Sunday, June 18, 2017

Winter shenanigans

Winter is in full swing, complete with lots of recent gloom and damp in Canberra. A good excuse to try various antidotes, including:

Knit! I started trying to re-teach myself to knit about 2 years ago, and I am delighted to say that this week I taught myself how to cast off, and I finished this scarf. It's a bit rustic-looking, but it's the first knitting project I've ever completed and I'm proud of it - especially the buttons, which I added for design interest and which actually work. Miss B has already requested one of her own.

Sew! I'm continuing to work through my double-sided kitchen cloth project - here's my latest effort. I particularly like these fabrics, both separately and together.

Cook winter food! I had a ridiculous amount of leftover mashed potato in the fridge at the end of the week, and I was too lazy to make gnocchi, which had been my first plan. So instead I made a potato gatto (one of our longstanding Secret Dinners), which is great comfort food on a cold night.

Get out of town! We've had a trip to Sydney booked for this weekend for months, and I was hoping for the usual dramatic difference in temperature and weather between Canberra and...pretty much everywhere else. It was warmer, but not any brighter for the most part. Undaunted, we hit some of our favorite spots and tried out some new stuff as well. A high point (in every sense) was our early-evening walk across Sydney Harbour Bridge, complete with stunning views.

Our objective in crossing the harbour was to visit an American-style burger joint, Batch Burgers & Espresso, at the foot of the bridge's north side in Kirribilli. It came highly recommended from fellow expats, and was totally worth the walk - hands down the best burger I've had in Australia.

The walk back was even better, giving us a birds'-eye view of the final weekend of Vivid Sydney, especially the Opera House:

My iPhone camera does not do it justice - if you click on the link above you'll get a much better idea of the effect.

And last but not least, my favorite winter activity and the reason for our Sydney weekend - ice hockey! We got tickets to see the USA-Canada Ice Hockey Classic, the first time in a looooong time (3+ years I think) that I've been able to see professional-level hockey live. It wasn't the NHL playoffs, and I'm pretty sure I haven't infected Miss B with the hockey love, but as far as I was concerned it was worth the trip.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Long weekend

It's a long weekend in Australia! (Have I mentioned before that I find it endlessly entertaining that the Queen's birthday is a public holiday here, but not in the UK? Because I do. Also I have to make the most of it because this is our last Monday public holiday until, I think, October. Yikes!)

Here's the latest news from around here:

DP's birthday was this past week - can you work out how old he is from the candles? Appropriately given his profession and interests (and name), his birthday falls on a major event in military history, and this year his seminar students found out and celebrated by giving him a running real-time recap of happenings throughout that fateful day 73 years ago. I took the easy route by making his favorite dinner (steak au poivre and mashed potatoes) and baking his favorite cake.

Also this past week - family friends of ours are dealing with some medical stuff and, like us, are far from their family support networks. So, on the day when one parent was in the hospital overnight and the other parent was wrangling everything else (including three kids), I volunteered to bring over dinner. Pasta bake to the rescue!

I didn't really use a recipe for this - just made a batch of Disruptive Bolognese in the slow cooker ahead of time, then boiled up 3 boxes (about 3 lbs/1.5 kg) of rigatoni. I mixed it all up together with lots of grated cheese and some baby spinach (vegetables makes it a nutritionally complete main course!), scooped it into a disposable baking tin, and wrapped it up. (I also made up a smaller pan for us to have for dinner that night, killing two birds with one stone.) With a loaf of bread and a batch of blondies, it made a complete meal and was a pretty low-stress way to lend a helping hand.

And a good reminder to be grateful for little things - like Sunday breakfast with my own family.

And flowers to cheer us - even on the gloomiest winter days.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

Brisket experimentation

It's officially winter in Canberra! There was frost on the grass on Friday morning - can you see it?

I'm keeping my fingers crossed for actual snow this year. (It's only snowed twice the entire time I've lived here, and it's never stuck, but I live in hope.)

Cold weather turns my thoughts to cold-weather food, and I recently discovered that my favorite beef sellers at the farmers' market sell brisket. I bought one a couple of weeks ago and followed a typical recipe, but it didn't produce quite the results I was hoping for. This time around I decided to take a slightly different approach:

1. When I got home from the farmers' market Saturday morning, I opened the plastic wrapping, liberally seasoned the brisket with salt and pepper, re-wrapped it, and stuck it in the fridge.

2. Saturday evening, while preparing dinner, I sauteed some red onions and chopped mushrooms in olive oil and pork fat.

3. After dinner, I turned the slow cooker on to low, dumped in the onions and mushrooms, and added a couple of anchovy fillets, and took the brisket out of the fridge. After letting all that warm up for a bit while I did other stuff, I added half a bottle of red wine, half a can of ginger ale (both of which needed to be used up), and a packet of tomato paste (about 2 Tbsp/60g), and let that heat up as well.

4. The last thing I did before bed was sliding the brisket into the hot liquid. I left it to cook on low overnight.

5. This morning when I got up, I turned off the slow cooker and let everything cool off for a bit. At this point the brisket had been cooking on low for about 9 hours.

6. After everything had cooled for a bit, I took out the brisket. Then I strained the cooking liquid into a jug and put it in the fridge, adding the solids in with the brisket and putting that in the fridge separately.

7. (The point of cooling the liquid is to separate out the fat - brisket produces a lot of fat, and one of the things I didn't like last time was how greasy it made the sauce. (This is also why I cooked it ahead of time - so there was time to do this.))

8. About an hour before serving, I put the brisket back in the slow cooker on low; scraped the now-congealed fat off the top of the sauce in the jug; and put the sauce on the stove to reheat. I got it thoroughly hot, then whisked in a few big spoonfuls of sour cream and mustard. When it was fully heated, I poured it back into the slow cooker and left it all to finish heating through.

9. Just before lunch, I removed the brisket to a cutting board and sliced it (very tender); put the sauce in a jug; and served it for Sunday lunch with potato gratin (with blue cheese), braised peas, and bread:

I'm definitely going to use this method going forward. Any other tips from brisket experts are welcome!

And finally, this week's flower selection - enjoy!

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