This is my final column in the ‘So can you cook?’ series. I have been doing the column for six years now and feel it is time to draw it to a close before I start repeating what has already been done.
I have enjoyed my time with the column. I hope that in some way I have inspired people to be a bit more creative with cooking and that I have shown that you don’t need a long list of degrees to be able to produce good food. It is an art, yes! But it is also an art that is accessible to everyone and is versatile enough to be a bit complicated when you want to impress or simple enough for an everyday meal – from the charcoal sketch to the oils I guess you might say.
I also hope I have introduced some to new flavours and encouraged people to be a bit adventuresome in their approach to cuisine. The amount of produce now available in Australia is truly staggering, and it is now possible to recreate any recipe from any cuisine totally authentically.
We have certainly come a long way in the last 40 odd years! The embracing of our place in the Asian section of the Pacific has also opened up a whole world of food to us and I think that the way we have taken to Asian food from all such countries shows just how adaptable we are with absorbing the influences of other cultures. And we will no longer settle for watered down or ‘Australianised’ versions of the cuisines. We want the genuine article. Just try to get into Thai Pothong in Newtown on a Friday or Saturday night if you want to see a good example. And no suburb is now complete without a Thai and a Vietnamese restaurant.
This column has also given me a way to comment on things from a personal perspective, often not in a PC way, which I don’t apologise for. I’m afraid that you haven’t gotten rid of me with the ending of this column. I hope to continue to contribute via articles and hopefully still in my outspoken style.
I have been writing for Talkabout in one form or another for about 13 years now. I have always been a strong supporter of the magazine and whether I was or wasn’t writing for it I would still be one of its strongest advocates. I feel that the non-clinical, non-professional (or expert) and non-conformist voices in our community are entitled to an outlet and Talkabout has always provided that forum.
With the closing and sale of my business, and the cutting back of other commitments the most common thing I find I am being asked is “How are you going to fill in time?”. I will continue to research my family history, which has been ongoing for about 20 years now (and thankfully easier with the advent of the internet) and, after many years of nagging from friends and people who have heard my story through the PSB, I am finally going to put an autobiography together.
My life has been interesting (to say the least) and not without the usual dramas associated with surviving AIDS and having my roots in a dysfunctional family. I will probably take myself off to do a few more courses in writing and cooking, and I will have a bit more time to keep my home tidy and together, and get my garden back in order. One thing I can promise, I won’t be bored.
I would like to thank everyone who has read and supported my column over this time. I think that the best way to leave the column is with a bit of a bang by repeating some of my favourite recipes from the last six years. I’m desperately trying NOT to make them all chocolate…
Rich Chocolate Tart (from No 12)
125g cold unsalted butter, chopped
1 tablespoon caster sugar
200g (1 1/3 cups) plain flour
2 tablespoons cocoa (Dutch, if you want a richer flavour)
2 egg yolks
Process butter, sugar, flour and cocoa in a food processor until mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add egg yolks and 1½ tablespoons iced water, and process until pastry just comes together. Form pastry into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface until 5mm thick and ease into a 3.5cm deep 24cm tart tin with removable base, trimming edge. Line pastry case with baking paper and fill with pastry weights, dried beans or rice. Place on a baking tray and bake at 180°C for 20 minutes, then remove paper and weights and bake another 5 minutes until pastry is dry. Cool.
300g dark couverture chocolate, chopped
100ml double cream
125g unsalted butter, chopped
100g caster sugar
1 tablespoon golden syrup
Combine chocolate, cream and butter in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and stir continuously until butter is melted and mixture is well combined, then remove bowl from heat and set aside. Using an electric mixer, whisk eggs, sugar and golden syrup until pale and creamy, then fold into chocolate mixture. Pour into tart shell, then bake at 150°C for 35–40 minutes or until just set. Cool tart to room temperature before serving with double cream (optional). Tart will keep, refrigerated in an airtight container, for up to 4 days – if it lasts that long.
Thai Beef Salad (from No 22)
1/3 cup lime juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 teaspoons grated palm sugar or soft brown sugar
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tablespoon finely chopped coriander
1 stem lemongrass (white part only) finely chopped
2 small red chillies, finely sliced (remove seeds if you want milder)
2 x 200g beef eye fillet steaks
150g mixed salad leaves
½ red onion, sliced into fine wedges
½ cup coriander leaves
1/3 cup torn mint leaves
250g cherry tomatoes, halved
1 Lebanese cucumber, halved and thinly sliced
Mix lime juice, fish sauce, palm sugar, garlic, chopped coriander, lemongrass and chilli until the sugar has dissolved.
Preheat barbie chargrill plate to medium-high direct heat and cook the steaks for 4 minutes each side or until medium. Let cool then slice thinly across the grain.
Put the salad leaves, onion, coriander, mint, tomatoes and cucumber in a large bowl, add the beef and dressing. Toss together and serve immediately.
Banana Cake with Passionfruit Icing (from No 23)
125g butter, softened
¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar
1½ cups self-raising flour
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1 cup mashed banana (preferably over-ripe)
½ cup sour cream
¼ cup milk
Preheat oven to moderate 180°C. Grease 15cm x 25cm loaf pan, lining base with baking paper.
Beat butter and sugar in a small mixing bowl with electric beater until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until combined. Transfer mixture to a large bowl, using a wooden spoon and stir in sifted dry ingredients, banana, sour cream and milk. Spread mixture into prepared pan.
Bake cake in moderate oven for about 50 minutes. Stand cake in pan for 5 minutes before turning out onto wire rack to cool. Spread with passionfruit icing.
1½ cups icing sugar mixture (a mix of icing sugar and cornflour)
1 teaspoon soft butter
2 tablespoons passionfruit pulp (approx)
Place icing sugar in a small heatproof bowl, stir in butter and enough pulp to make a firm paste. Stir over hot water until icing is of spreading consistency, taking care not to overheat. Use immediately.
Chinese Beef and Asparagus with Oyster Sauce (from No 17)
500g lean beef fillet, thinly sliced across the grain
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
½ teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine
2½ tablespoons vegetable oil
200g fresh, thin asparagus cut into thirds on the diagonal
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons julienned fresh ginger (fine slice)
¼ cup chicken stock
2–3 tablespoons oyster sauce
Place beef in a glass or plastic bowl with soy sauce, sesame oil and two teaspoons of Chinese cooking wine. Cover and marinate for at least 15 minutes.
Heat a wok over high heat, add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and swirl to coat the wok. Add asparagus and stir fry for 1-2 minutes. Remove from wok.
Add another tablespoon of oil and add the beef in two batches, stir frying for 20 minutes or until cooked. Remove from wok.
Add remaining oil to wok, add garlic and ginger and stir fry for 1 minute or until fragrant. Pour the stock, oyster sauce and remaining cooking wine into wok, bring to boil and boil rapidly for 1–2 minutes or until sauce is slightly reduced. Return beef and asparagus to the wok and stir fry for a further minute or until heated through and coated with the sauce.
Serve immediately with Jasmine rice.
Waldorf Salad with a Twist (from No 34)
4 Granny Smith apples, thinly sliced
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
1 cup walnuts, chopped
2 cups watercress sprigs
Blue Cheese dressing
¼ cup whole-egg mayonnaise
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
Sea salt & cracked black pepper
100g soft blue cheese, chopped
To make the blue cheese dressing, place the mayonnaise, lemon juice, water, salt, pepper and blue cheese in the bowl of a small food processor and process until smooth.
Arrange the apple, celery, walnuts and watercress on serving plates and spoon over the dressing to serve.
Oysters with Lemon & Vodka Granita (from No 34)
½ cup caster sugar
2½ cups water
½ cup lemon juice
⅓ cup vodka
Lemon wedges, to serve
Place the sugar, water, lemon juice and vodka in a saucepan over low heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Pour the granite mixture into a shallow 20cm x 30cm metal pan and place in the freezer for 1 hour. Remove the granita from the freezer and use a fork to take the top off and freeze for a further hour. Repeat every hour for 3-4 hours or until set.
Grate the granita with a fork to produce snow, and fill tiny shot glasses.
Serve with the oysters and lemon wedges.