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Blue cheese and mushroom risotto

Well that was interesting. There's no photo of this, nor should there be. This was one of the single least photogenic and more long-winded things I've ever made but I don't think that'll put me off having another go.

I made stock the other day. It probably doesn't matter too much what sort of vegetables go into the stock but for the record, this one had a lot of pumpkin, celery and fennel through it as well as quite a bit of spring onion so although the flavour was fairly delicate, it still had a definite character. I have no idea how much liquid risotto takes so I always always underestimate it. I put a bit over a litre of the stock into a saucepan and wrapped a couple of hundred grams of almond meal in a cloth with some freshly grated nutmeg, tied that closed and put that in the pan with the stock over a gentle heat, mooshing it about with a wooden spoon every so often.

Into my cast iron pot went some olive oil, two leeks, four cloves of garlic more grated nutmeg and some ground sage because I spotted it in the cupboard and it seemed like a good idea. I cooked that down until it was soft and swimming a bit in its own juices and added four portobello caps chopped small, a generous pout of balsalmic vinegar and a fairly random amount of brown rice. By that time the stock was nicely creamy so I removed the clothful of meal, squeezed it out and put it aside (in a jug in this case) and started ladling the stock in. One ladleful at a time stirred through and allowed to cook in until to no longer runs freely across the bottom of the pot if I clear a space with the wooden spoon. Yes, this takes a while, especially with brown rice but I wasn't in a hurry. By the time I was close to emptying the saucepan it was clear that I was going to need that much again so I put about another litre of stock in and returned the cloth to the pan as well. More ladling, more stirring. Near the end I just crumbled the wedge of blue cheese in, added the rest of the stock, stirred it into a gooey mess and let it sit on a very low heat for a while. I like this one a lot. The cheese was a bit over the top but I didn't mind that myself. Less would have been more balanced.

I ate the lot.

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Broccoli soup.

No photo for this one although it wasn't the most photogenic thing I've ever made anyway.

Someone made mention of broccoli soup and with the weather just turning cool I sort of seized on it as a cosy idea. That may also explain the frankly ridiculous amount of dairy in this. Vegans should look away now.

This is what started my love of simmering spring onions in butter. Again, not sizzling, just a good sized slice off the long side of a block of butter in the bottom of my enormous Soup Pot of the Apocalypse™, barely melted and greedily absorbing the flavour of whatever you put in it. In this case, that was a good sized bunch of spring onions, garlic, thyme, marjoram, nutmeg and black pepper. Don't be too shy with the nutmeg. I let that go for quite a while. Them I gradually stirred in a litre (yes, I wound up just using the whole litre!) of milk a bit at a time so that it never wound up actually cold in the pot. As that simmered for a bit, a positively cheesy smell started to come up out of it. I mean that in a good way. From there it was just diced Pontiac potatoes and a chopped up head of broccoli simmered for ages and eventually made smooth with a stick blender.

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Random mango and coconut curry

Sometimes this mood hits me. Like a lot of things I cook, there's a basic mental template and then I dance around it according to how I feel. This is the coconut cream enriched curry template.



So, as usual, spices warmed into oil. In this case it was cardamom, cumin, turmuric, pepper, allspice, cinnamon, fresh coriander, garlic and chilli with an onion sauteed in it, I added a package of frozen spinach, some cauliflower, steamed pumpkin and a mango because they were in the supermarket and shouted at me - that's what inspired me to cook this in the first place. I stirred through a can of coconut cream and let it simmer for a while. Coconut cream has a way of absorbing and transferring flavours into other foods so letting it go for a while is a good thing. I served it over basmati rice and put more uncooked coriander and flaked almonds that I toasted while the rest was simmering on top.

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Didn't actually cook

Marinated olives, Montagnard des Vosges, camenbert, Shropshire blue, sourdough. Henney's Dry Cider. Utter indulgence.


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Three veg (no meat)

I almost passed this one by but on reflection it was actually good, if rather buttery food. (I do cook without butter sometimes, I promise)




The kipfler potatoes are cut in half lengthways and then sliced at about 5-6mm intervals but not quite all the way through so they remain as a piece. Rubbed butter all over them, covered with salt, rosemary and grana padana and onto a baking tray on a sheet of baking paper. The corn is simple wrapped in alfoil, leaving the husk in place. The whole lot goes into a medium oven for about 40 minutes. When it comes out the husk comes off the corn quite easily. Pepper and more butter because apparently I couldn't stop myself on this evening. The fresh green beans and snow peas were topped and tailed and steamed just to the point of being bright green but still very much crunchy and then quickly stirred through a pan with yet more butter, fresh garlic and a dribble of sesame oil. There wasn't actually a great deal of butter in the pan, once the greens were coated there was nothing left behind and the slightly browned garlic clung to the greens. I really liked this one as a slightly more enthusiastic version of my regular low effort roast tuber and corn dinner.

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This is really all about the bread. And the photo of omnomnoms.



So some of that is just plonked on a plate. I've done nothing with the bocconcini or the olives. The haloumi is just sliced and fried although anyone who's had it knows that there's no such thing as "just" fried haloumi. The rest of what's on the plate is some small home-grown tomatoes cut in half, some Swiss brown mushrooms, likewise just thrown into a pan with olive oil, black pepper, garlic and basil leaves, some of which were chopped fairly small but mostly torn into big pieces. I wound the heat up and waited until the garlic started to brown at which point it was all done. There's also one of my favourite things which is a red capsicum placed directly onto the gas hob until the skin is charred all over. I need to wind up the exhaust fan for this game or the smoke detector in the kitchen loses its shit completely. Once it's charred, let it sweat in a bag for a little while, After that the skin rubs off really easily if you run it under the tap. It gives the capsicum a wonderful smoky flavour and I love it either by itself, as it was here or as an ingredient in a dish.

The bread though...that was what I was really playing with here. I'd tried making herby bread and it was a bit tentative so I decided to try making it a bit more characterful. Basic bread is four parts flour to three parts water by weight, at least as far as mixing the dough to start with goes, so I put the requisite amount of water in a jug the night before, bruised a generous amount of basil and thyme and shoved it in the jug with a pinch of salt to steep. A day later, it looked like a swamp but smelt amazing. The water and flour was mixed up with another small pinch of salt, more fresh herbs (they were selling a packet of mixed fresh herbs at the supermarket that looked about right. Thyme, rosemary, sage and other things I can't remember) and a teaspoon of yeast and allowed to rise while I got on with shopping and otherwise faffing about. I'd ideally liked to have given this a couple of hours to rise but in the end it still worked out well. I kneaded it, divided it into four balls, put them onto a floured tray, let them rise just a little more and then into an oven at about 190° until they were brown and crusty and made bread smells. Butter for the bread, wine in the decanter. Decadent, slightly over-generous dinner for two.

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Barley pottage

Ok, so people have asked me to blog the food I cook. I suspect that it's going to be more repetitive than people think but I like the idea that I have this as a record so that I can go back and take a look for my own reference later. At this point I'm scrolling backwards through Facebook and extracting all my food porn posts with a decent description and embellishing them slightly. Future cooking adventures might be better documented. Don't expect quantities of anything, I don't cook that way. I'll used the tag "foodporn" because I've already used the tag "food" and can't remember what's in there.

Ok, so barley pottage. Thanks to the lovely Steph for documenting the lunchpack I gave her because otherwise there'd be no photo for this entry. As it is, we have this:




This was partly inspired by a soup I made recently. It started with a bunch of spring onions and a small brown onion chopped small with a generous amount of garlic, pepper, cinnamon, paprika, oregano and sage all swooshed around in melted butter until it made smells. Really quite epic smells. This is a fairly typical mix for a lot of things I make – there will be repetition in a few of these posts. The thing with this, as with the soup is that it’s not sizzling, it’s warmed just enough to the butter to melt. Once it’s infused through and thoroughly aromatic with the onions getting translucent, you can throw in some chopped mushrooms – I used Swiss brown here but I also love portobellos in the same place, and then wind the heat up so the butter and onion just start to brown. At that point I poured in some red wine to deglaze (get the not-quite burnt bits off the bottom of the pot) and then toss in sun-dried tomatoes, silverbeet, veggie stock and rather a lot of pearl barley. Sub out olive oil for the butter and you’ll lose a little of the nuttiness but gain a little sharp fruitiness and it’ll be vegan. The stock in this case had inadvertent jalapeno offcuts as part of its contents and so this had a notable bite. It’ll work nicely with or without added chilli.

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A coalescing life

It's been a while.

I'm continuing to settle in to this place and continuing to love it. It is a place that I can have to myself and a place that I can share with others and I've done precisely that. People come by, settle into the chair or couch and talk and drink and eat. One person in particular has done this more and more of late and now I can't get rid of her. Nor do I want to. This has been a gentle coming together; a slow teasing dance of ever decreasing circles that even now continues in an exploratory waltz as we work out how we feel about this thing that we're doing that holds new experiences and implications for both of us.

I cook more these days. I like my kitchen and I love sharing food with people, especially when I'm dating them. Food is a sensual thing that engages all of our senses in a deep and fundamental way. I'm not exercising well though so I am failing at losing weight. I'd say I will try harder but I've said that many times before and until and unless I make it the kind of habit where I twitch if I don't ride then it will be an uphill battle. I'm at that point in my life where my body is starting to degenerate purely due to age. It's a slow and fairly gentle process but noticeable. I picked up my first pair of prescription glasses just over a week ago and have been startled by just how much my eyesight had declined. There will be some grumpiness at my body but this is nothing new and I'm gradually getting better at making my peace with this sort of thing. There's also no reason why I have to just throw my hands up and surrender - I can still ride and there are other things I can do. I'm aging but I'm most certainly not old.

Still. For the first time in a very long while I find that no part of my life is fraught. I am making new friends who are lovely, I'm settling more comfortably into my home, my body, my community, and this new relationship, the precise shape of which is still shaking itself out.

I have my life back and I find myself fascinated to see how it turns out from here.

Continuing to settle

So I've been here a month. That rather passed in a flash. I'm not sure I've ever liked living somewhere this much and the space is getting comfier all the time. There is a gentle ease to living here that means I actively like coming home and spending time here. I cook and relax and even just gentle pottering about the place doing housework has an aspect of defining this as my own space, I've had a few people drop by and I find that I like that a lot as well. This is all very good stuff.

It's been the catalyst for a lifestyle reboot as well. I've picked up my cycle commute again properly and apart from during the heat wave last week when it would hove been downright stupid, I've been out on the bike more days than not. It's starting to feel normal again even though it's still exceedingly hard going and I'm still disconcertingly slow. 18 months of sloth have taken their toll but I'm hoping I can regain a fair chunk of the fitness I once had fairly quickly. I'm also regaining my cooking mojo. Having access to the kitchen that's both physically and emotionally unfettered is a delight. I know what's in the cupboards, I know where it is and I can eat any of it any time I like. I'm gradually building stock again to the point where I have the basic dry and tinned staples that will allow me to make good food on an ad hoc basis as well as a a few special items like a selection of cheeses in the fridge, wine in the sideboard and random things like cacao nibs and muscovado sugar which just make me happy. I *like* mucking about in the kitchen. I still don't quite make the things in my head but often the results are pleasingly close. I consistently have lunchpacks of a good variety of leftovers in the freezer as a result so buying lunch is now the exception rather than the rule.

These are all little things but there's a sense of agency in the day to day aspects of my life which in retrospect had been missing. When none of the bills were in my name and I was hermiting in my bedroom it did rather feel like I was the teenage child of my housemates in some ways. This in no way reflects badly on them but the reality of moving into an established sharehouse is that the communal spaces have already been claimed, particularly when everyone else in the house is a family. So having all the bills in my name and having the running of the household entirely up to me gives me ownership of my home that lets me feel like a proper grownup again. That seems a silly thing for a 43 year old woman to say but reclaiming all those basic day to day aspects of my life make me realise how much I'd missed them and how much that sort of thing informs my sense of being responsible for myself.

I spoke with the tattoo artist who's going to be doing my sleeve the other day. It seems the first half of this year is tied up with her dealing with already started pieces but true to her word, she's stuck me at the top of the waiting list for new large pieces which means it'll happen around June. I'll be seeing her for a consultation session in a couple of months and she made me realise that I can alter the existing image as much or as little as I like. I won't be playing about with it too much but I can feel free to do what is necessary to make it fit on my arm, not only spatially but pleasingly. I can play with the palette and mess about with some elements or even introduce new ones to make it work. It's going to be a bit horrifically expensive but I have bond coming back to me and have had a Medicare rebate for a potion of my surgery costs. Those two sums just about neatly cover what I expect this to cost so the universe is sort of providing in this instance. I am excited and impatient and very much looking forward to this. I adore my existing ink and have rather predictably been bitten by the tattoo bug. I like this bodymod thing, I think.

This is all very positive indeed. Let's see where this goes and what 2014 brings. It's about damn time my life settled a little.

Nesting

A sudden explosion of life (not mine this time) has seen me move yet again. Actually, for all that moving is a fraught process, this isn't actually a bad thing. My once and former housemates are lovely people but that living arrangement carried with it the disadvantages which are simply inherent in moving into an established sharehouse. I've decided that it's worth the increase in living expenses to revert to living by myself. So I'm now living in a one bedroom unit not terribly far away from the last place and overall I'm very pleased with what I've ended up with. There are some repairs which need to happen and which I hope won't turn into a drama with the owner - interior doorhandles not fastened and the rear deadlock not usable as it's not possible to insert the key from inside as well as a cranky toilet cistern. I do love having my own space again though. I went on something of a household goods purchasing bender, both at the supermarket and Ikea. The place is starting to acquire a really pleasing character as I arrange my things inside it and I find myself looking forward to inviting people to visit me. While I love that this is my home and mine alone, this is also a space which I want to share regularly. this may have something to do with the fact that it will be the first home I've had without a cat since early 1998. I am the only living moving thing there which is slightly spooky.

Annoyingly, it's not spookily quiet. The walls separating me from the adjacent flat are not thick and there's one neighbour who doesn't know the meaning of "inside voice" and spends both morning and evening in conversations during which she shouts over the top of whoever else she's talking to with a kind of blustering posturing that will likely become wearing. She want people to know how dangerous and hardcore she is. I think I do but I suspect my impression isn't the one she hopes to give.

So, new home. Having my own space might prompt a lifestyle reboot and that's what I'm going to aim for but I've said that in the past and it hasn't happened. Let's see how I go this time.