Category Archives: Skiting

Foodgasms.

Every bored and financially-straitened housewife-and-mother combo needs a restaurant buddy, I have decided. I am now in the enviable position of having one myself. A good friend who likes to feed me seriously good meals and talk about books and intelleckshooal stuff, not related at all to kids or household budgets or school. Awesome.
SO yesterday I was entirely and lavishly spoiled by a totally brilliant meal at a most fabulous restaurant.

It started with a lovely drive through the beautiful scenery of Ku-Ring-Gai national park to the Hawkesbury – Cottage Point Inn to be precise.

I had a little bit of trouble at first, working out exactly where down this hill I was heading, but soon found the restaurant and felt definite glee. It is right on the water and there is a superb view of the hills, the river, cormorants, snakebirds, sea-planes, boats…

We were at possibly the best table there, which is always gratifying.
I had looked at the menu online (and winced at the prices – however – that’s just me, straitened circumstances and all that- and resolutely turned my eyes away from them…) but the menu was a little different on the spot so I had to read it a bit more closely.
(I reckon online menus do need to consistent with on-the-spot ones, apart from specials of course – it’s awkward for picky people like me who need to look at menus in advance to make sure that there is something at least that I can eat.)

The waiter (maitre d’?) approached to see if we wanted to order – and was a bit of a surprise as he looked and sounded like a slightly louche grizzled beachcomber or castaway, with grey stubble and wild ringlets – and this extremely gruff, staccato delivery. However he really knew his stuff, and I had a strange mental image of my brother (the apprentice chef and wine enthusiast) doing exactly the same type of job in later years.

Anyway.
After we ordered, a waiter brought us an amuse-bouche which amused the hell out of me, because it was colcannon soup. I found this particularly amusing, because of the idea of coming to an expensive restaurant to eat a pureed version of a tiresomely regular poor-folk’s meal that I ate endlessly as a child and teenager. Delicious, yes. But. Not precisely what I think of when I think ‘Fine Dining’.
(Colcannon is generally boiled potatoes sauteed together with bacon and shredded green cabbage, with lots of pepper).
It did actually work extremely well as a soup!

Then they brought out some home made rolls or sourdough, and some extremely good olive oil and salt flakes. The olive oil was green gold and fruity and peppery, just as it should be, and the bread, dipped in it was tangy and chewy and moist. *sigh*

I started with pan fried potato and cavalo nero gnocchi, with roast pumpkin puree and green olive paste and burnt sage butter.
I am not a fan of gnocchi in general, because it seems bland  and slightly creepily moist and bouncy.
However – it was one of the few entrees that didn’t have either eggs, oysters, caviar, goat’s cheese or innards in it, and I am picky as hell.
Also I AM a fan of – fried things, cavalo nero, green olives, and sage. And pumpkin.
My friend had some sort of hideous terrine with sweetbreads (GLANDS to the uninitiated)  and foie gras and so on, and cornichons, and pear and ginger pickley, syrupy thing. (Despite my slightly shuddering disbelief he enjoyed every bite, which proves he is a better man than I.)

One thing I have not before experienced, and intend to become extremely rich one day so I can experience it more often,  is being able to say, ‘We won’t bother with the wine list, just bring us what you think would suit what we have ordered.”
…And knowing that one is in good winey hands.

Ooooooh yeah baby. Luxury.

So my starter was accompanied by a rich, full, sweetish and tangy pinot grigio, from…er…somewhere in Australia, and he had a Charlotte Sound sauvignon semillion blanc, both of which were superb.

I took a bite of the crisp, tender, buttery fried gnocchi and nearly passed out with a swoon. Oh Em Eff Gee.
That was just….SO….good. Anyway next bite I scooped a little of the garlicky green olive paste and pureed roast pumpkin onto it, and when I put it in my mouth I died a little. It was explosive. It sounds  so simple and almost ordinary, but it was intense. Seriously, seriously good flavour combining. Zingy. And you know, combined with the wine….it was…just…Oh goodness, I’m tearing up a little.

Anyway. My friend tried the gnocchi, and agreed with my rather incoherent assessment, but I most certainly did not try the scary pink thing full of innards, no matter how allegedly delicious it was.
(I did try his wine though, which is why I know it was superb. I am fairly keen on expanding my palate and knowledge of such things. Hah. Like I said earlier about intending to become rich. *eyeroll*)

I then had a nice break to look at the view and chat before our mains came out.

I had duck leg confit, sous vide fennel, swede puree (who knew that swedes could taste…not like swedes?!) and blood-orange agar. It also had toasted walnuts, this intensely sticky jus, and some sort of a roasted plum type thing.
I was nervous about approaching the agar, as I have an aversion to jelly-like textures, which I am happily leaping in to overcome, especially now!
This was served with a very nice earthy, smoky, berry-fruit-y pinot. From….I can’t remember.

It was so freakin’ superb. The duck was moist and falling off the bone, the fennel tender and sweet, the swede puree earthy and full, the agar tangy and melt-in-the-mouth…just playing with all the different possible combinations on my plate made me soooo very happy.

My friend had grilled mirror-dory with rhubarb puree and roasted beetroot, which you know, is not a combination that would ever have recommended itself to me, but, hell. Swoonworthy.
The dory was light and firm but flaky, with a delicious smoky grill flavour, and it just worked so well with the sweet tangy creamy rhubarb and the earthiness of the beetroot.
While we were waiting for our mains, one waiter asked us what wine we were having, and when she heard that we were going with their recommendations, she brought us the pinot for me, and the pinot gris that I had had earlier, for my friend.
When the grizzled beachcomber came back and asked what we were drinking, he actually took the pinot gris (that had already been sipped) away and brought back an amazingly good organic chardonnay from Mudgee, which he said would suit the dory better, which it did.
Now THAT is service.

(Oh that was good chardonnay – beautiful apricot fruit and incredibly buttery finish…Hey! I almost sound like I have a clue what I am talking about! – anyway it made me realise that indeed (good) chardonnay is not over-rated.)

Anyway so I drooped and swooned throughout that course as well, occasionally craning my neck around to look at a bird, or indeed a plane.

Then we thought, what the hell, dessert.

So we both ordered the warm baked golden delicious tart with vanilla icecream, rosemary syrup and apple caviar.
They recommended a botrytis affected semillion ( I think?) from Rutherglen.
to go with. Oooh and it did.
I have a small bone to pick with how restaurants serve desserts – partly because I am an icecream fiend – but I always think they need LESS of the cakey, puddingy stuff, and more of the icecream. That might just be me though. I just never quite think that the balance is right.

However. The apple tart was utterly succulent. Beautiful toffee-like sweet warm unctuously mouth-filling, soft but slightly firm apples, on a crisp, short pastry biscuit-type base, with the spicy rosemary syrup and smooth luscious home made icecream.
The apple caviar were little slippery chewy tender pearls of appliness. I don’t know how they made them but I suspect they made a very firm jelly with apple stock or juice or concentrate or some such thing, and dripped it into iced water to set into little irregular spheres. Anyway. They were delightful, and have further dented my anti-jelly stance.
The sticky wine was sweet and rich and golden and superb. Have no other words. (I don’t have a wine taster’s vocabulary, but you know, one day maybe!)

Om nom nom nom nom.

After all that I needed a coffee which was strong but expertly made – a proper flat  flat white, with very rich, dark roasted coffee, and perfect crema floated to the top…really delicious, and served with a melty dark chocolate toffee ganache truffle.

And then we had another bottle of water between us. (During lunch we drank about 750 mls each of water, as well as ALL that wine. And yes, I am an exceedingly cheap drunk, although I should add that I prefer to be a cheap drunk on a couple of glasses of really good wine instead of on a lot of mediocre or actively-bad wine. Just in case, you know, anyone feels like buying me wine. Just sayin’.)

So after all of that I did not feel excessively full, but perfectly balanced and with something of a glazed look about me and perhaps an unsteady gait.

If anyone feels like having a totally, completely, superbly sybaritic luxurious gastropornographic, foodgasming experience I can totally recommend the Cottage Point Inn.

I guess you may have noticed I haven’t been writing much lately…

I have had a cold. But lots of things have been happening – I had a party for my son’s 4th birthday – the good kind of kid’s party, in which the kids play and eat home-made sausage rolls and fairy bread, and the parents and friends sit around and eat sausage rolls and butterfly cakes and drink seemingly-endless-supplies of Long Island Iced Teas. It was supposed to be at a playground, but it was wet, so we had it at my house, which was better in many ways as it didn’t matter when people showed up, and the food could be made hot in relays, rather than all at once and transported soggily to the park.
I made an extremely easy and delicious rich chocolate cake which is the excellent kind of recipe that doesn’t have a lot of difficult ingredients such as corn syrup, sour cream, dark chocolate, etc – it just had butter, sugar, eggs, flour, baking SODA and cocoa. All of which I generally have about the place.

I was given this recipe from the blogger at http://thylacinthine.wordpress.com/ but not on her blog.

Put half a cup of cocoa into a bowl, and stir in a cup of boiling water. I use Woolworths home brand cocoa (for which I specifically go to Woollies, as I never usually shop there – but their cocoa is superb, much better quality than Cadbury’s and cheaper.) Add 2 tsps vanilla. You are supposed to wait until it cools down to add the vanilla, but I forgot. It turned out all right anyway.

Beat 185g of butter in a mixing bowl until it is fluffy, or as fluffy as it gets – it’s butter for crying out loud, not egg white. Add 1 1/4 cups of sugar, and continue with the beating until it is light and fluffy…or a grainy-ish paste which looks sort of curdled – depends on how much effort you want to go to.

Add 2 eggs and beat it some more, and at this stage it may even have a chance at the Light And Fluffy Award.

Combine 1 1/4 cups of flour, 1/2 tsp baking soda, and a little salt if you used unsalted butter (but I always use salted as that is all I have in the house).
It sounds sort of counter-intuitive to use baking soda, not powder, as that normally leaves a horrid yellowish colour and a metallic taste unless it is balanced by an acid of some sort, so all I can assume is that cocoa is acidic. Because it works like a charm.

Alternating between the floury mixture and the cocoa mixture, add 1/3 at a time, beating well the whole time until it is a sort of pale chocolaty satiny goop. It will look a lot paler than one would hope from a chocolate cake mix, but fear not, I have made it twice now and it is AMAZING how dark and moist and rich and chocolaty it turns out.

I baked it in a (I think) 9-inch round aluminium cake tin (I use the old-school aluminium tins as they have perfect heat distribution and then cool down rapidly so as not to leave a tough crust) lined with Multix or Gladbake or similar baking paper. Seriously good texture. Oh, at about 170-180 C – it all depends on what your oven is like.

I covered it in very vanillary buttercream icing, and crumbled a flake bar all over it (my five-year-old was asking me why, in pictures of ice-cream, was there sticks in it. I thought he meant, you know, paddle-pop sticks but no, he meant flake bars – so I bought one to show him what the were like) and lots of smarties. At four-year-old’s request. It was delicious and got completely eaten up.

Yesterday morning, after nearly three weeks of miserly doling-out of smarties in the fives and sixes, five-year-old staged a smash-and-grab raid on the pantry cupboard and finished the bag.

In other news – my husband is starting a new job on Monday, which we are all very happy about as it is a LOT closer to home. One reason I have not been writing a great deal is that as a six-month red P-plater I still find driving quite exhausting and have been doing lots of dropping-off and picking-up, and what with these endless colds I seem to be having this year I am so tired it’s all I can do to cook, do laundry and make vast quantities of sandwiches for my ravening hordes of two children. And occasionally do some vacuuming, and also do my important work of reading endless ‘Pure Poison’, ‘News With Nipples’, ‘Politically Homeless’, ‘Dances with Fat’, ‘Fat Heffalump’ and ‘The Failed Estate’ blogposts. No, really, it’s important. True.

Yesterday I dropped off my four-year old at the pre-school and as I walked back through the car-park my nose was caught by that warm, strange (for a person who grew up inland) salty sea-water and mangrove smell that appears when the sun is warm enough to set it going – Woy Woy is so flat that you can be quite a distance away from the water and still get occasional olfactory ‘glimpses’ of that exciting holiday smell. I remember discussing the smell of Woy Woy train station with a couple of friends – one of them loved the smell of mangroves and silty mudflats, and the other hated it and loved the smell of diesel trains. Diesel trains! And train brakes! I ask you! What is that compared to rotten vegetation, pelican shit, decaying crabs  and salt water?!
I did mention that I was an inlander, didn’t I? I LOVE the smell of mangroves – it’s like having one’s nose away on childhood summer holidays, all the time.

I am currently thinking of becoming a business analyst writer – this is the next Big Great Idea after becoming an electrician, or a pilot. Who knows. What I DO know is that anxiety has turned my brain into a terrified hamster on a permanent wheel of self-doubt, fuzziness and zero-self-confidence. I suppose come to think of it, that’s self-doubt. Also my formerly-excellent memory seems to have carked it. I am so tired and un-motivated all the time, I seem to be sick most of the time, my neck is stuffed and at the moment I can’t afford a new pillow OR an osteopath and so the thought of getting to grips with even looking into doing a TAFE course, let alone actually DOING it, let alone seeking gainful employment seems daunting and intimidating and frankly terrifying. But I really do need to do something with my life, other than reading detective stories. Speaking of which, I have an historical detective novel to read and review, which I shall get onto next week, and let you all know.

So that’s me roughly caught up. Sorry for the long delay since my last post, which was, let’s face it, cheating as I didn’t even write it. (Thanks again Tom!)

Baked tortellini and endless segues

Tonight it’s fat and starch central at Casa Saxon.
I like stuffed pasta, and I like baked pasta, but I don’t normally combine the two because it just seems…overly self-indulgent. BUT tonight I went to a little bit more effort than usual for a Saturday in which  have felt depressingly hungover for most of the day. (Depressingly, because I haven’t had anything except tea and water and coffee and the occasional juice to drink for weeks…!)

Anyway…
I diced an onion and sauteed it in olive oil (or EVOO as Maggie Beer likes to call it) and while it was cooking I diced two zucchinis and threw them in too. (In my flame-orange Le Creuset. Just because I can.)
I also diced a red capsicum and 3 large cloves of garlic AND a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley from a friend’s garden and added them too.
Then I ground some black pepper and added some Himalayan crystal salt (the pink stuff) and some dried oregano, and smoked paprika.
I let that all cook away for a while, and then put in a tin of diced or ‘dick’ead’ tomatoes as a friend’s daughter wonderfully pronounced it! (Loudly. In a supermarket. Hee hee.)
A drizzle of balsamic vinegar to finish it off, and I let it simmer while I cooked a packet of veal tortellini and made a cheese sauce.

I put a small lump of butter and some olive oil in a small saucepan with some (maybe 1.2 cup?)  flour and as the butter melted  I stirred it into a smooth roux. I love leaning over the stove and smelling the deliciousness of dextrinising flour and simmering garlicky, parsley..er…ey tomatoes.
Anyway while that cooked a bit I grated some cheese, which is EASILY my least favourite kitchen job, a short head in front of peeling grotty potatoes or sorting through leafy greens.
I used half milk and half boiling water for the sauce – all milk makes it richer but it was already going to be pretty damn rich anyway.
I poured it in installments, stirring briskly with each addition (I get why people use whisks but I normally don’t as they tend not to be able to fit into the ‘corners’ of a standard saucepan) and grated in some nutmeg – I love love love the wonderful smell of fresh nutmeg drifting down in tiny flakes over the white sauce. (I use a microplane to grate nutmeg – my brother bought me one years ago for a Christmas present. VERY thoughtful!)
I also added a few grinds of pepper. (From my Peugeot pepper mill, which same brother bought me and C for a wedding present. )(We wanted a Peugeot as C’s parent’s have one which they have been using for over 25 years, so I have a very valid example of the usefulness of stainless-steel gears.  I always wonder, when looking at the superb examples of wood-turned peppermills in boutique-type shops and wood-turning displays, WHY people go to all that trouble and then ruin them by putting in plastic gears? Hint – never, ever, ever buy a pepper grinder that has plastic gears, unless you like replacing gears a lot.)

But I as usual digress.
I turned off the flame and threw in the grated cheese and  stirred it in, and then mixed the cooked drained tortellini together with the two sauces. I took out two serves for the kids and then poured the rest into into a LINED baking dish. (Even when I am baking something ‘wet’ like this I line the dish with good-quality baking paper because it saves SOOO much washing up, and you still DO get crispy burnt bits, which is the whole point.)
I used my Le Creuset oval baking dish, which C bought at a market stall for ten measly bucks. The woman who sold it to him said, ‘It’s a bit expensive, but it IS Le Creuset.”
Yeah. I’ll swallow that steep price with a big smile, I think.
The main problem with it is that it is the right size for 3 generous serves, and so often C and I look at the last lonely serve and decide to put it out of its misery.

Anyway! I sprinkled the top with some extra grated cheese and put it in the oven at 200C for…as long as it has taken to write this and comment on FB and watch C crying with laughter after I made him read the latest ‘The Bloggess’ post about buying a 5-foot metal chicken. (No I don’t know yet how to add links.)

And now I am about to eat it.

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Potato and Spinach Curry! Or – Further Adventures with Vegetables.

Here is a recipe which I am very pleased with –  it is an adaptation of one of Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian vegetable dishes and it is simple, authentic and doesn’t taste like it came out of a jar. Most importantly, it doesn’t have an intimidatingly long list of ingredients but sort of tastes like it does.

I diced an onion and sauteed it in a mixture of canola oil and a smallish lump of butter. While it was gently sauteing and becoming ‘glassy’ I diced two medium-to-large potatoes (1 cm dice) and threw them in as well. (Into…my flame-orange Le Creuset which as it happened was exactly the right size for this dish. AS it is for most of my dishes. I love it so.)

 I also put in 3 roughly-chopped cloves of garlic.

Now the reason I put onions and garlic in is because I defy those ultra-vegetarian Indian dishes that proscribe onion and garlic because it heats your blood and inflames base lust. I personally have no problem if my curries inflame people’s base lust, so in they go.

Also the alternative is asafoetida, and really, people, I don’t care what anyone says, that stuff  a. is smelling-salts and b. has ‘foetid’ ACTUALLY in its name.

Anyway when the onion, potato and garlic was merrily sizzling (and sticking) away, I sprinkled in 1 level teaspoon of cumin seeds, 1/4 to 1/2 a teaspoon of chilli flakes and a heaped teaspoon of turmeric, as well as a good few grinds of pepper and a large pinch of Himalayan Crystal salt (as that is the salt I use for cooking. It’s supposed to be good for migraines. Preventing them, that is, not causing them.)

I stirred it all around for a while until the potatoes were basically done and there was a lot of stuck scumble on the bottom of my FABULOUS ENAMEL CASSEROLE DISH WHICH I ADORE *cough*.

And then, I washed a large punnet of baby spinach leaves. Normally I would use a bunch of silverbeet. I usually de-stem and de-rib the leaves, wash them well, then wilt them in boiling water, refresh them in cold water, squeeze them out, and finely chop them. But sometimes I am tired and can not be arsed. SO baby spinach is the solution. You could use adult spinach, frozen spinach, beetroot leaves, rainbow chard – whatever you like. Even spinach is not *actually* saag, that is a spinach-like plant that grows in Kashmir among other places. But I digress.

I chopped the baby spinach leaves and threw them in with about 1/4 cup of water. While they wilted down, I scraped all the scumble off the base of the saucepan. When it is ready I often serve it with another kind of curry, normally a meat one.

This recipe is pretty well exactly the same as the original adaptation-of-Madhur-Jaffrey’s beetroot and tomato curry. To make that, used diced beetroot instead of potato – I use it raw, peeled and diced, and simmer the curry for ages, but you could also bake or microwave, then peel and dice. You can use fresh tomato, but I usually use tinned diced romano tomatoes. You will need more water (if you use raw beetroot) and make sure it doesn’t stick as there is heaps more sugar in beetroot and tomato. it is also amazingly delicious. Much better than you would expect. Just remember the next day that you ate loads of beetroot – you are not haemorrhaging.

Enjoy!