Sunday, June 28, 2015

Strategic cooking

A lovely place for a hike, except for the part where I don't really like to hike
The first half of June seemed to involve an epic amount of cooking (unaccompanied by any photo-taking or blog-posting, alas - hence the entirely gratuitous scenery shot of a recent trip to Blue Moutains National Park). During that two-week stretch I had close to two dozen people over for meals, in varying amounts and combinations, all associated with DP's programme in one way or another (ie, mostly - but not all - teapot people). Enough of these events were back-to-back that I had the opportunity to experiment with re-purposing leftovers strategic cooking in a way that I was comfortable with, rather than starting from zero every time.

Here are a few of the hacks I came up with, mostly to do with starters and desserts - I think because I'm used to cooking a main meal most nights anyways, it's the frills that drive me around the bend.

This is not rocket science, but worth noting - a sturdy dip such as either of these will hold well for a couple of days. Maybe freshen the second batch with a squeeze of lemon or a slug of olive oil before serving?
  • Chocolate ganache (I made a big batch of this; the first night I drizzled it over brown sugar pound cake and vanilla ice cream; by the second night it had firmed up in the fridge and I used it to fill a batch of Essential Cookie Sandwiches for a simple dessert for a non-teapot-person visitor.)
  • Flourless chocolate cake (I served this in slices with whipped cream the first night, then in rounds, topped with roasted pears and maple whipped cream (an homage to the flavors of poires belle Helene) the second night)
  • Caramel apple upside down cake (again - first night in slices with cream (ice? whipped? maybe a choice?), second day in hefty chunks in muffin cases as part of a lunch dessert spread)
It's probably worth noting that both the chocolate and the apple cakes were just as delicious the second day and not at all dried out or otherwise deterioriated.

In the event that you make a very large batch of nice homemade rolls one night and happen to have a lot of leftovers, they make excellent garlic rolls to accompany the next night's main course (particularly if it's something Italian, which it usually is in my house). Simply cut nearly all the way through each roll in an X-shape, then drizzle generously with butter that has been melted and combined with lots of chopped garlic. Wrap tightly in aluminum foil and re-heat for 15-20 minutes.

I also tried out some new stuff, which I'll write up as soon as I make them again and take some pictures of them. Hightlights to come include an entirely GF meal, something Miss B refers to as "flat tasty chicken", and my new favorite dessert.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Hands off

Hello! Please insert standard apologies for another long silence here, along with reassurance that I thought often, if not every day, of this blog and how I wished I was posting to it. (Not that that made any visible difference, but maybe it gets me some karmic brownie points for good intentions?)

Anyway, here's a snapshot of what I've been up to since Easter, which may help explain my lack of blog-related focus and posting....

A few months ago, we decided spontaneously to organize a fun mini-break at the beach during Miss B's April school holidays, figuring we'd get some lovely mid-autumn weather. Instead, we timed it perfectly to experience the 'storm of the century' which battered Sydney and the surrounding coastal areas for three days, dumping something like 20 cm/12 in of rain in 48 hours on the town where we were staying. Luckily we had brought lots of videos and we never lost power, unlike a lot of other people. We even managed to sneak out onto the beach between storms a few times to admire the moody skies and gigantic, terrifying surf. (Full disclosure: I am quite likely to find Australian surf terrifying even on a regular beach day.)

Sometime after we had already booked (and paid for) the abovementioned mini-break, another travel opportunity came along that we couldn't (and decided not to) refuse. The good news was that it meant we got to spend a week in London as a family. The bad news was that it came up at pretty short notice, and required that we fly out of Canberra two days after getting back from the coast. Fun! Well, the getting-there part, not so much; but the being-there part was fun - even the parts like this: wandering in Hyde Park on our first evening, trying desperately to stay awake until bedtime and taking in a few sights along the way. Other highlights of the week included taking Miss B to my favorite British museum, the V&A, for the first time (a success) and attempting to take her into a pub to meet some of my colleagues (a failure - they chucked us out on account of no children being allowed in after 5pm!).

Part of the reason that the London trip came together is that I was already scheduled to fly to Europe - when the week was over, DP and Miss B flew back to Australia, while I went on to Greece for a week-plus of work meetings. (Yes, my job is very gruelling.) Here's a view of one of many glorious sunsets I witnessed with the Parthenon looming picturesquely in the middle distance.

Needless to say, with all the travelling and other stuff going on, I haven't done a huge amout of cooking in the last several weeks (although I did eat some pretty amazing food in Greece, particularly at this place down the street from my hotel, where I think I ended up eating at least one meal every day that I was in Athens). But I have still found the time to become enamored of two things new to my kitchen:

1. Fried toast. Inspired by this post on food52, this has become my go-to vehicle for gussying up leftovers. The photo above may not look particularly earth-shattering (have I mentioned winter is coming in Canberra, which means no more natural light for dinner photos for a while?), but any kind of sliced bread fried in a pond of olive oil is the perfect carrier for anything involving sauce or gravy. Also stupendous at breakfast time (and a dramatic improvement on fried bread, which honestly I never saw the point of, probably because there wasn't nearly enough olive oil involved).

2. Hands-off dinners. (Ah, we come to the point of the post name at last! Did you think I was referring to the multiple-week silence here? Let's call it a pun.) I've been doing some experimenting lately with the whole roasting-pan-dinner concept - as in, you put a bunch of stuff in a roasting pan and put it in the oven, and when you take it out, that's dinner. I'm not sure why I haven't picked up on this concept sooner, especially given how long I've been cooking dinner, but I'm kind of loving it, especially on school nights. This is a current favorite (again with the crappy pictures): chop up some carrots and potatoes and toss with olive oil and seasonings, then place in a roasting pan and stick in the oven at about 375F/190C. While those get going, prep these devilled chicken pieces (the original recipe calls for legs, but I use drumsticks) and add to the roasting pan. Roast the whole business for 30-45 minutes (giving you time to clean up the kitchen, supervise homework, maybe answer a few emails from your boss who just came online overseas - oh wait, maybe that's just me), or until everything is cooked to your liking, hopefully with some brown crusty bits here and there.

And that's the news update from here. Hope all is well wherever you are?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Easter 2015

I went back to look at last year's Easter weekend post in order to confirm my suspicions that this year's was going to be virtually identical. And yes, it is!

Picture of finished tarrale - check!

Picture of finished pizza chiena - check!

I did forget to take a picture of the basket treats (they didn't come out as nice as last year's), but instead...'s a picture of the plate we put out for the Easter Bunny (who in our house is Mummy Cottontail, the main character from this classic story), alongside our freshly dyed Easter eggs and this year's Easter bouquet.

And of course the Easter brunch spread - check! (The menu is indeed identical to last year's, although I think my plating was better this year.)

So there you have it - documentary proof that I really am a creature of habit and a devotee of ritual. I'm not ashamed to admit it - this brunch is my way of upholding a very longstanding familial Easter tradition, and I haven't yet been offered a way to spend Easter weekend that has tempted me to set it aside.

The biggest difference between last year and this year has been how I've spent Easter Monday - last year I spent it in the car, on the first leg of a a weeklong road trip. This year I've spent it having a much-needed, unscheduled day off at home.

I hope you've been able to spend your weekend (long or otherwise) just as you like.

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