Monthly Archives: March 2011

Southern comfort

As you may have noticed there is a little space in my heart at the moment and I’ve been trying to fill it with food.  Not literally, of course, that would be weird!  I have been loading up on the hearty, warming, nourishing variety of food.  Otherwise known as, quite a lot of fat and warm saucy things.

Which of course, led me to the deep south of America, via Jamie Oliver.  I have a Jamie book called, funnily enough, ‘America’.  It is a book that I flick through often but like many of my recipe books they sit on my shelves and act as inspiration and visual stimulation.  It is time to shake things up in my household, I am stuck in a rut of making the same old reliable dishes that have been in my repertoire for years.  You know, those dishes that you make because they don’t require thought.  Well, it’s high time that I exercise my brain and flex my chef muscles at home. 

This brings me, of course, to how I wound up making gumbo and corn bread on a monday night!  Really, you would have thought I had better things to do with my time.  But no, the sad reality is, that on my days off, I relish the thought of having a little play in the kitchen.  So, once I had enlisted Mr T’s help to get me and my multitude of shopping bags home, I was halfway there.  First, the corn bread.  I realised when I was halfway through making it that corn bread is kinda, sorta similar to making a set polenta cake.  It has a lot of common denominators, polenta, for a start, milk, lots of cheese, seasoning etc.  I fried my onions and corn and then made a really thick slurry with the eggs, milk etc, etc and then just popped it in a cake tin.  It was all pretty darn simple, I still wasn’t sure I was going to like it, I have a love/like relationship with polenta.  More of that later…

Onto the main event.  The gumbo at first appeared a little daunting but the reality is, if you listed every ingredient of that curry/chilli/roast  that you make at least once every week without flinching, they too would make a formidable list but you know it like the back of your hand.  So, I took a deep breath and started chopping my little heart out.  This brought me to the Roux.  The roux as you may or may not know, is that buttery, floury thing that you do to make white sauce.  Here, the only difference is that you fry a large amount of different meats with varying degrees of fattiness, ranging from slightly fatty (chicken thighs) to medium fatty (chorizo) to really fatty (streaky bacon) and this then becomes the ‘butter’ for your roux.  Before I bore you all into a coma, I will quickly summate.  Basically, the longer you cook out the roux, apparently the better your gumbo.  The die-hard gumbo makers will apparently stir for up to an hour to get a really rich, almost burnt shortbread essence.  However, what with being a gumbo virgin, I thought it better to tread carefully and be a bit lazy so I stirred for about ten minutes.  Anyway, after that, you chuck in your meat and veg and stock and ultimately you end up with a really good, smoky, comforting stew with a bit of a kick. 

We devoured our southern feast very late last night after a slight detour in the cooking process, which involved a blues band, a few wines, a few friends and a bubbly two-year old with more energy than most of us could muster in a lifetime.  When I presented Mr T with a steaming plate of food at about ten pm, he said that he just wanted a small dinner.  This is not a phrase I am familiar with, especially when I’ve put in a lot of miles in the kitchen and continued to do so, even whilst marginally intoxicated.  Anyway, they were empty threats, once Mr T had introduced himself to the wonders of gumbo, he devoured the entire plate and then stood at the stove, shovelling leftovers straight out of the pot into his mouth with a rather unwieldy spoon. 

Oh how we enjoyed the southern comfort…  And I enjoyed the leftovers tonight for a lazy dinner.  I’m craving something sweet, if only I could work up the enthusiasm to put the maple syrup, cream cheese icing on the pecan cakes that just came out of the oven.  Wish me luck! 

P.s. Nearly forgot to say that the corn bread was tasty but I just don’t think it’s my thing, it is very dense and the polenta was a bit clunky!

P.p.s.  Can you all do me a favour?  If you read this post, can you all leave me a comment?  It’s really easy to do.  I ask for two reasons.  One, it is really, really nice to get comments from happy readers and I love the feedback.  Two, I am really intrigued to know who is reading.  Who are all you lovely people with nothing better to do?  By the way, I can see how many people have read my blog so if I’m missing a few comments, I will know!  Tell me any suggestions, comments, requests you might have…

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What does my heart desire?

I think my endless desire to cook, my need to potter in the kitchen, my capacity to always be dirtying dishes comes from me never quite knowing what I am hungry for.

You know that feeling when you’re definitely a little peckish and you think you fancy something sweet so you go to the fridge, grab a couple of chunks of chocolate and settle back into the sofa.  Aforementioned chocolate having been devoured, a few minutes later, you’re sitting there and that nagging feeling comes back.  You are not quite satisfied.  What is this unnamed ‘thing’ that I so long for but yet cannot seem to make real? 

I hate this feeling.  It is something I am constantly battling with, this is my thought process when I’m having these quandaries… 

Mmm, chicken, maybe we should have roast chicken for dinner, oh yeah, roast chicken with a lovely light tarragon and white wine sauce, oh and I can save a thigh and have it cold tomorrow with japanese mayonnaise and too much sea salt, or maybe that nice oriental chicken salad I made that time we went to that picnic, although I don’t know if I have any sesame seeds but a nice  green curry would be quite fresh, hmm, not sure if Mr T will feel like curry on such a hot day, maybe I could just make a really quick pasta with loads of fresh vegetables and lots of chilli and herbs from the garden, or maybe, or maybe…..   And so it continues, round and round. 

Who would have thought that choosing the evening meal could be so complicated!  I’m exhausted just thinking about it.  I often get these feelings late at night, when I’ve already had dinner.  This is what made me sit and write this blog post, I am having one of those moments right now.  It is 10pm, Mr T is out and about, I’ve already made myself lamb steak and salad but I want something else.  I wanted to make a cake when I got home but didn’t have enough butter (a rare occurrence, butter courses through my veins) and I wanted to make rice pudding for the second time this week but didn’t have the energy so I had to settle for chocolate.  So, after about 12 chunks of chocolate turkish delight, I am still not satisfied and feeling a little queasy so I’ve moved onto the wonder that is a McVities digestive biscuit with milk chocolate.  Oh, how they remind me of home…  I dunk them in tea, I scoff them straight up, I eat far too many at once!  They pretty much sustained me through my third year at university. 

They’ve filled a gap and sitting here now, listening to music, drinking hot tea and watching the super moon, life seems pretty good.  I think that endless hunger is simply desire; to feel full, to try new things, to create new experiences through flavour but mostly I think it is comfort that we desire.  Tea and choccy biccies aren’t quite the same as a hug from my Sis but they’ll have to do for now. 

What will tomorrow bring?  Probably some spiced fruit toast, or maybe I could use the fruit toast and turn it into french toast and I could spike the egg mix with some chai tea infused milk or maybe, or maybe…

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Pelican tapas

Pelican tapas

Pelican tapas in St Kilda resonates with laidback cool, the funky wooden exterior houses achingly trendy young hipsters out on the prowl.  As we step inside the sultry restaurant we are greeted by a friendly staffer who promptly finds us a table and some menus.  Inside the space almost feels a little colonial, dark wood abounds and ceiling fans keep the customers cool (who thought they could get any cooler?) 

The menu is simple yet enticing.  It features the classics but adds a touch of flair with dishes such as popcorn chicken.  We were considering a bottle of viognier and as they sold it by the glass, I asked for a taste and this was no problem for our waiter.  After ordering our wine, we sat back in our chairs and settled in for a proper catch up.  Our food arrived in two stages which was perfect for the size of our table and avoided food becoming cold whilst languidly hanging out on the plate. 

First cab off the rank was the aforementioned popcorn chicken with tarragon and lemon aioli, closely followed by Moroccan spiced meatballs with tomato sauce and yoghurt.  The chicken was perfectly cooked and very well seasoned, it was better than the colonels’ incarnation of popcorn chicken.  Small nuggets of moist, tender chicken were enveloped in a spiced, crisp batter and the dish was studded with popcorn kernels which added a nice textural element.  Moroccan meatballs were a benchmark dish, they were everything you want from a meatball.  The lamb was moist and the meat was not too heavy, the sweet Moroccan spices were perfectly nuanced and the rich tomato sauce had the perfect foil in the form of yoghurt. 

After the first round we were showing our enthusiasm by salivating on the table, well, not quite but we sure were keen for what was ahead.  Round two was comprised of prawns with chilli, garlic and tomato; chorizo with romesco, broad beans, cherry tomatoes and potatas bravas.  Once again we were lulled into a place of comfort and satisfaction, which is just what we all needed after the previous night of debauchery and four am pizza scoffing.  The romesco was punchy and flavoursome, with the cherry tomatoes and broad beans adding a fresh touch to lighten the smoky chorizo.  I could tell from the other side of the table that the prawns were perfectly cooked; they still had that tender translucency which reassures you that they haven’t been cooked into oblivion.  They were juicy and cooked expertly but the sauce would have benefited from a sprinkle of salt.  However, the potatas bravas found the perfect accompaniment in the leftover prawn juices.  The crispy potatoes were elevated to another level when dipped in the seafood residue.  I must say, the tatties were good but I think I can do better myself, which is never really a welcome thought when dining out. 

We had ordered on the light side as I had previously spotted the ridiculously reasonably priced desserts.  Bil (brother in law) and Sis (sister) had joined me for dinner and we all decided to indulge in dessert.  It’s almost rude not to when they only cost $6.  So Bil and I opted for the peanut brittle ice cream with tuille biscuit whilst Sis chose the white chocolate rocky road.  The ice cream was creamy and crunchy and all round pleasant, if I try hard to find a criticism, it was a tiny bit gummy.  White chocolate rocky road was yummy and appeared to be made from good quality chocolate and was a generous portion. 

All in all, it was a really lovely evening, made better by the consistently good food with no frills and frippery.  To me, a wee country lass, Pelican represents what I imagine mainstream Melbourne dining to be.  Pelican was trendy, simple, yet displayed flair and they make it all look so effortless.  It just had that cool Melbourne thing going on, let’s hope it’s contagious.   

Next stop, the Great Ocean Road….

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