Saturday, November 25, 2006

Slow Roasted Shoulder of Lamb

Well half a shoulder of lamb actually. This is a prime example of the way I use cookbooks - often I enjoy flicking through and absorbing ideas and techniques, but I don't often follow a recipe diligently or really, at all.

I was in the mood for slow cooked lamb and thought shoulder would be a nice change. The last time I cooked this cut on the bone was to make Nigella's Warm Shredded Lamb Sald with Mint and Pomegranate. Now it's quite amazing to think that a dish with three of my favourite ingredients could turn out so ... blah ... but I won't be repeating it any time ever.

However the method struck me as sound and I looked up the recipe again this time. My cupboards were particularly bare (still haven't restocked after move) and so instead of bothering about shallots and carrots, I flung open the fridge and mixed up what came to hand. Which was mostly harissa, with mustard, soy and balsamic. With a bit of honey tipped in for sweetness. It sounds like a bizarre combination, but the aroma drifting through the house was tantalising and half an hour after the meat was in the oven Figman was asking "When can we eat it? Can we eat it now?". He was pretty crushed to hear that it would be at least five hours before we were tucking in.

Nigella cooks her shoulder of lamb at 140C. I heated the oven to 210C and then turned it down to 150C once I put the meat and a cup or two of water in. I wasn't going to leave it in overnight as she recommends and I wanted to eat sometime before midnight. When I pulled the dish out, the outer layer looked almost charred, but appearances were deceptive and the beneath the spicy sauce were delicate shreds of soft tender meat.

While the half shoulder looked large (and was cheap!) the meat yield wasn't massive and this amount only served four comfortably. The Figman and Small One ate theirs with fresh baby carrots from the garden. I pulled some meat off the bone and toasted turkish bread, mixing it all up with green beans and more harissa.

Effortless cooking and a pleasing result. And now that I've got shallots and carrots in my possession again, I could even do it Nigella's way ... or maybe not.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

A Little Lunch By Myself

photo from

On Friday, I found myself unexpectedly in town, pretending to work. I don't work much and what I do, tends to be done from home. But occasionally I have to come into the office and justify my pay packet.

I didn't dream of driving, as much of the CBD was locked down and cordoned off for the G20 summit over the weekend. And when I went off for an early lunch, I decided not to walk across town in search of a tasty meal.

Last week, I decided to pop into David Jones Foodhall, in order to grab something quickly and be back on the job asap. I made the ridiculous mistake of going at proper lunchtime ie 1pm and the place was packed. I stood at the noodle counter for 15 minutes and couldn't even get my order taken. The heavily perspiring chef was growling at people that their orders would be at least 20 minutes. So I thought I'd just grab a plain roll from the bakery. At which point eleven people materialised at the bread counter and took their sweet time.

I left three quarters of an hour after entering, with plain bread and water. Yes, they may have been ciabatta rolls and Fiji spring water, but it was still bread and f*#&ing water, okay?

So when I caught sight of the Bistrot D'Orsay, I decided to treat myself. No $10 quickie noodles today. Bistrot D'Orsay has a handful of wicker tables and chairs on the pavements, but I chose the dark interior of the restaurant instead. And while outside would have been easier for people-watching, the occasional clouds of exhaust and dust would not have been pleasant for my food.

Bistrot D'Orsay is a medium-priced French restaurant, with a consistent 14/20 rating from the Age Good Food Guide. There were several dishes I would have liked to try, however today I plumped for the pan-fried gnocchi with mushrooms, chard and hazelnuts. And a side salad of "rocquette, pear and parmesan".

My reactions to the food were mixed. The gnocchi itself was a dream - browned yet soft, with a consistency that did not fall apart after one bite. I could, and would, have eaten a giant bowl of that by itself. The mushrooms were large peeled slices of field mushroom, perfectly cooked alongside small wilted pieces of chard. There were a few shavings of parmesan and then the hazelnuts. The nuts were a wrong note in this dish. They were skinned, but their texture lacked the creaminess that comes from roasting. Perhaps they had been blanched, but all they did was detract from the overall harmony. I pushed them to the side of the lovely white bowl (I do like unusual crockery in a restaurant) and ate them at the end, so did they irritate me.

The salad was decent, perhaps a little heavy on the balsamic, but with good leaves and ample parmesan. The one thing that puzzled me was the pear. The sweet crunch of pear is required in this salad to offset the sour of the dressing and the sharp of the cheese. And it is seriously cheap - pear costs probably 1/4 the price of the rocket and and 1/10 of the price of parmesan. It therefore makes no sense to stint on it and force the diner to hunt around to find the occasional piece. Maybe their supplier couldn't get through the barricades.

Speaking of which, it was actually quite peaceful on the Friday, although this report says that "At times the Paris end of Collins Street looked more like Paris '68". I saw a straggle of girls in fluro pink tutus waving tambourines. They were escorted by a pack of policemen up the street. Otherwise, apart from the Falun Dafa demonstration, it was remarkably quiet.

: I don't know much about the practice of Falun Gong, apart from reading reports of persecution in China, but I have to say, I have never seen a more peaceful, serene group of mostly middle-aged people. After watching them meditating en masse just off Swanston Street earlier I was surprised by the numbers marching up Collins Street. I had no idea it was so widely followed here.

But apart from this demonstration, it was very much business as usual and I sat watching schoolkids and workers in suits. Shoppers in Melbourne for the day, looking for a quick rest from their Christmas lists.

I don't often eat in public by myself - for starters I usually have the Little One or Figman along. But on Friday I sat back as the plate and glass opposite me were removed. I relaxed, I looked out the window and I enjoyed my food. Being a guest to myself and all that. And I got back to work long before I'd have returned from DJs. A little treat that paid for itself.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

A Bowlful of Happiness

"I think we bought too many cherries" says the Figman, looking over the benchtop to the giant red bowl of dark ones in the sink, the half bag on the counter and the big plastic container full of Bing Cherries.

"How can you say that?" I ask. You remember who we're talking about here, right?

We toddled off to the Collingwood Children's Farmer's Market this morning after being woken incredibly early. It was too early even for the waker, who quickly decided that he did not like dogs, he did not like the flies in his face, and he most decidedly did not like having to walk. (When both of his parents refused to carry him, he flung himself on the dusty straw and howled. F looked at me and said "I remember how I used to look at parents with screaming kids and think why didn't they just control their child? And now ... it's me")

The Little One soon added cherries to his dislike list - he bit into a stone and that was that. It became clear that what he needed was to go back to bed and so we headed home after a pleasant breakfast outside at the nearby Convent Bakery.

At the bakery, I had to ask for a plastic bag as I discovered that when the Cherry Lady says that this type is soft, she means soft. And that the best place to store a kilo of very soft cherries in a paper sack is not in a near-new handbag (the lining will never be the same, but oh well).

After we got home, I emptied half a container into a bowl and rinsed them. And despite the early start, the mis-start (we wound up at Booroondara first under the impression that the market was there today), the cranky baby and the crowds, all was good. Peace, quiet, the paper and a bowl full of cherries. Saturday morning bliss.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Wholemeal Maple Syrup Pancakes

I'm beginning to get back into the blog thing a little bit more now. Not on the post-once-a-day level, but even if I don't write mine, I read other people's and I have progressed to cooking recipes from blogs again.

I used to be mad keen on this, but I've been very busy in the last few months - we fled the country, I have new workesque responsibilities and stuff has been happening, all of which has taken up most of the time I used to spend blogging.

But today we are all at home on holiday and a certain someone sidled up to me and said "The Small One and I would really love it if you made pancakes". I instantly knew which recipe I would follow - I'd seen Niki's adaption of Nic's Wholemeal Pancakes ages ago and wanted to make them ever since.

I'm a bit out of the pancake making groove - the last ones I tried were probably Bill Grainger's Ricotta Hotcakes from Sydney Food, pre-pre-blog. Figman went through a full on pancake obsession at one point and we had them just about every day (with a jug of batter always in the fridge) so I felt quite justified in leaving them alone for a few years.

Niki's version is delightfully easy to make. It all came together so quickly I started to wonder why I didn't whip up a batch of these every weekend for breakfast. Then I stood at the stove and flipped batch after batch and remembered why. The cook gets none (well not if she wants to keep production going). I read about the sorts of households where pancakes are pre-cooked and kept warm in the oven until everyone sits down and eats them together, but this is clearly not my house. It is hard enough trying to keep a stack with melting butter in your grip long enough to take a photo without suggesting that everyone wait for their bounty any longer.

Figman was pestering me for orange juice - he grew up in some parallel universe where they coat pancakes in orange juice and sugar - what the? After I gave him his stack, I wandered into the lounge between flips. He was watching the Melbourne Cup and I began to ask if he wanted me to squeeze a fresh orange over his ... well over where his stack of four pancakes had been precisely 90 seconds ago. (Timing each pancake flip left me very certain of this!)

The wholemeal flour gives these pancakes a heavier, more substantial aspect and a chewiness that's not found with white. I was a little confused at one point when I checked the dry ingredients and thought "what, no sugar?". Wholemeal flour and no sugar is taking things a little far, even for me! But I re-read and the sweetening in these comes from the maple syrup - matching the sweetness in and atop the pancakes.

I've just remembered that I dropped batter from the second-last pancake onto the hob, so I must dash and clean it off before it sets - grrrrrr!

Update: Too late.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Being Perverse

Sometimes you've just got to go for it. When a wilful Small Person has not let anything green pass his lips for, oh say four months, a mother snaps.

Wondering how a child can thrive so clearly on a diet of milk, toast and meat. Bright of eye, glossy of hair and full of mischief and energy. Even his beloved oranges are out and apples have become pseudo bowling balls, to be rolled across the room until he is caught.

So one night, frustrated and tired, I just decided to do my worst. He'd have green for dinner and that was that. I threw some wholemeal spaghetti in a pot, and while it was boiling, I grated a couple of zucchini, skin on. When the pasta was done, I cooked the zucchini shreds briefly with a little olive oil and a jar of basil pesto. Added the spaghetti back to the mix and sprinkled a little cheese.

Now, granted, this dish features pasta and cheese, two of the Small One's favourite foods, but he has fastidiously rejected dinner in the past on the grounds that it contains something as innocuous and pick-aroundable as peas. But he lapped this up and I didn't know what to say.

Two days laster he was back on Green Strike again, but hey, he ate vegetables at least three times this month. For now, I'll take that as a truimph!