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not-Spanokopita

spanakopita

A lot of people have been asking me what I did with that tin of tin of Bulgarian not-feta that I bought a while back. Well the answer is nothing, but then I used some to make leftover sausage scrambled eggs (slice the sausage thinly, fry up in a bit of harissa and pretend it’s chorizo) with not-feta. It’s not-feta because it’s Bulgarian white brined cheese. I’d assumed this was part of the Protected Designation of Origin Laws but the hot gossip is that feta was originally made in Trakia, Bulagaria and they call it sirene. I can’t pretend to know how pissed off Greeks would be about this but according to this post at Balkanalysis.com suggests they’ve had an initially antagonistic start to their relationship in the 7th Century; a brief period of amity; complications when Greece discovered that Bulgaria was only going out with it because of a bet with Romania; and then finally “strong relations.”
Read it all because it has the best bitchy
caption about a British PM ever:

In 1912, British fixer J.D. Bourchier was honored with a Bulgarian postage stamp; today, Tony Blair warrants only a babushka in Sofia’s flea market.

It’s a shame Crass aren’t still around to write “How does it feel (to be not half the man J.D. Bourchier was)”

My own Bulgarian- Greek nexus occurred in 1989 (stop me if you’ve heard thins one before) when I visited Sofia. Fresh from eating my body weight in dishes with paprika cream sauce, politely drinking pepsi and red wine, and dodging tram fares in Budapest, I should have realised something was up when I became the only person with a backpack on the train. When I got off the train at Sofia station, someone made it their business to walk over to me and call me a “tourist” much like you’d call someone a variation of twat. I went there to catch up with the last known link with my family. I’m pretty sure the last visit to Bulgaria have been in the 1920′s by my grandfather. The evidence being a black and white photo of a somber group of locals who may have been at a funeral, or a wedding; hard to tell.

The address was 234-64 something something Sofia and 64 referred one of the randomly placed Stalin-style apartment blocks around town. I wasn’t deterred and had spent no small amount of time thinking about what it would be like to be welcomed back by my ancestors; the great-grandson of my great-grandfather who eloped with his fiance eighty years or so earlier. A kind soul, who spoke a little English and a bit of Russian and a bit of French and smoked Malborough Reds, found the apartment block for me and wished me well. I found the door and knocked. And knocked. And knocked. And then a neighbour came out, I said the person’s name and then the neighbour made a driving gesture and indicated that she wouldn’t be back for a few days.

In mandatory hotel room fees (with roof views) and compulsory currency exchange, Bulgaria was too rich for me and I decided to leave the next day. No pigs slaughtered; no young women giggling demurely while they worked how distant a relation, I really was if at all; and no lashings of yoghurt. I hung out in a bar in Sofia, actually it was more like a cafeteria selling beer, and the night life was surprisingly not good. The next day was shops are closed day except for the shops that didn’t seem to sell anything except skis so bought my ticket to Athens for the equivalent of three dollars.

I shared a compartment with some holidaying Poles who gave me food and then when the ticket inspector arrived I found out, as everyone pulled out large bits of paper to my small stub, that the ticket was remarkably cheap because it wasn’t a ticket but a seat reservation. The conductor thought it was pretty funny at least and rather than being turfed out in chains, I was able to buy a ticket to the Greek border with the money I hadn’t been able to spend with two lev to spare.

A day later I made it to Athens to find the last two thousand years hadn’t been quite as grand as the previous two and that if you go to the Parthenon, don’t look at your watch with a carton of orange juice in your hand, and if you got to visit the Oracle in Delphi, wear a jumper.
Anyway, the recipe is here. I used a bunch of silverbeet and a bunch of spinach (60/40 greens to cheese ratio) and finely diced a zucchini and when you rinse your greens in, make sure you lift them out of whatever you’re rinsing them in rather than pouring them, along with assorted grit, into a strainer. Then wash them again.

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Cowboy Pie


cowboy pie


Sure it’s not your ‘Gordon Bleu’ but when Toni comes back at t minus three weeks and wants shepherds pie even though its in the mid- thirties, then it gets made. Unfortunately she bought beef mince which means its technically cowboy pie. Traditionally you would make it using leftover roast lamb or mutton and wiggle your eyebrows lasciviously every time you said ‘Shepherds Pie’.
There’s no particular magic in the recipe here – just the usual ragout principle of cooking the liquids out before adding new ones. Lightly brown the mince, then add some chopped mushrooms to soak up the liquids. Add some rosemary thyme and pepper. Then cook out a good splash of leftover white wine. Add some kidney beans and a jar of tomato cooking sauce and simmer until reduced. You want to be able to eat it with a fork but at the same time have some gravy to latch onto the mash. Season to taste.
Meanwhile boil the spuds, mash and then stir in a mixture of hot milk and butter. Spoon over the top of the ragout. I just used the cast iron pan I cooked the ragout in. If you use a spoon, you can tease up little peaks like on a meringue.
Brown off in the oven.
Don’t slack off on the salt – it likes it. Them’s good eatin’!

FOR TRAGICS: Name that cast iron pan.

OTHER SHEPHERD’S PIE THOUGHTS: If you get Supergrass’s “In it For The Money” Bonus CD there’s a bit that deadpans “A year’s supply of shepherd’s pie” which I just really like and it makes me laugh just thinking about it.
Funnily enough, in Zappa’s similarly titled “We’re Only in It for the Money” there’s also a deadpanned “Creamcheese”. Admittedly Creamcheese isn’t a pie but it does feature in cheesecake which is similar to pie. Did you know Lincoln was riding in a Kennedy?

lamb roast

Mag’s been put to bed so that means…Sunday roast.

A few helpful things:

Lamb
You can make a nice lamb stuffing with (roughly)
a cup of fresh breadcrumbs, a knob/thumb of melted butter, 1/3 cup of fire raisins, grated lemon peel, and 2 tbs of chopped mint and 2 tbs chopped parsley and a couple of sprigs of thyme.
The shoulder of dorper lamb had already been boned and netted – I carefully peeled back the net, unrolled the lamb, spread it with stuffing and rerolled and netted it. Just let it sit for a while in some EVOO and rosemary before roasting.
You could always debone it yourself or ask a butcher, anyway these are usually called “easycarve roasts”.


Roast Sweet Potato, Broccoli and Leek Pie (not pictured)

Bit like a quichey bastila (No!). Instead of shortcrust get some sheets of filo pastry and a springform tin. Rub the tin down with butter (just the inside) and then brushing one sheet at a time with butter, line the inside of the tin. Work around the tin 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock, 9 o’clock, 12 o’clock, rock. A little tearing is unavoidable but if you layer it enough there should be enough overlap so the filling doesn’t run everywhere when you put it in. You can trim it or scrunch it up for a scrunchy effect – I think I used about 10 sheets of filo pastry.
For the filling – sliced leek sauteed gently in butter, small oven-roasted cubes of sweet potato, chopped broccoli – ever so slightly pre-cooked in butter, goat’s cheese, toasted sesame seeds, some thyme, oregano and salt and pepper. 8 eggs and 300mls of cream (and if you’re using Bannister Downs cream, it’s good, make sure you give the pack a bit of a shake and a squeeze).
Cooks in about 20 minutes.

Potatoes Dauphinoise
Had this at Bouchon Bistro on Friday night (which is really good) so I made it at home. The trick is cooking the potato slices in milk with a bouquet garni and nutmeg*. You ditch the milk when the potatoes have been cooking for 15 minutes. Give the casserole dish a bit of a rub with butter and cut garlic cloves. then layer the potato slices, seasoning as you go along, filling with hot cream, and topping with grated gruyere. Cook in the oven for 40 minutes.

Roasted Beetroot
Roast beetroots until skins peels off by hand. Dice and then serve with sour cream and chopped mint.

Coconut, Chocolate and Vanilla Soufflé
This is close enough to the recipe to save me typing it out. While you’re boiling the milk add a sliced vanilla bean and about 2/3 cup of dessicated coconut.

Drinking notes: Don’t know what it is but Bishops Finger is just so right at the moment.
Possible jingle:
(to tune of “L-A-C-H-L-A-N”, Your Wedding Night)
Well guests they will linger
If you’re giving the Finger

chocolate coconut vanilla souffle


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Lemon Meringue Pie

lemon meringue pie

The reason I don’t do a lot of desserts/baking is because I always imagine them as dour, precise exercises in tablespoon levelling and scale taring. That they may be, but a lemon meringue pie, at least, seems to work on shifting realities. Three basic elements and I don’t think I saw two recipes that were the same. Not just different amounts of ingredients but in procedures as well. So either there is only one true recipe or people are just making it up as they go along. I took comfort in the latter.

First thing, ignore any recipe which use cornflour. It’s just wrong. Don’t ask me why. No wait. I’ll tell you why. Because it’s lazy. So there. You’re using cornflour because you can’t do 10 minutes of stirring in a bowl over boiling water. Make enough and you can put it in jars and make a half-way decent Christmas present. Ignore key lime pie. It contains four ingredients – pie base, condensed milk, key limes and cream – and perpetuates an internet-stuffing variety of recipes from canned food dependents.

The two main I used were recipe were from Stephanie Jaworski at Joyofbaking, who has a great name for crime fiction, and Delia. Delia really just for the pastry instructions and then not much, so don’t bother. The ingredient amounts at Joy of Baking were pretty good though.

Pastry
Half butter, half lard (’twas a saint in the city of angels that turned me to the lard – not the easiest thing to buy these days, the packaging just says ‘lard’, I think methylated spirits gets fancier labels)

210 gms all purpose flour; pinch of salt, 60gms unsalted butter and 60gms lard at room temperature; 50 gms white sugar; 1 egg yolk lightly beaten; 1tbs cold water

Sift flour and salt, mix in egg yolk with sugar, then work in some flour and start to rub in bits of butter and lard tio make crumbs and then work into a dough. Don’t overwork, finish off with a splash of cold water to a smooth ball and then put in the fridge wrapped in greaseproof paper for an hour.

Roll to a circle, fold into quarters (thank you Marg) and then unfold into a buttered pie thingy (I never realised I had one, pie thingy that is). Don’t stretch the dough. Blind bake (greaseproof paper weighed down with rice) in a 210C oven for 10 minutes then remove the greaseproof paper and rice and continue to bake until light brown.

Lemon and Passionfruit Curd
Juice and zest of two lemons; two egg yolks; one whole egg; 3/4 cup white suggar; 60gms unsalted butter; pulp of one passionfruit.

Place juice, eggs and sugar in a bowl. Place bowl over boiling water to make a double boiler and stir until thickened to the consistency of thick cream or hollandaise – about eight minutes. Whisk butter in in small pieces. Stir in the zest and passionfruit pulp – you can add as many seeds as you like, it does add crunch.

Important point! Can’t remember where I saw this but if the curd is hot when you put the meringue on, it won’t detach later.

Meringue

3 egg whites; 1/2 a cup of sugar – double for an impressively high pie.

Whisk until stiff peaks form, but you knew this.

Finishing
Place curd in pie and spread evenly.

Spoon meringue on top, covering the curd. Make pointy bits by dabbing the meringue with a spoon and lifting.

Cook in a 170C oven until the meringue has nice golden browny bits (10 minutes) remove and allow to cool.

That’s it. Fabulous! You’ll love yourself and so will your guests.

lemon meringue

spanakopita

Spanakopita [from the Greek spanos - spinach, and kopita - pie] it pretty easy. Lightly blanch a couple of bunches of spinach and chop up. Chop up a few field mushrooms, a clove of garlic and some spring onions and sautee in a little olive oil. Mix it all in with three free-range eggs, a grated block of feta cheese and a handful of chopped herbs – coriander, marjoram, dill, and parsely. Butter a baking tray, place three sheets of filo pastry brushed with butter on the bottom. Add the mix and then top with three more sheets of filo. Cook at 180C for about 40 minutes.

Jo’s moussaka added gravy like goodness with near dissolved eggplant.

Buggered if I can get a single sheet of filo pastry to not tear before just chucking the rest away in scrumpled digust. Is there a trick to this?

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chicken and mushroom quiche


Today is International Women’s Day. Spiceblog is well regarded as a leader in gender issues on the internet in Australia so I shouldn’t let this slip by. As is often said, where the mirror cannot be found, the dish will do. Last Friday I went to the outdoor movies and I made a quiche. For those around at the time, the quiche was a minor celebrity in the crisis of manhood in the early 80s – second only to the manbag. It managed to inspire a book “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche” with the punchline being “they eat ham and egg pie”. Hoohoo indeed! I’m not sure where this animosity came from, I mean it’s not as if half our language isn’t French already or that manliness is derived from an earthy literalness that would have us saying that’s not a carburettor, it’s a device to regulate the flow of fuel and air into the cylinder. Possibly it was a kind of no-nonsense response that played into a myth of the fall. The fall being the defeat in 1066 by the Normans which destroyed the priveleged position of good honest monosyllables and all things Arthury or something. So ingrained in me was this that there was a moment of hope that since I didn’t have a quiche tin and had to use a cake tin, the lack of scalloped edge and the relative heightiness meant that it would be a pie. It wasn’t

Get yourself some short-crust pastry, butter a tin, cut a circle of pastry out, place it in the bottom. Cut some strips out to go around the edge. Seal up any gaps and blind bake for 10 minutes at 220C. If you haven’t done this before, it’s just to get it nice and crusty. Place some dried beans on the pastry to stop it puffing up. I disn’t have any beans so I used some ceramic hashioki. Just put a sheet of baking paper under them.

Mix was one chicken breast which I left to marinate for an hour in Ras al Hanout spices. Pan cooked and shredded. About a cup of chopped field mushrooms and then a third as much chopped spring onions and a third as much of that in chopped scallions all gently cooked in butter. Mix together with the chicken and a handful of chopped flat leaf parsley. Four whole eggs, half as much cream, and half again of cheddar I had. OK alright there’s maths here but are you going to have the same amount of spring onions as mushrooms? No. Half as much mushrooms as chicken maybe. I wanted mix with eggy bits just holding it together and I got it. How much cheese do you want? Make a decision. Salt and pepper. Cook at 180C until you dip a knife in it and it comes out clean and then take it out and cool it on a rack. You can then pop it back in the tin for easy transportation to said French film.

Film of which was French film The Story of My Life – dealing with thirthysomething doubt regarding artistry versus commerce versus success versus failure versus risk versus identity versus vulagarity versus the woman you have versus the woman you want all mixed together in a second act snarl up with comedic result and character switchovers.

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beef and mushroom pie

If not by now, at least by the end of this post, you should be of the same opinion as me. Mother Winter is not to be hidden from at the door like some collector of charity but invited in and given a warm embrace for the opportunities she brings.

I made this for lunch during my long weekend holiday down South using the leftover pot roast from the night before. It is a dish of great ease. An account, vary at will:

Sauteed a finely sliced leek in some olive oil, added a chopped carrot, added some chopped field mushrooms, added the chopped up leftover beef from last night (if you don’t have this just chop up and brown some uncooked meat), added half a couple of glasses of red wine, a bay leaf, a sprig of freshly chopped rosemary, and a dozen peppercorns. Brought to a boil. Covered ingredients with beef stock and allowed to simmer for 10 minutes (or water just leave to simmer a little longer – it should bemore or less how you like it before you put it in the oven). Heated half a cup of stock and added teaspoon by teaspoon of cornflour until it became a paste. Added to the mix, stirred in well, and added to the pot. Taken off heat and transferred to a ceramic dish. Cut out a circle of puff pastry to fit, placed on top, made an half-arsed attempt at a decoration with the leftover bits, brushed with the very last scraps of butter and placed in a 180C oven for 30 minutes (until the top is golden), and served.

Yes I enjoyed it. A thicker crust would have given greater gravy soaking joy and more butter would have given a more golden glaze but otherwise, it would be hard to go wrong here.


Foodists! Tired of preaching to the converted? Buck Fudd has a “kitchen cupboard full of healthgiving but unfulfilled grains and pulses” and is in need of advice. Go! Share! – Buck Fudd’s Blues: Bucking Hungry.
[thanks Robert Corr]

volauventAs we discussed, you knew you were at a very special 80′s Perth party when the mini vol au vents came out. If you were lucky, you may have washed them down with now defunct Swan Premium. I’ve never made them before due to the difficulty of obtaining vole but decided to go with chicken instead.

To be frank, vol au vents are kind of a drag. I was going to just buy the shells but felt guilty so I compromised with bought puff pastry and then went from there. Cutting out the base and then the ring shape to go on top is dull, dull, dull. There’s a brief moment of magic when they spring up in the oven, but that’s about it. The filling was classic menu wank that I chose for no other reason than the combo of pistachio, chicken, and blue cheese sounded good. Quite tasty but the time taking fiddliness could have been put to better ends and the filling was an uncomfortable compromise between chunky and creamy.

Served at my sister and brother-in-law’s decade of being together do. Good on ‘em I say. Stopped in, pre-party, at the drive-through bottle shop at Steve’s for a bottle of ’95 something (bad year for France?). Wandered downstairs to have a look at their vintage-wine filled cellar. Very impressive and on a completely unrelated note, anybody out there with tunneling experience. POWs? Coal miners? Get in touch OK.