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STUFFED MARROW

It’s funny how life throws up little coincidences at times. Whilst we’re all now used to having ads for things we’ve mentioned in conversation pop-up on our insta feeds the next day, it still happens in the analogue world, without the dark forces of Zuckerberg at play.

I mentioned to my wife that I’d kill for a stuffed marrow. They don’t sell them in Australia, you see, and it was a regular family favourite back in the old country.

Two days later, a colleague walks in with a big basket from her garden and says, “does anyone want any overgrown zucchini?”

I took the largest of the bunch and, honestly reader, had butterflies in my tummy as I stuffed it into my locker. It was a whopper. The car suspension was all down on one side as the marrow and I drove home.

Me and me new best mate.

Doing a bit of an internet search for a nice recipe, I came across one from Nigel Slater, who – if I’m honest – I avoid, because he gets on my tits a bit.

Anyway, with a couple of tweaks to suit what I had in the cupboard, it was done.

The marrow itself was a delicious example, with buttery flesh and a thin skin.

And, Nigel Slater, I take it all back. This recipe is a winner.

Ingredients:

1 marrow, cut lengthways, and seeds scooped out.

250g blue/green lentils. (Puy, or Grampians Green, as they seem to be called down here), cooked until soft.

2 onions finely chopped.

Olive oil.

6 tomatoes, finely chopped.

Harissa (or another chilli-based sauce) to taste

Green leaves, chopped (Nigel suggests chard or spinach, but I used beetroot leaves, which I had chopped, blanched and frozen a few weeks prior)

Salt and pepper.

Saute onion in olive oil, until soft and translucent.

Add tomatoes and cook through.

Add harissa and lentils.

Finally add the greens.

Fill the cavities on each half of the marrow and cover with baking paper.

Cook in a medium to hot oven until the marrow is soft.

I stuck some par-boiled spuds cut into small cubes and tossed in olive oil and seasoning in the oven at the same time, to make a nice, starchy accompaniment.

ONION BHAJIS

I’ve been getting towards the end of a sack of onions and there’s quite a few sprouty ones, so I thought I’d use some up by making some onion bhajis.

Really simple to make; really delicious to eat.

INGREDIENTS

3 brown onions, thinly sliced.

Gram flour (also known as besan flour)

Enough water to make a batter the thickness of double cream.

Salt to taste

3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced.

2cm fresh ginger chopped.

Tsp turmeric

Tsp cumin seeds

Chili to taste (I used powder, but chopped fresh green chili would be nice).

Pinch asafoetida.

Lemon juice (I used a big squirt of the bottled stuff).

Oil to fry (I used sunflower)

All you do is mix your ingredients well and fry in batches (180 degrees C is the optimal temperature for crispy bhajis, which are cooked through without being burnt on the outside) until brown and crispy. Try and stop yourself eating them as you cook them. There’s a nice little article on the ins and outs of bhaji making here.

Ready to fry.

I served mine with a sauce of 50/50 soy/coconut yoghurt (any will do, but the coconuttiness was especially nice), dried mint, salt and a little garam masala.

PUNISHMENT SOUP

I like few things more than food shopping. Record shopping has the edge, I s’pose, but I really do enjoy pushing my trolley up and down the aisles of Foodland, spending my lunchbreak in an Afghani grocers or comparing fermented tofu brands in an Asian supermarket.

As a result, I can be a bit of an over-shopper. The cupboards are always well-stocked with all sorts of lovely stuff. Over the past year or so, I’ve tried to rein in the amount of vegetables that go into the compost bin by making what I call my Punishment Soup.

Basically, it’s a soup made using all the veggies which are going soft in the fridge. It’s different every time and always bloody lovely. I tend to freeze it in portions and take it to work to reheat, where people frequently exclaim, “Ooh that smells nice”, and I then feel obliged to explain what it is, which leads to a conversation with my colleagues in my unpaid break time, which, my friends, is The Punishment!

TAHINI DRESSING

Today I found myself with half a jar of light tahini to get rid of, so I came up with the following dressing recipe. Perfect on salads, used as a dip, or as a mayonnaise substitute.

Half a jar of tahini (the light stuff has a milder flavour which lends itself better to this recipe, I reckon).

Glug of olive oil

Half a dozen ice cubes.

Glug of cider vinegar

Dribble of maple syrup.

Tablespoon of Dijon mustard.

Salt

Black pepper.

All you do is blend it all together. Please adjust the quantities to suit your own tastes.

Save it in the fridge for Ron.

Addit: This went quite thick in consistency in the fridge, so I’ve been using it as a kind of mayonnaise in sandwiches. Works well.

PROTEIN BALLS

PROTEIN BALLS HAVE TAKEN OVER FROM THE MACARON. They’re bloody everywhere.

When the historians of the future look back at the early 21st Century, and when they want a break from muttering ‘what the actual fuck’, they will perhaps examine the rise of the protein ball.

Sphere of influence

The internet, whilst it gives untold variations on recipes for protein balls, gives little insight into their origins. They sort of grew out of the space between the flapjack (remember them?), chocolate crackles, the slimmer’s bar and the chocolate digestive. They do hold quite a lot of information about our current obsessions though, with the protein element pushed to the fore (got to have protein, lots of protein – even though I sit on my arse all day, I need the protein intake of Precious McKenzie), coconut (the on-trend oily veg), and purport to be a low-guilt healthy energy boost (we used to say sugar-hit, but that just won’t do anymore) and things with ‘Superfood’ on the label, like Cocoa Nibs.

I’d never tasted one until a colleague (the same one who got me into brewing kombucha) forced one upon me. Not my kind of thing, usually, but, man, it was delicious – not as sweet as I’d imagined, and satisfying enough to dull the mid-afternoon hunger pangs before the you run the next marathon, dead-lift the next 100 kilos or browse youtube clips until you can sneak off home without being noticed. I persuaded him to give me the recipe, and I pass that on to you.


Approximately 250g Mixed raw nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, brazils), blended (choose your size of lump).

Cocoa powder

6 Dates, pitted (more, if you want it sweeter)

2 tbs coconut oil

Coconut flakes

Vanilla extract (although I forgot to put this in the second time I made them and they were still nice).

Cocoa nibs

Water

All you do is blend the nuts, coconut and dates. Mix with the vanilla, cocoa nibs, and a drop of water, not making it too wet. Form into balls, roll them in cocoa power and let them firm up in the fridge. Lick your hands clean, not getting it into your beard.

NOT DRINKING

MY DAD WORKED IN BOTTLING HALL OF THE LOCAL BREWERY but rarely drank. In those days, brewery workers would get a case of beer each, presumably to stop them robbing it (which had variable results, as evidenced by my uncle Morris, who also worked in the brewery until he was sent to prison for robbing the beer).

Round our way, the brewery was one of the main employers of dads, so, when we were teenagers (and I’m talking 13 here), cases of beer and alcohol-fuelled fun abounded.

We had cupboards full of beer and my sister and me would just help ourselves when we came home from school. Double Diamond works wonders with children’s television and I can still remember the taste of my home made Brown Ale ice lollies. I’m talking age nine or so here.

I remember going to my mate’s 7th birthday party – a proper kids’ birthday party with games and jelly and all that—where we all drank glasses of cider.

Added to this, there was always other booze in the house, in case anyone came to visit – cherry brandy, sherry, that sort of thing – and I’d pester my mother until I was allowed a glass. Seriously, man, I was quite pissed quite a lot as a kid. When the parents of the year 1974 realised I was, quite literally, rolling shitfaced on the living room floor after Sunday dinner, aged 9 or so, my dad started selling his beer allowance off. I remember feeling gutted.

I’ve always loved the warm hug of the drink, and was always an enthusiastic participant.

As a young man, my tastes developed and I started to get more into beers – Guinness initially, then onto lovely foaming nut-brown British ales.

I also found whiskey to be very pleasant indeed and would readily move on to a Black Bush or two towards the end of an evening, or warm up a cold winter’s evening – or fight off a cold – with a hot whiskey.

Wine came to me later in my twenties, as did gin and the occasional cocktail (Martinis and Gibsons, and Negronis mainly, but I do have a soft spot for a Black Russian). Oh, and Campari with a sploosh of soda and a curl of orange peel.


Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, the French gastronome once said, “a meal without wine is like a day without sunshine”, and until recently, I wholeheartedly agreed. Also pretty gloomy looking was a holiday breakfast without a Heineken or a wait for a flight without a pint of Guinness.

Other than that, I didn’t drink much; I’ve never driven drunk, never spent the rent on white cider, never pissed or shat the bed due to being pissed (although I have puked in the bed – looking at you, Grand Final Day 2016!), only ever suffered alcohol withdrawals once (Birmingham 2017, on a visit back to the old country, waiting to meet my non-drinking mate for lunch after about 5 solid weeks of drinking the equivalent of about 10 pints a day); I’ve never drunk liveners in the morning, unless it was after a particularly brutal night and it was part of an ongoing session. I’ve rarely missed work due to hangovers, but admittedly, probably should have on occasion.

Australian beer is largely pish – hate to sound un-Australian, but it’s true. Like the very worst European supermarket own-brand 12-little bottles for a fiver, bier blonde. Characterless…unless that character is one portrayed by, I dunno, Adam Sandler or Helena Bonham-Carter. I couldn’t believe how bad VB was when I first visited Australia, yet people genuinely seem to enjoy it. Well, they drink it, anyway. As luck would have it, we live in the city where Cooper’s is brewed. A pint of Cooper’s Pale or Sparkling Ale is well-matched to a hot, dusty South Australian day.

It is my firmly-held opinion that most microbrewed beer the world over is fucking putrid. The current preoccupation with beer so heavily hopped that you could preserve an aborted foetus in it is beyond my comprehension. Back in the seventies and eighties, people would brew their own beer and it generally stank. They would inevitably foist it on you when you went to their houses, with the near-Faustian bargain that, if you are able to summon the reserves to keep it down and mutter some pleasantries, you would go home trollied for free.

As a teenager (here we go again; different times), my mate’s dad would give us each a half-pint glass of 50/50 lager and homebrew. This homebrew was thick as mince and would lay at the bottom of the glass like staunch mercury, refusing to allow the lager to permeate through. It must’ve been about 12% alcohol though. Like Duvel, if it were actually made by The Devil.

Nowadays, bearded male purveyors of stinking beer like to call themselves microbrewers, give their filthy-tasting product names like Bummer Dog (©Chart Music Podcast) or, I dunno, Fanny Batter and people nod with acknowledgement of the unripe grapefruit notes until they can no longer speak/stomach any more. They’ve paid $10 for a little glass though. Capitalism, eh?

If I were a microbrewer, I’d call my over-hopped IPA Hoprophagia. You’ll either get that, or you won’t.

The wine down here is very drinkable; reds, heavy like boiled-down cough mixture; Rieslings like cold, delicious washing up liquid. And whatsmore, you can order a glass or bottle of wine in a pub or cafe and still be seen as a proper drinker, rather than a half-arsed drinker.

About 20 years ago, I started getting reflux. I managed this for years with Rennies, then moved on to over the counter ranitidine. then when that wore off, I finally went to the GP, then a specialist, had two endoscopies and ended up on Somac, which worked well for years. I’d still have occasional breakthrough bouts, but not usually anything too concerning. My gastro-intesinal tract never really felt like it was on my side, though, you know?

The start of this year was an epic drinking year. Friends visited from the UK, then more friends visited from the UK, then we went off on holiday to Vietnam, where we drank a lot of very reasonably priced gin and beer, and partook eagerly of the local wine, with its delicate faecal notes. I decided to have a month long break from the booze when I got home, to give my aching liver a rest.

Fuck, it was hard. Charlotte and I would lay in bed pining for something…anything…to take the edge off. Things got easier toward the end of the month, though, where it got to the point that I didn’t really miss it anymore. I also dropped 4 kilos – right off the belly. Despite the fact that all the clothes I had made in Hoi An look too big for me now, this is a good thing. After a couple of weeks, I noticed my reflux had gone. Completely. No medication, no breakthrough episodes, no retribution for eating raw chillis, crisps and pickles right before bed – nothing. Gone.

After the month was up, I drank a Campari, and had one pint of pale when I met my mate for dinner the following week, got a bit of reflux and I haven’t drunk since. The absolute pleasure of feeling like your digestive tract is your friend is hard to describe. Other than that, I’d like to say that I wake up brighter and breezier in the mornings (I don’t), or that I sleep better (I don’t, although I suppose I don’t get woken by rising bile any more) or that I feel less stressed and that my brain chemistry is more happiness-aligned (it isn’t). I do save a shit-load of cash, though. Or I spend a shit-load of cash on other things, is more to the point. I don’t find social situations harder…or easier.

One thing I’ve found vaguely amusing is that people give me their best attempt at a sympathetic aren’t-you-brave look when I tell them I’ve stopped drinking. Even when I tell them the reasons why, their faces say, “I forgive you for concocting such an elaborate lie; it can’t be easy telling people you’re an alcoholic.”

So, what do I drink instead?

When I go out, I drink lemon, lime & bitters or ginger beer when I’m in a pub, and water with meals or chinotto when it’s available. Coke’s nice. To be honest, and to my own utter amazement, I haven’t missed it at all, really.

At home, I tend to drink tea (of course), and water. However, I do quite enjoy chilled rose bud tea – it’s a non-sugary, grown-up drink, which is cheap and easy to make, as long as you have somewhere to buy the rose buds. This can be drunk either in it’s basic-bitch form or given a next-level pimping, like this one I had here, which contained the same sort of shit you’d stick in a Pimms.

KOMBUCHA

IF EVER THERE WAS A SIGNIFIER THAT YOU’RE A THOROUGHLY 21st Century type of dude, surfing the zeitgeist like a pro, then making your own kombucha is it.

I’d seen a bottle is a supermarket a couple of years ago and given it a try, being quite underwhelmed by the pop-vinegar experience. I wasn’t keen to go back a second time, but would read lots about people making their own and how good it is for you.

I work with a chap who is one of those shining examples of what a healthy lifestyle can do for a middle-aged man. He glides round the office on a fluffy cloud of probiotics, offering his (fucking delicious) protein balls around, does hot yoga, karate…you know the kind of thing. He’s a bit of a fermented food evangelist – well, he would be – and gave me the inside scoop on kombucha and its benefits. He also showed me how easy it is to make and then gave me the SCOBY.

It’s now coming up to a year later and I’m still making it every week. I don’t bother with the second ferment and flavouring, but just have a sploosh every day in my muesli smoothies. This, I find, is much more pleasant than drinking it as a drink. Also, I understand it can be a bit harsh on the old tooth enamel, and at my age…

The good thing about making your own is that it is cheap. You don’t need to go out any buy loads of specialist equipment or supplies. My total ‘kit’ consists of:

Large coffee plunger (a few bucks from Big W)

Chopsticks

Tea strainer

Small plastic funnel

Rubber band

Kitchen roll

Pop-top glass bottles ($2 each from Big W)

The total ingredients are:

Green or black tea

Honey or sugar

Water, boiling.

SCOBY

All you do is make a large pot of sweet tea. Wait for it to cool, then add the SCOBY and a sploosh of your previous batch, cover it and leave it for a week to ten days.

When it’s ready, you get a lovely home-brew, yeasty smell from it. You just put the SCOBY to one side, decant it (straining it if you want), and add the SCOBY to the next batch. Easy.

Each time you make a brew, your SCOBY will grow a layer, so you just throw the top layer (the ‘mother’ in the compost).

Motherfucker

And it’s forgiving – my SCOBY has survived through the hottest of Adelaidian summers and coolest of winters, doesn’t mind if it brews for a few days more than usual, because I don’t get round to making the next batch, or if the ingredients are a bit over or under.

I recently had a commercially-produced bottle, (this, here) – which overwhelmingly tasted of artificial sweetener and was really rather unpleasant. Made me realise, actually, how good my home made stuff is.

BIRYANI

I HADN’T HAD A BIRYANI IN YONKS. Then, the other week, we were having a few days away in Sydney, stuffing as many of that fine city’s foodie-treats as we could into our fat faces, and my wife suggested we have tea here, because it’s a bit of a Sydney institution. I didn’t have to be asked twice.

Occupying the midway space between fast food joint and curry house, their specialty is knocking out plates piled high with meat or chicken, spiced to your preferred level, under mounds of long grained basmati, glossy, succulent, and with the occasional crispy bit. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

This started a biryani craving, and my internet research led me to this recipe, which I followed almost exactly (for me) – I used skin-off, boned chicken thighs, cooked my onions in ghee, forgot to add the coriander before cooking, so added it after, did the final cook in the oven. This was a total success. If I’d had this in any restaurant, I’d have been raving about it…in fact, I was raving about it.

So, I strongly suggest you give it a go. It’s fancy enough to be a special, weekend/day off dinner, but not particularly time-consuming.

I served it with just a dollop of plain yoghurt.

Fancying a vegetable/vegan biryani, I thought I’d give it a go and it worked out really well.

INGREDIENTS::

Top layer – where you hope to achieve that combination of glossiness, crispness, lightness and fragrance.

Basmati rice 450 grams

Water 3 litres

1 star anise

10 cloves

6 green cardamom pods.

2 tbsp salt

5 Bay leaves

Middle layer – where the onions bring succulence and sweetness and the coriander adds that soapy floral note.

5 or 6 medium brown onions

Vegetable oil, I used sunflower

Copped fresh coriander.

Bottom layer – where the protein and your own choice of seasonal/available vegetables, contained in a delicious sauce bring the texture and an intense hit of spicy flavour.

A few potatoes, cubed

A couple of carrots, sliced

Half a green capsicum, chopped

Half a cauliflower, broken into florets

Tin chickpeas, drained

2 cups soya yoghurt (or 1 tin coconut milk)

Vegetable oil (I used sunflower)

6 garlic cloves

2 tsp ginger

½ tsp turmeric

¼ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ground cardamom

½ tsp cayenne

2 tsp garam masala

2 tsp ground coriander

1 tbsp ground cumin

2 tbsp paprika

Salt to taste (approx 1 ¾ tsp)

About a cupful of water

1. Slice onions. Gently fry them in the oil until caramelised, golden and sweet. Resist the urge to over cook them.

2. Bring water to the boil in large saucepan. Add vegetables according to length of cooking time (I added spuds and carrots, then cauliflower and capsicum 5 minutes later) and boil until they are partly cooked. Remove with a sieve or slotted spoon.

3. Add rice, spices and salt to water and cook for 4 mins, then drain.

4. I blended together the garlic, ginger, oil and yoghurt, (but you can do this by hand, if you prefer) then put it in a bowl with the spices and a drop of water.

5. Add the par-cooked vegetables and chick peas to the mix and make sure it’s well-mixed.

6 Put the veg and spicy sauce mix into the pan.

7. Layer on the caramelised onions.

8. Sprinkle the chopped coriander leaves evenly over the top.

9. Add the par-cooked rice (leaving the whole spices in).

10. Put the lid on the pan, and place in the oven at around 200°C for about 30 mins. You’ll smell when it’s done.

Once more, I’d forgotten to take a photo of the finished meal, so here’s one of some of the leftovers I took to work the next day.

There’s an interesting article on vegetable biryani here. I know you should never read the comments, but fuck me…!

VEGAN PULLED ‘PORK’

MY ONLY PREVIOUS CONTACT WITH JACKFRUIT was having once tried a smoothie made from it in our favourite Vietnamese restaurant. After doing a bit of internet research, I now realise I’ve seen the fresh fruit for sale in Asian grocers as well. I recently read something about it being the meat-substitute-craze-that’s-sweeping-the-nation and thought I’d give it a try. After all, I am rather partial to a meat substitute.

I regularly visit one or other of the Asian supermarkets round these parts and picked myself up a couple of tins of young green jackfruit in brine. I’m particularly glad to report that one of the tins was ‘Cock Brand’.

I must confess also, that I’ve never actually tasted pulled pork. I know it’s been everywhere over the last couple of years, but there’s always been something on the menu I’ve fancied more.

I had a quick squizz at a couple of recipes online and, basically, you boil the fuck out of the jackfruit, until it becomes stringy and pulled pork-like and you serve it mixed with a barbeque sauce. Recipes vary as to whether you cook the jackfruit in the sauce or cook it separately. Mostly, I reckon, this depends on whether you’ve already got your sauce made, in which case you’d boil up your fruit separately. If, like me, you’re making this up as you go along, it makes sense and saves washing up to do it together.

Pull the other one…

So, in a pan, place the following ingredients:

Water – start with half a litre and see how that goes. You can always add more if the fruit needs more boiling.

2 tins Young Green Jackfruit in brine (drained).

2 tbsp tomato ketchup

3 tbsp Sriracha (I used more and mine was blistering-hot)

Heaped tbsp smoked paprika

Tsp ground allspice

Tbsp ground cumin

Tsp celery salt

Tsp garlic salt

Tsp onion powder

Tbsp molasses

Tbsp cider vinegar

Black pepper

Salt, if needed.

Sugar, if needed.

All you need do then is boil until most of the water has evaporated and the jackfruit has gone stringy. I had to add more water for a second boil, but then used a wooden spoon, and then a potato masher, to break the chunks down.

I served mine with a brown rice salad (brown basmati rice, sweetcorn, finely chopped red onion, chopped yellow capsicum, chopped cucumber, grated carrot, chopped parsley, hemp seed – dressed with soya mayo cut with olive oil), which went really well, and took the edge off some of the heat from the sriracha overload.

It was delicious. Whilst it looks a lot like pulled pork, the ‘meat’ doesn’t quite have the same chewy texture. Bloody close though.

Arff, arff.