Archives for posts with tag: Home Cooking

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Over the weekend I went to see The Past, a French film made by Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (also known for his recently successful film A Separation). Intelligently designed and subtly executed, it’s a family melodrama that explores the values of truth and uncovers secrets from the past in cleverly unfolding layers.

In the film, Marie asks her estranged husband to return to Paris from Iran in order to finalise their divorce. Upon his arrival, Marie takes him to the somewhat ramshackle yet beautifully dishevelled home they used to share in the outer suburbs of Paris, where it becomes clear that she has taken up with another man. Samir and his son Fouad have moved in with Marie and her two daughters and together they are in the process of restoring the house, which is in an evident state of disrepair. However it soon becomes apparent that the broken pipes and drying paint are a cogent metaphor for the crumbling facade of the family bond, and that the paint is still not yet dry on matters of the past.

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Warm and kind, Ahmad soon becomes drawn into the lives of this newly formed family and together they delve into a past imbued with secrets and emotional truths that are cleverly drawn out to propel the narrative forward to its inevitable conclusion.

A beautifully sad and reflective film, The Past teaches us something of the value in staying the course through times of trial, even when no resolution is readily apparent. As the paint begins to dry and the new fittings go up, things seem to go from bad to worse as the past is unravelled and matters are complicated further by Marie’s beautiful and sullen eldest daughter Lucie.

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They say that truth comes from the mouth of babes, and while Fouad’s role is somewhat peripheral to the story, he brings us one of the central resolutions of the film with an achingly honest declaration on a grimy Paris metro.

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Territorially dangerous, the past can be a murky place of secrets and burdens, yet I walked away thinking that cautious navigation of the past can help us arrive at the heart of a matter and to a place where love, loyalty and truth will prevail.

It must be the Iranian influence on screen that got me thinking I should try this recipe from the Good Food Weekly Meal Planner.

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Easy to make, this dish has subtle flavours that are surprisingly satisfying and made for a great start to the week. I used French green lentils as I didn’t have brown, but either would be delicious. I’m thinking this would make a great side dish to take to a dinner party and that some fresh goat’s cheese crumbled over the top would take it to another level, but in lieu of that it will still taste delicious with natural yoghurt and mint.

The Past is written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, with Bérénice Bejo as Marie, Ali Mosaffa as Ahmad, Tahar Rahim as Samir, Pauline Burlet  as Lucie and Elyes Aguis as Fouad. Rated (M).

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Somewhere along the line I fell out of love with potatoes and almost never ate them unless they were drenched in olive oil, sea salt + cracked black pepper and baked to perfection (in which case, I was more than happy to indulge). Recently though, I’m experiencing something of a revival of my former tastes, and am once again a fan of the humble and versatile wonder that is potato. The recipe below is a simplified version of a recipe found in Jamie magazine by Jamie Oliver, and is a wholesome dish to satisfy the whole family or even just one or two, with the promise of oh-so-easy leftovers for subsequent weeknight dinners. I just couldn’t resist posting this potato pie alongside a sunflower cityscape taken in passing on a recent trip to the America: Painting a Nation exhibition at the New South Wales Art Gallery in Sydney city. If you’re keen to visit, you better get in quick because it finishes up on 9 February 2014. Chock full of painted works spanning the period 1750-1966, it’s an interesting display of American history, society and culture and includes some beautiful landscape pieces that have me lamenting the seemingly fading art-form of paint on canvas. I’ve included a list of some of my favourites (and the recipe!) below.

Charles Sheeler, Cactus (1931)

Jackson Pollock No 22 (1950)

Frederic Edwin Church Cotopaxi (1855)

Thomas Moran, Grand Canyon of the Colorado River (1892, 1908)

Severin Roesen, Flower Still Life with Bird’s Nest (1853)

Chicken Potato Pie

4 chicken thigh fillets, diced

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 brown onion, sliced

1 clove garlic, crushed

2 celery sticks, sliced

100g swiss brown mushrooms, sliced

250 ml liquid chicken stock

4-6 medium sized desiree potatoes

30g butter, melted,

Prepare the potatoes ahead by placing in a pot of boiling water and simmering until just soft. Drain and set aside until completely cooled.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Heat the olive oil over a medium-high heat in a heavy based cast iron pan that will fit in a standard oven. Cook the onions and garlic until translucent, then add the chicken and cook until the meat is sealed all over. Add in the celery and mushrooms and let them cook, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil, then let the whole thing simmer for about 10 minutes. If it looks a bit dry, just add in a little water to keep the whole dish nice and loose, but not too liquid. Remove from the heat and leave to rest for a minute or so.

Slice the cooked potatoes thickly, then place in a layer over the top of the chicken mixture in the pan. Use a brush to spread the melted butter over the potatoes and season with sea salt and some black pepper if you like. A little fresh thyme would also be perfect if you have it to hand. Place in the oven for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are lightly golden on top.

*Serves 4

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It seems I just can’t get enough of the beach this summer, and I’m wondering how it is that I managed to spend the last five or six summers of my life living away from the coast. Since moving back to Sydney I’ve been taking every opportunity I can get to head to one of Sydney’s many spectacular beaches to explore new spots and rediscover some old favourites. This morning I headed over to Collaroy on Sydney’s Northern Beaches and took a walk from the south end of the beach, which took me around the headland and over to the north end of Longreef Beach. There’s an aquatic reserve along this stretch between Collaroy and Longreef, and a rocky reef plateau perfect for wanderers (and wonderers) like me. The headland at Longreef is a popular spot for paragliders, and on a morning like this I could definitely be tempted to give this sport a try. Definitely Maybe, that is. For today though, a walk and a swim was the perfect way to start a summer Saturday. The water has warmed up significantly since I first started swimming in the ocean again in September and if I had come better prepared with sunscreen I could have stayed on the beach all morning.

A summer swim can’t be without a summer breakfast, and this muesli provides the perfect sustenance for a Sydney summer’s day. Surprisingly easy and satisfying to make, I wonder why I haven’t been making this myself until now. The best thing about making your own muesli is that you can make it just exactly how you like, and not have to deal with ingredients you find offensive. I can’t say that I have any specific aversions for my muesli ingredients, but I will say (again) that the simplest combinations are often the best, and there is definitely a place in my heart for the humble dried apricot. Here’s my recipe for homemade apricot muesli, which you can adapt or adhere to as you please.

Apricot Muesli

2 cups rolled oats

2 cups wheat-bran sticks

3/4 cup coconut flakes

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

2 tablespoons slivered almonds

150 ml fresh orange juice

2 tablespoons honey

3/4 cup dried apricots, chopped

3/4 cup sultanas

Preheat oven to 150°C. Combine all of the dry ingredients except the slivered almonds and dried fruit. Heat the orange juice and honey together over a low heat until warm, then mix through the dry ingredients. Spread the mixture out on a large baking tray or shallow dish and bake for 30 mins or until the mixture is lightly toasted. Toast the slivered almonds separately in a dry pan over a medium heat until just toasted. When both mixtures have fully cooled, stir to combine with the apricots and sultanas added. Store for up to one month in an airtight container.

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For me, roquefort = indulgence. I bought some recently after making Teresa Blackburn’s Crispy Almond Sea Salt Crackers, for which you can find the recipe on her blog Food on Fifth. The sweet and salty almond biscuits turned out really well and only needed the sharp and distinctive flavour that is roquefort cheese to really set them off. Also known as blue cheese, roquefort is defined by the region in which it is produced and aged in the natural Combalou caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, in the south of France. Blue cheeses from other regions are prevented from bearing the origin protected name of roquefort and simply designated ‘blue cheese’ (or, if it hails from one of several Northern Italian production regions, it is known as gorgonzola). At $131.95 per kilo at my local grocer, roquefort is definitely a special occasion cheese and one to be savoured. Not having a whole lot left in my kitchen cupboards tonight, my leftover roquefort cheese more than made up for a lack of ingredients in this simple pasta dish.

Fusilli with Walnut, Sage + Roquefort

400g dried fusilli pasta

120g walnuts

120g roquefort cheese

20 fresh sage leaves, or thereabouts

60 ml olive oil

Cook your pasta according to the instructions on the packet, or until cooked as you desire it. When you drain the pasta, reserve a little of the cooking water so you can add some to the pasta if it needs a little loosening up.

While the pasta cooks, toast the walnuts and sage leaves by placing them in a dry pan over a medium heat for a minute or so. When lightly toasted, you can either use a food processor or a mortar and pestle to grind the nuts and sage. I like to grind the walnuts into crumb sized pieces rather than to a paste. I use a mortar and pestle because it gives me more control over the consistency of the sauce (and also because I don’t have a food processor!). Add in the olive oil and mix to combine.

Once you have drained the pasta, let it sit to cool for about a minute before returning to the empty pan. Add in the walnut sauce and a little of the reserved cooking water if needed, and stir to combine. Crumble the roquefort over the pasta and gently mix through the pasta.

Season with cracked black pepper.

*Serves 4

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One of my recent food discoveries has been the humble, but delicious, Lima Bean. I came across a recipe for pork sausages with white beans in Jane Price’s Dinner With Friends, which has some very fine recipes that bring restaurant fare to the home life and are relatively easy to make. It was the beans in the photograph that caught my eye, and so I decided to get some from my local wholefoods supplier, The Source, and give them a try. The beans require soaking for about 8 hours so a little advance planning is required, but they are well worth the effort. I was surprised by the delicate flavour and buttery texture of the beans, which married perfectly with the pork sausage. To add to their appeal, lima beans are an excellent source of iron and protein, and also have cholesterol lowering properties and the ability to stabilise blood sugar levels. I’m already thinking of other ways to use them, so stay tuned for more where these little gems come from.

Pork Sausages with Lima Beans + Thyme

350g dried white lima beans

6-8 pork sausages

1 white onion, finely chopped

1 bay leaf

1 green capsicum, finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon chilli flakes

1 teaspoon paprika

3/4 cup tomato passata

1/2 cup water

1 teaspoon cider vinegar

Soak the beans in cold water ahead of time for 8 hours or so. Drain and rinse, before placing them in a large saucepan with enough water to cover them by a couple of inches. Add the bay leaf, bring to the boil and then reduce the heat slightly and let them cook for 30 minutes or until they are soft. They should still retain a little bit of firmness, as you don’t want them to be too mushy. When cooked, drain the beans and remove the bay leaf.

Meanwhile, prick the sausages 5 or 6 times and lay in a separate pan. Add enough water to the pan to reach halfway up the sides of the sausages, then cook over a high heat until the water is reduced. At this point, let the sausages brown a little in the pan, then remove and set aside. Add the onion, capsicum and chilli flakes to the pan and cook over a low-medium heat for a few minutes until the onions are translucent and the capsicum has softened. Stir in the paprika, followed by the passata, cider vinegar and water. If you prefer the sauce to be a little thicker, just add less water. Bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce the heat and season to taste with salt and pepper. Slice the sausage and return to the pan with the other ingredients to heat for a minute or two.

To serve, divide the beans among your plates and place the sausage mixture over the top with a little fresh thyme and cracked pepper.

*Serves 4

(Adapted from Jane Price’s Pork Sausage with White Beans, in Dinner With Friends)

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As the festive season draws nearer I can sense that I am fast catching the baking bug, something which is somewhat of a challenge in my lilliputian kitchen! Nevertheless, for me there is always something therapeutic about baking, so long as I have the time and the right ingredients to hand. I’m not entirely sure why it is that I enjoy baking so much, but I think it might be that baking is a timeless tradition that goes down through the centuries. Although the instruments we use may change with the innovations of time, the overall process remains largely the same, as does the tradition of coming together to eat, celebrate, mourn or commemorate. Sometimes I dispense entirely with the trappings of a modern kitchen (I don’t yet own a food processor!) and simply blend/cream/chop/fold ingredients by hand. Although this extends the time taken to complete the task somewhat, I enjoy the prolonged process and the chance it gives me to retreat into my thoughts or to fully appreciate a good album, the company of others or even just the solitude of silence. I’ll never forget reading about Sadie in Mr Rosenblum’s List, who emigrates to Britain from Germany with her husband in 1937 and bakes layer upon layer of sadness and memories into a Baumtorte (a very tall German “Tree” cake with layers of almond pastry). Sadie’s loneliness is relieved somewhat when some women from the village smell her cake and invite her to the town meeting, to which she dutifully takes the Baumtorte:

The women ate, and it was the most remarkable cake they had ever tasted. It was sweet and perfectly moist with a hint of lemon but, as her mouth filled with deliciousness, each woman was overwhelmed with sadness. Each tasted Sadie’s memories, her loss and unhappiness and whilst they ate Sadie was, for once, not alone in her sorrow. 

I loved the way that in sharing the cake, the women were able to cross an emotional divide that helped them to understand one another better. On the one hand, Sadie was able to express her sorrow and the difference of her experience, while the women were able to see (and taste) another perspective that gave them an insight previously unseen of an outside and foreign member of their community.

Reflections aside, baking can also be really fun! As I have mentioned in a previous post, I am still in the midst of planning my European Odyssey next year. Given a significant bulk of my trip will be spent in Greece and the Greek Islands, I have all things Greek on my mind and decided to cook in theme with my future travels again. And what better way than with these delicious Greek Kourabiedes! It is a delicious almond shortbread made with a hint of brandy and orange rind which has a great texture and is perfect for a mid morning or afternoon treat. Also great for the gift giving season. Kalí̱ sas órexi̱!

Kourabiedes (Greek Almond Shortbread)

250 g butter, softened

60 g icing sugar

1 tspn orange zest

1 egg yolk

1 tbspn brandy

100 g almond meal

310 g plain flour

1½ tspn baking powder

60 g extra icing sugar, for dusting

Cream the butter, sugar and orange zest in a small bowl until pale and fluffy, then add the egg yolk and brandy and beat until thoroughly combined. Use a metal spoon to fold in the almond meal, flour and baking powder, and mix until well combined. Gather together and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1–2 hours, or until chilled.

Preheat the oven to 160°C and line two large baking trays with baking paper. Shape ½ tablespoons of the mixture into crescents, using lightly floured hands. Place on the prepared baking trays. Bake for 12–15 minutes, or until pale golden. Cool on the trays for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. While still warm, dust with the sifted icing sugar. The Kourabiedes can be stored in an airtight container for weeks..if it lasts that long 😉

*Mr Rosenblum’s List is the first novel of Natasha Solomons, published by Sceptre in 2010.

 

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If you know me, you may know that I am planning my very own European Odyssey next year. I must admit that my destinations of choice have very much centred around my favourite cuisines, and in anticipation of the culinary journey ahead I have been inspired to try my hand at some of the authentic dishes I hope to try when I finally make it to Europe. Tonight’s inspiration: Spain! Where I hope to spend five days of wonder and admiration come July next year, if all goes according to plan.

These Spanish Albóndigas are served with a spicy tomato sauce and would be great for tapas if entertaining, or as a main meal, as I had here tonight with a fresh garden salad and some crunchy white toast. I always find great recipes in Gourmet Traveller, where I found this recipe.