Sunday, December 13, 2015

Another round-up

So I've gone AWOL again and come back again....Here's what I've been up to in the interim:

Went overseas for my organization's annual meeting - 10 jam-packed days in Vienna...

...mostly work, but friend M and I managed to sneak out to a cafe one afternoon and sample two famous Viennese specialities - Sacher torte and apple strudel.

We finished off the conference with a gala dinner in the spectacular Vienna Rathaus...

...and then the next day it was off to Amsterdam to another conference, this one the annual meeting of one of our partners. I had about 3 days there, and one free afternoon which featured a visit to the Van Gogh Museum, a World Cup rugby match in an Irish pub, and a wander through the streets and canals in between.

Then it was off again, for a flying visit to Boston en route to spend a week in western Mass. with my sister-in-law R and brand-new niece Miss D. I fuelled up for my drive with an Australian-style coffee from the cafe in my old neighborhood.

I was gone for nearly 3 weeks - by far my longest solo trip since Miss B arrived more than a decade ago. I got back to Canberra with spring well underway in late October, and snapped this to send back to R and lighten her sleep deprivation with a laugh.

Ten days after I got home, it was DP's turn for a road trip and my turn to keep the house running. Crumpets are a tradition now when DP goes away, and this was the best batch yet - not least because for the first time I made the dough the night before, cutting down on the yeast and stashing it in the fridge to rise slowly over night. In the morning there was no waiting, and the extra time for the dough to develop improved the flavor.

More signs of spring - some talented gardeners in our new neighborhood!

DP came back in late November, and I was off again - but this time just a 2-day hop down the road to Melbourne for our regional symposium. I managed to fit in a morning run around Carlton Gardens and captured some typically changeable Melbourne weather...

...and then it was back home to plunge into prep for Thanksgiving! We pushed our celebration back to Saturday this year to accommodate my trip, so I took Friday off to get my planning and prep organized.

And get my contributions to the desserts sorted: 3 apple pies, one small raspberry pie for Miss B, and this year's experimental pie - smitten kitchen's nutmeg-maple cream (a hit!).

As usual, I didn't manage to take any good pictures during the event itself - we had 35 people for dinner, including the 3 of us, and by all accounts a good time and a major feast was had by all, including yours truly. And I thoroughly enjoyed the post-celebration rituals as well - sleeping in, pie for breakfast, and lounging on the deck enjoying the flowers and swapping stories from the night before.

Aside from Thanksgiving, I've managed to do some regular cooking as well:

This pork larb that I mentioned about a year ago is back in heavy rotation. I don't know if you can read my scribbles, but that's basically the entire recipe - heat some oil and saute some garlic and chili, then tip in about 450g/1lb pork mince and cook. While that's cooking, mix together a sauce of soy, fish sauce, and brown sugar (I use 1 part fish sauce and brown sugar to 2 parts soy). When pork is just about cooked, chuck in a few big handfuls of spinach to wilt in the heat, then mix in the sauce. Serve over rice with a squeeze of lime juice and some chopped spring onion and herbs. (I get the rice going first and the rest of it comes together by the time the rice is cooked.)

Strawberry season is in full swing, and I've been alternating between making strawberry jam and roasted strawberry compote, shown here - basically tossing strawberries with sugar and a splash of balsamic in a baking dish, then putting into a 180C/350F oven for 45-60 minutes. I stir into yogurt, pour over pancakes, and occasionally eat straight out of the jar.

I also tried an experiment with making Russian tea cakes as a slice-and-bake cookie - delicious, but no structural integrity. They basically fell apart as soon as you picked them up. So I'll be sticking with the original shape for upcoming Christmas baking.

And finally, I'm experimenting with cold-brewed coffee - perfect for summer iced coffees and might save a bit of money too on my daily coffee shop habit!

Phew! That's all the news for now from here; hope all is well where you are too?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Recipe tweaking

Nothing really major has happened this month - which in itself is kind of major, because it seems like such a long time since that has been the case. We had our first dinner guests in the new house last weekend, which was the first real cooking I'd done in the new kitchen - marinated goat cheese and pita chips to start, followed by braised short ribs of beef, gratin dauphinois (with a layer of blue cheese and caramelized onion in the middle), and Swiss chard for the main course (plus bread), and finishing up with brownies topped with vanilla ice cream and salted caramel sauce.

This generated quite a lot of leftovers; I used the leftover short ribs as the basis for a thick bolognese-type tomato sauce, and we had that on Tuesday night with gnocchi and shredded kale. On Thursday, I tossed the leftover gratin and chard into the slow cooker along with some leftover short-rib sauce and stock, and blended them into a thick soup for dinner. I wanted a little something to top it, so I rooted around in the fridge, pulled out some odds and ends, and made pangrattato with a twist:

Pangrattato, in case you don't already know, means "grated bread", and it's an Italian invention - basically fried bread crumbs, most often used to top pasta. For this version, I threw a leftover (cooked) Italian sausage into the food processor along with the bread; then toward the end of cooking in the frying pan, I threw over a handful of grated pecorino romano cheese. Both tweaks highly recommended.

On the sweet side of things, I've finally found most of my baking equipment, not least of which is the abovementioned food processor. Miss B has fallen in love with jam drops this year, and asked if we could make a batch not long after we moved in. I had to improvise to put a batch of dough together, including using a pastry cutter to blend the butter and sugar. This made for a very warm batch of dough which, when shaped, filled, and put into the oven to bake, spread like crazy. The cookies were delicious, but not neat or easy to eat out of hand.

She asked for another batch to take to a school party last week, and this time I thought I would do things a bit differently: I made the dough in the food processor, then rolled into a cylinder and chilled in the fridge overnight. The morning of the party, I scooped mounds of dough off the cylinder with my cookie scoop and arranged them on a baking tray. I made a thumbprint in each mound and filled with jam; then I chilled them again for 30 minutes or so. Then I baked them and voila!

Not quite magazine-ready, but definitely an improvement over the first batch. I'll be carrying on with the chilling from now on. I used this recipe, which as you'll note doesn't suggest any of that - odd when you consider how perfect the ones in their picture look!

That's all the exciting news from here - more to follow shortly, I hope!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

New beginnings

Time for another lengthy update - and this time, a recipe! Lots has been happening since my last post, and I do mean lots....

In early July, I went with DP and Miss B on our first trip to Boston in nearly two years. I was so busy doing other things that I didn't manage to take many pictures, but I did record my first-ever taste of a Boston institution - Dunkin' Donuts iced coffee.

I also managed to record a few other highlights...

...a visit to one of my favorite beaches in the world, in southern Maine...

...and my first U2 concert in (gulp!) 14 years. I went with two of my sisters and one of my nieces who was born not long before my last show. She's only been to a few concerts, and this was her first non-pop show (or, as we said to her when the lights came back up and she was standing there looking like she'd been hit over the head, "That's what happens at a real concert!").

I left Boston ahead of DP and Miss B to fly to Mexico City for a conference. I was there for two and a half days and the only time I left the conference hotel was to attend the conference reception at the Museo Soumaya, which had a fascinating and eclectic collection, including this Salvador Dali snail with an angel on its back.

After the conference I flew back to the East Coast to meet up with DP and Miss B in Washington, DC. DP and I tag-teamed work meetings, and also caught up with some friends and took Miss B to see some of the sights. The Smithsonian Natural History Museum was top of our list; we went early to get an unobstructed look at the Hope Diamond before the crowds descended...

...and also spent some time getting up close and personal with some exotic butterflies.

I had forgotten how walkable DC is - much more so than Canberra. Our last day there was unexpectedly pleasant (DC in July traditionally being stinking hot and muggy), so we walked across a good chunk of downtown, taking in views of the White House and the Washington Monument...

...and ending up at the Lincoln Memorial in the early evening.

En route back to Australia, we stopped overnight in LA and had our traditional day out in Santa Monica - a last dose of sun, sea, and American shops.

Back to winter in Canberra, just in time to prepare for Miss B's 11th birthday, a visit from close friends from the US and, last but not least...

...moving house! Having found out a few weeks before our US trip that we had to vacate our rental property, we found a new house and negotiated a move date - 10 days after our return from the US and with overseas visitors with us. It was a frantic couple of weeks, but it all happened.

And to help us recover, we stuck to our plan of taking our visitors to Jervis Bay for the weekend - even if it was in the middle of the move. I ask you - given the choice between spending the weekend unpacking boxes or looking at this, what would you have done?

The unpacking continues, and life is returning to a semblance of normality. We're even seeing signs of spring in Canberra - but before we did, we had our first glimpse of snow in 3 years, which you can (barely) see here.

And finally - now that I've found (most of) my baking supplies, I've resumed making my new favorite dessert, which I mentioned in my last post:

It's so simple I'm not sure it even qualifies as a recipe, but it's delicious and lovely enough to serve to company. Here's what I do:

1. Make up a batch of 2-Ingredient Biscuits; bake half as a cake-sized round and cut decorative shapes out of the other half. Bake at 450F/225C as directed until lightly browned.

2. While the biscuits are baking, place a cup or so of frozen berries in an oven-proof bowl (I used blackberries). Drizzle with maple syrup and cook alongside the biscuits.

3. Whip about a cup of heavy cream to soft peaks, sweetening with a bit more maple syrup.

4: Assemble: cake round, fruit, cream, more fruit, decorative biscuits. Serve immediately.

Kind of like a giant shortcake, now I come to think about it. I frequently make a single one for myself when I want a bit of a sweet treat, and when I do I substitute Greek yogurt for the whipped cream. I like this even better, but I realize I'm probably in the minority there.

Whew! That brings us up to speed. One of the new beginnings referred to in the title is to get back to a more regular posting schedule, so more to come shortly, I hope. And I hope all is well (and calm!) in your worlds.

Saturday, June 27, 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.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Chicken twofer redux

Is it time for coffee break yet?

I didn't manage to take a single picture of anything food-related this week. Probably because I didn't do much cooking. Unlike last week, I didn't have to host or prep any special meals or anything. D was even out a couple of nights, so Miss B and I concentrated on taking care of the leftovers amassed earlier.
My favorite of these was a concoction involving the leftovers from the dinner I had hosted for three rather distinguished visitors. (Definitely teapot people!) For the dinner, I had prepared a recipe from Mark and Bruce's Great American Slow Cooker Book, which involved shredding a bunch of carrots and onions, mixing them with seasonings, balsamic, and worcestershire sauce (I think), and then making them into a sort of chicken bed in the bottom of a slow cooker. On top go multiple chicken breasts, topped with sage leaves and then wrapped in prosciutto, to cook for about 4 hours.

This made for a tasty and, dare I say, elegant main course - very streamlined but still flavorful. I served it with roasted potatoes, a green salad, and homemade bread. We started with some kind of creamy dip and finished with a peach-blueberry galette, and everyone went home happy (as well as, in at least one case, reeling with jet lag).

Where the chicken dish really outdid itself, however, was as leftovers. A couple of days later, I had a packed schedule, and (unusually for me) knew I'd be out of the house from before 9 until after 5. First thing in the morning, while I was doing breakfast and lunch prep, I also chopped up the leftover chicken breasts and put them back in the slow cooker, along with the carrot/onion mix and a bottle of tomato passata. I stirred everything together and left it to cook on low for the day. When we were nearly ready for dinner that night, I went in there with a potato masher to make sure the chicken was falling apart and mixed in (it was); then threw in a package of gnocchi and a handful of grated parmigiano-reggiano. I left that to heat through for about 15 minutes, topped it with a generous dusting of grated pecorino romano, and dinner was served.

This was a smash hit - starchy and comforting but also very savory and hearty. Miss B, who has mixed feelings about gnocchi (mainly due to my habit of toasting them in the oven until crispy for certain dishes), ate this with gusto and took the leftovers to school for lunch more than once. This is another chicken slow cooker dish that I'll be cooking at least as much for the leftovers as for the main event (coming a close second to this one).

Unfortunately I didn't remember to take a picture of it, so instead you get a goofy picture of a t-rex trying to fold a pair of jeans. (Why? Enquiring minds want to know.) However, I am doing some cooking today, of which I promise to take pictures for an update in the near future.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Visitors galore

Despite being the national capital of Australia, Canberra is a little off the beaten path. It’s unusual that we get visitors passing through because they’re here for a conference or are on their way to somewhere else, and even less likely that they come because of a burning desire to visit the city itself. (The very idea would make most Australians snort with derisive laughter.) Since DP and I aren’t even Australian to start with, family members or old friends make only semi-occasional appearances. And most of the colleagues with whom I work most closely are, geographically speaking, a very long way away.

All of that is to say that I am used to feeling far away from a lot of the key people in my life a lot of the time. Which made this past week feel like even more of an anomaly, when I was juggling my regular schedule to accommodate four sets of visitors to Canberra in the same five-day period – three of them from overseas. Four! To be fair, none of them were here to see me specifically, or staying with us, which made the pressure less than it could have been; but I did host dinners on two successive nights (and school nights, at that!). I also tentatively volunteered to host a third night – not, as you might think, because I’m a) a masochist or b) insane, but because I thought a restaurant outing with six kids ranging in age from 1-10 didn’t sound fun for anyone – but luckily another family stepped up and did the honors for a Friday-night barbeque. I was so happy to have a social engagement that I wasn’t hosting that I brought a jug of sangria and whipped up this cake.

smitten kitchen’s ‘I want chocolate cake’ cake
copied slavishly (and doubled) from smitten kitchen, right down to the sprinkles
This is a one-bowl recipe; just remember to scrape the sides of the bowl down between each step. (You can even wash the bowl once the cake batter is in the oven and use it again to make the frosting!)

12 Tbsp/170 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups/290 g firmly packed brown sugar
4 Tbsp/50 g granulated sugar (I used raw sugar)
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups/350 ml buttermilk (I subbed plain Greek yogurt thinned with whole milk)
2 tsp/5 ml vanilla extract
1 cup/82 g Dutch cocoa powder
2 cups/250 g all-purpose/plain flour
1/2 tsp/3 g baking soda
1 tsp/5 g baking powder
1 tsp/5 g table or fine sea salt

4 oz/110 g unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled (I used Lindt 95% dark chocolate as the closest replacement – I can’t find unsweetened chocolate in Australia)
3 cups/360 g powdered sugar (sifted if lumpy)
1 cup/8 oz/230 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
pinch of fine sea salt (optional)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp cream or whole milk

to make cake
Heat oven to 350F/180C. Line a 9- x 13-inch (22x33 cm?) cake pan with parchment paper, then butter or spray the parchment and pan.

Beat butter and sugars until fluffy in a large bowl. Add the eggs, the yolks, and the vanilla, and beat again until combined. Add the buttermilk and mix again.

Sift flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the batter and stir on low until just combined; scrape down bowl (preferably with a rubber spatula) a final time and give the batter a final stir.

Scrape/pour batter into prepared pan and smoothe flat. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes in cake pan on cooling rack, then flip out onto rack or serving plate to finish cooling before frosting.

to make frosting
Place all frosting ingredients except cream/milk in a large bowl, then beat with a hand mixer until combined and fluffy. Add cream as necessary to achieve desired texture and fluffiness – you may not need all of it.

Scoop frosting onto the cooled chocolate cake and spread to cover evenly. Make swirls as tools and capabilities permit. Finish with rainbow sprinkles in obedience to Deb Perelman’s baking authority.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

February round-up

Whoosh! There goes another month. Items of note, as recorded on my phone photo album:

My boss sent me flowers! To say thank you for my hard work on the giant project I mentioned a couple of posts back. They brightened up my kitchen for the better part of two weeks and made me happy every time I looked at them. It was such a nice feeling to know why they were there.

Peach-blackberry crumble! I made this for dinner guests early in the month, with some stellar fruit from the farmer's market. I used this crumble topping recipe and topped it with homemade vanilla ice cream (have I mentioned that I got an ice cream maker for Christmas? More on this later, I expect). Although I suspect the shot above might actually be Greek yogurt, which is my preferred crumble topping these days, just FYI in case you're inclined that way.

Birthday cake! Three people on DP's team have February birthdays, and so he asked me to provide a cake for the birthday lunch. You can't see my favorite part: I always end up with extra colored frosting, no matter how lavishly I decorate, so this time I put some of it between the layers as a surprise. Next time I'll do it on a home cake and get a picture.

Scones! Which are actually a vehicle for what's in the jar - spiced pear-blueberry butter. Backstory: I have coffee every Wednesday morning with a group of parents from Miss B's school. Attendance varies, but there is a core group of about a half-dozen of us who are almost always there. For the last couple of weeks, one regular, J, has been bringing bags of pears from his tree to give to all of us, and the cooks among us have been experimenting with them - one of them a fellow food blogger who just posted her second pear creation.

For my contribution, I cooked down about 1 kg/2 lb of pears in the slow cooker until soft, then pureed them in a food mill and returned to the slow cooker to thicken further, along with a generous handful of blueberries. Once the butter had thickened enough that a spoon left a trail across the bottom of the slow cooker, I seasoned with some lime zest and juice, a large pinch of salt, lavish shakes of cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and nutmeg, and finished with a good slug of maple syrup. (Fruit butters don't usually need much extra sugar, as the natural sugars are concentrated through the cooking process.) I decanted into sterilized 120 g/4oz canning jars, which I hot water bath canned, making sure I had enough to share, as well as one to serve with scones I made first thing last Wednesday. I used this recipe, omitting the berries and adding half a lime's worth of zest instead.

I didn't get a picture of my favorite dinner of the month, which was last Sunday, when we had a small bunch of friends over. I was in the mood for American food, so I made this kickass honey barbecued chicken, along with potato salad, coleslaw, and rolls. I finished off with a chocolate icebox cake topped with salted caramel sauce, and we ate outside on a perfect late summer evening. It may well have been the high point of this summer for me.

And that wraps up February - first day of autumn tomorrow here in Australia (though temperatures tomorrow are scheduled to be over 30C/90F). What's in store for March?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Improvising appetizers

After I was stunned to realize that I had let the whole of January pass by without blogging, I promised myself I was going to get back into posting with some kind of regularity. And thus here I am, almost three weeks later. Oh well; at least it's better than a month later. Baby steps!

Life has returned to a semblance of normal routine since January disappeared; school's back in, which in turn means the re-appearance of regular after-school activities, and (more or less) set slots for getting work done, as well as things like running, errands, cooking, etc. It also means the start of this year's round of visits from guest lecturers and former students for DP, as well as various other colleagues, friends, and overseas visitors for one or all of us. Most of them end up eating dinner at our house at some point.

My standard dinner provision for guests includes something to nibble on with drinks - necessary since, no matter how hard I try, I've never yet managed to get a guest meal on the table in less than an hour from the stated arrival time, especially on weeknights. I have a repertoire of starters/appetizers that I rotate through - mostly dips served with pita chips - but I fall back on frico regularly when I need something that's really fast but really good.

I had these at someone else's house about two years ago, and appropriated them immediately. I usually serve them as one of a selection of small bowls of finger foods, most often accompanied by slices of grilled spicy salami, roasted nuts, and/or fancy olives. Their preparation barely qualifies as a recipe, and they are always well received. Their crispy texture and salty, savory flavor makes them an especially great option for vegetarian or gluten-free guests, but  they're pretty universally popular in my experience.

Frico (Cheese crisps - literally "Little trifles")
Some recipes specify cooking these on the stovetop in a skillet, but I use the oven; it's hands-off, and I can cook more, faster. You can also gussy these up with various accompaniments, but the most I've done is sprinkle them with freshly ground black pepper, or add a small basil leaf before cooking. Both are good variations, but these are also excellent when they're totally plain.

120-300 g/4-10 oz good-quality parmigiano-reggiano cheese, depending on number of eaters (I buy it pre-grated for maximum laziness/efficiency)*

Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place mounds of grated cheese (about 30 g/1 oz each) on prepared tray, leaving space between mounds as cheese will spread as it melts. Bake in oven for 5-7 minutes, or until spread into round crisps which are lightly browned on the edges. Remove from the oven and let cool for another 5 minutes, then serve.**

* I usually make at least 2 mounds per person.
** I slice into half-circles (or quarters, depending on how much they spread) with a pizza cutter for serving.

Makes 4-10 crisps.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Disappearing January

Oops! I can't believe the month of January has come and gone and I didn't manage to post once. I did manage to do a lot of other stuff, though, including host my sister M for a 2+ week visit, go on three trips, and complete (along with a large number of my colleagues) a colossal work deadline.

I also got a new phone! So I have some pictures to share of all these things that kept me from blogging. I didn't get it up and running until after the first trip (we took my sister to Melbourne), so no pictures of that - which is probably for the best, because it was New Year's weekend and the temperature was over 40C/105F both days.

Then we had a few days in Canberra, which was a blur of sightseeing, cramming work, and prepping for our next trip (warning, lots of pictures coming):

We went on our annual beach vacation to Jervis Bay - self-catering as usual:

Action shot from the first night, when I was in the middle of prepping pizzas for six - the opening salvo in a full-on week of cooking....

Some of it documented by Miss B, who wrote up and illustrated some menus....

The counter laid out for leftover lunch on Sunday - leftovers from Saturday night's surf and turf dinner, a corn salad made from leftover ears of corn, a green salad, and various other bits and pieces....

On Monday we went to have lunch with friends who have a house further down the coast; my contribution was a pan full of frico....

It was our turn to cook for them later in the week, and I cleaned out the fridge to make a massive seafood chowder....

I even managed to MacGyver up a batch of cookies for DP and Miss B to bring along as a thank-you for a special-access visit arranged for them.

Two days after we got back from the beach, I left again, this time for work. I spent 5 days in the UK, of which I took almost no pictures, although I did get one of Jobn Snow's famous parish pump, with the pub that bears his name in the background - an important landmark for anyone involved in any way with public health:

Then I went to Freiburg for another 4 days; luckily 2 of them were over a weekend, so I got to do some fun stuff as well as work - like go to the Saturday market with my friend C...

...go for a drive into the Schwarzwald (aka the Black Forest)...

...and go sledding!

And, of course, no visit to these Freiburg friends would be complete without a raclette dinner:

The day after that, I flew back to Australia, returning just in time for the final push to meet the huge deadline I mentioned earlier. And now it's February, and school starts in 2 days, and it's quite chilly out, and where did summer vacation go?

I hope all is well in your worlds, and that I'll be back very soon to provide more details on some of those dishes listed above.
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