outside the window, the way the pools of rainwater splashed the car windows from the ground as we drove through town today, my fear of making creme brulee, the way it felt crumbling feta between my fingers (onto the prawns), the nice focus this cookbook project brings, the way I feel like my friends support my madness of cooking through a book…

About the earthquake that’s happened in Haiti, about the world at large, about the way it makes me feel alive each time I drink plain water, about the seductive nature of cooking, about the great satisfaction I find in feeding people…

About art, psychology, womanhood, books, walking, nature, dreams, thoughts…

But it is getting quite late… and this post already looks so long.

I am gratified to have received a few comments, online and in-person, about this blog – and to see on the blog stats page that I have around 20 readers on average daily!

I was going to share my (slightly modified) version of Tessa’s prawns… but I think I might fall asleep here on my laptop, sitting on the ground – so better roll into bed…

Good night! And have a splendid Sunday.

PS. Re last post, the milk tart turned out OK. :-) Almost like Dan’s.

Cypriot Flat Dinner

I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate.
~ Julia Child

This evening saw the making of 2 Cypriot recipes from “Falling Cloudberries”:
#15 Pitta Bread – Page 183
#16 Sheftalia (Mince Meat Parcels) – Page 179

served with tomatoes, lemon wedges, tzatziki, and tomato-sauce-for-Jono.

Pretty tired right now, so I do not have much to write – but I saw and worked with yeast for the first time ever today in making the pitta bread, and it was fun. The feel of warm foamy yeast and flour running over my fingers was simply amazing. I think I understand why, in this day and age of relatively affordable commercial bread, some people never give up baking their own.

The beginnings of pitta bread dough

Pitta bread dough! All cute and puffy.

Watermelon juice (Matt made this)

Dinner is served – and, big yay for John, Jono & Matt who make dinner more fun.

Leg of lamb, and others

I tried to commit suicide by sticking my head in the oven, but there was a cake in it.
~ Lesley Boone

Today I set myself to play in the kitchen again to prepare dinner for 6 of us – it took around 2.5 hours including cooking time, but there were no complex procedures involved. And the obedient, intelligent oven did most of the work.

I do love ovens, they simplify life so.

Tonight I decided to do 1 new recipe from Tessa Kiros’ “Falling Cloudberries” (leg of lamb), 2 repeats of Tessa-recipes (fish and tzatziki), 1 impromptu salad, 1 impromptu potato dish. The new dish was:

#14 Leg of lamb with oregano & lemon – Page 111 (pictured below)

Bread & tzatziki not pictured here, but this was the main part of our dinner. The lamb was easy enough, marinaded simply with oregano, lemon juice, salt, pepper – browned quickly then baked for 2.5 hours with the potatoes for company – it emerged brown and victorious, but not soft as they make it in good restaurants in New Zealand where the meat is just falling off the bone like clouds in heaven. Hmmm! Will have to work on that one.

This simple salad consisted just of orange zest, orange cubes, watercress & lettuce leaves, cucumber slices. Served with balsamic cream and olive oil on the side. A good mix, I conclude, and an excellent side dish which won’t overpower your main – but I don’t think I’ll try eating watercress salad again (frightful). It reeked so much of ‘grass’ I felt like I was a cow.

These babies… red potatoes, peeled, cut, boiled for around 10 minutes, then dressed with a little olive oil, orange zest, rosemary, black pepper & salt. This tasted light and refreshing. I think it is a good side dish (especially for lamb/chicken) when you are out of ideas and need to make something quickly.

The ling fish fillet was most wonderful – white and innocent, a delight to prepare. This is what it looked like with parsley and a tiny drizzle of olive oil before the rest of the sauce went on it…

The fish was a repeat of the oven-baked tomato, celery & parsley-dressed fish I did not too long ago – except I had to reproduce it from memory, since I do not have my book with me here. I think it tasted better today!

    Recipe adapted from Tessa Kiros’ ‘Falling Cloudberries’:
    Ingredients:
    4 stems celery – would’ve included the leaves, but we had none left
    700g firm white fish – cut into squares/size of your preference
    1 can tomatoes – chopped
    2 fresh tomatoes – chopped
    a handful of fresh chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
    juice of 1 lemon
    4 cloves garlic (adjust this to your preference), finely chopped
    1 shallot, sliced
    salt & pepper to taste
    olive oil
    Simple, simple method:
    Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C. Lay a deep baking tray with foil, and coat it thinly with a little olive oil. Lay the fish out in a single layer.

    Combine all other ingredients in a bowl, stirring it gently until it combines in an even mix. Pour this over the fish.

    Cover the tray with foil, and bake for 15-20 minutes.

    Remove the foil, and bake uncovered for another 15-20 minutes. It should smell very fragrant and the fish should be juicy and very tender.

    Serve with crusty bread/salad/both.

Summer Winter Dinner

If a pot is cooking, the friendship will stay warm.
~ Arab Proverb

Good company for dinner is one of the best pleasures in life. I had that this evening :-)

I begin to surprise myself now with the way I think I am actually getting into this Cook-through the Cookbook thing… I fear I may even be mildly – just mildly – addicted to it! Hmm. In any case, tonight’s recipes of choice from “Falling Cloudberries” were:

#11 Tava (Cypriot Baked Lamb & Potatoes with Cumin & Tomatoes) – Page 173
#12 Baked Amaretti & Vin Santo Plums with Mascarpone Cream – Page 326

And I’ll admit it, I cheated and edited the recipes.

Since we got home pretty late, I didn’t want to spend 2.75 hours cooking the lamb & potatoes! So I par-boiled the potatoes and browned the lamb, reducing the cooking time by around 1.75 hours. I was also skeptical of just using cumin, so I added in cinnamon and paprika.

This is what it looked like pre-baking:

And here it is on a plate… not a great photo I’m afraid! (No angles would make it look appetizing). It did taste far better than it looks in the picture. It was also a ‘wintry’ meal perfect for today’s grey weather. However… I did not think it was fantabulous.

Dessert, on the other hand…

You know how sometimes it feels like only chocolate cake or tiramisu or sticky date pudding count as ‘real’ desserts?

I did not need cake at all tonight. Because, these peaches, and the mascarpone cream, were delectable.

Substitutions: I used peaches instead of plums, oat biscuits because the supermarket did not have amaretti biscuits, a mixture of Spiced Gold & Kahlua because we did not have vin santo.

Fancy Home Dining

Although I cannot lay an egg, I am a very good judge of omelettes.
~George Bernard Shaw

    Ingredients:
    5 minutes
    some olive oil
    2 eggs
    handful of chopped parsley
    knobs of havarti cheese
    mixed herbs
    salt + pepper to taste
    bread (I used some leftover sourdough)
    asparagus
    All ingredients can be substituted with food you feel like eating on the day, and what you have on hand.
    Always use a fork and knife, even for the most casual and underdressed of foods. It makes it all very different.
    Method to my madness:
    Drizzle olive oil into the pan. Sprinkle with mixed herbs. Crack eggs in when the oil is hot.
    While the eggs are cooking, slice the bread and dress with thin knobs of cheese. Arrange asparagus stalks on the side.
    Eggs should now be ready. Put these on top of the cheese. Season with fresh parsley, salt and pepper to taste.

It is fancy dining at home, summertime food and all. Delicious, and very simple.

Tired now from a day of walking in the seriously BLUSTERY windy countryside (but the spread of beauty was amazing and made it worthwhile). And for now, sunset to watch, book to read & eggs to eat make me a heartily happy girl.

PS. Happy New Year readers, whoever you are! (Gladly my visitor counter on the sidebar does let me know I HAVE readers…… yippee). Leave a comment or 2 in the new year won’t you, so I can say hello back? ;-)

Simple

In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity.
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

It has not happened before. I have not heard my heart speaking to me about what to eat before! But I am pretty sure that is what happened tonight. A most absurd, insistent, calm, compelling voice which I did not dare disobey: “Prawn and celery soup”.

Weird… I know…

So I picked up a few gifts of Turkish Delight & hot chocolate, some Vaseline for my mosquito-bite-infested face (yes, it’s as bad as it sounds), the ingredients for my supposed soup which I hadn’t made before, and on a whim, a tub of woodsmoked mussels.

It was a good 40 minute walk home from the sups, and I listened to Yanni and Phantom of the Opera and songs from the Nutcracker Suite on the way home. (If music be the food of love, play on indeed!) The houses and trees and streets looked so beautiful in the paling sunlight.

I was so glad for the mussels, as I was pretty hungry by the time I got home! I squeezed some lemon on them, added a little parsley – they were delicious as hell. I ate them while I smashed the lemongrass stalk, chopped half a shallot and 2 cloves of garlic, ginger.

    Recipe for my impromptu soup (a hearty dinner, plus leftovers)
    Ingredients:
    1 lemongrass stalk, smashed (to release flavour)
    small knob of ginger
    1/2 lime
    1/4 celery, sliced
    7 brown button mushrooms, sliced
    150g prawns
    2 cloves garlic (lightly smashed)
    1/2 shallot (chopped)
    1/2 medium saucepan-ful of water
    approximately 2 tbsp soy sauce
    dribble of sesame oil
    dribble of mirin
    Method to my madness:
    Bring water to boil. Add ginger and smashed lemongrass stalk, and leave to continue boiling for a few minutes.
    Meanwhile, briefly fry, in another pan, shallot and garlic in a bit of oil – I used olive oil.
    Add fried shallot + garlic, celery and mushrooms to the saucepan. Also add in soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil – to your taste. Cover and let boil for more minutes.
    Lastly, add the prawns in. When they are cooked (it doesn’t take long), the soup is ready.

It’s not as flavourful as the soups you cook for hours (my Grandma is very skilled in the art of these soups) – but it really is deeply satisfying.

Time to get on with the rest of my night… ciao-ciao.