Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Italian Kitchen

What a night! Two friends and I dined at The Italian Kitchen in Kaleen last night. It all started out so quietly, but in the end there was so much going on, I actually left the restaurant without paying for my meal! Add to the mix that we were served by the BEST WAITER in Kaleen and that we feasted on succulent dishes plated up Masterchef style.
How awesome to find a fantastic Italian restaurant that is close by, not halfway across the city. Yes, I am aware that everything in Canberra is apparently only a 20 minute drive away, but if we can shorten that drive by 15 minutes, we are happy AND our carbon footprint is minimal-er.
I will have to go and check the place out in daylight, ‘cause the owners wanted to know if I had seen the chickens outside. The chicken sculptures under the tree outside looked great, but sadly they didn’t come out in photos, given that it was night time.
The Italian Kitchen feels modern but is still cozy. The décor leaves you in no doubt what type of cuisine you will be eating.

Make sure you check out the artwork done by one of the owners. Pretty talented!
We made CANBERRA’S BEST WAITER wait for ages to take our order, as we had hoped a fourth friendwould be joining us.

But finally we gave in made our choices.We ordered the selection of breads. I especially liked the sundried tomato bread.

We all chose to have an entrée as a main. I had the Eggplant, King Prawn and Scallop Stack in a Lemon and Sage butter sauce. It was wonderful. Thick slices of eggplant, not overcooked or greasy, just meaty and tender. The seafood was cooked to perfection and I could not get enough of that sauce! I licked my fingers several times and may have done the same to the plate except that I was dining with ladies! (In keeping with tradition, my favourite dish was the one I photographed least well, all a little blurry, but you get the idea. I guess I need to get over the social awkwardness of photogrpahing food, and just take my time. I am learning)

I sampled my friend’s Chargrilled Vegetable Stack with Feta cheese and Bocconcini served with homemade pesto and a yoghurt sauce. It was fresh and rich, and the feta remained firm.
My other friend ordered the Fried Goat’s Cheese served with Yoghurt and Char grilled Vegetables. The fried goat’s cheese was just how I love it. Big on crunch and then yielding that creamy explosion of pungent goat’s cheese. Bliss.
AUSTRALIA’S BEST WAITER had been attentive all evening. After my dish and generous samples of the others, I felt full. I hadn’t seen dessert on the menu, and actually forgot about it. But to his credit, the BEST WAITER EVER felt it was in our best interest to look at the dessert menu. He pointed out which desserts that would be the most photogenic. I am grateful to him for his desert suggestions as they were awesome!
I cannot find the dessert menu online:
But here is the Chocolate Mousse. Isn’t it pretty? Rich and smooth.
And here is the Lime Tart. It was yummy and not overly sweet.
INTERNATIONAL WAITER OF THE YEAR also highly recommended another dessert: something like ‘banana wrapped in crushed nuts’. But my fellow diners were full, as they are ladies. I nearly suggested we get a trio of desserts and that I would pay for two of the deserts, but as I have to date not paid a cent for the dinner at all, I am glad I didn’t.
How come I did not pay for my meal? Well, my friend paid for the entire meal with her credit card and at that precise moment, I was so caught up in taking photos and being shown artwork that I totally missed the part where I handed the cash for my meal to her! The shame!
Get to The Italian Kitchen (Gwydir Square in Kaleen)….all the staff are fabulously friendly and helpful! Next time I go I will be doing the risotto, pasta, pizza thing.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Chicken Palava

Chicken Palava isn’t actually from the part of Africa I lived in.....but I still rate it as extreme comfort food, as it conjures up fond memories for me. The African Cookbook by Dorinda Hafner (which I was given soon after we came back to Oz, and over which I pored during my languishing homesick lows) features a stunning palava, or as I like to call it- a ground nut stew. Ground-nut stew sounds so much more exotic than peanutbutter stew, wouldn’t you say?
Palava is one of the dishes I loved at a restaurant (the Happy Feeling Cafe) that we discovered in Newtown when my parents lived in Sydney. The Happy Feeling Cafe served a wide range of West African dishes, some of which bear resemblance to coastal Kenyan dishes. Its decor and the live music (well, ok, just the owner singing) took me to my happy place.
So I saw this chicken palava recipe and, after momentarily giving in to all the warm fuzzies, I thought ’Oh yes! This is one to make.’
Isn’t palava a great word? As an Aussie I guess it should have me harking back to the idea of pavlova, but no, I immediately thought ‘pilau’. I served this palava over rice. But over a lovely mound of ugali it would have been perfection. Watch this space for some Kenyan cuisine.
It was well-received even though I forgot to put in the key vegetable that makes it African, that being spinach (kale, if you can get it!). I was so tempted to add lime to this dish, with the thai influence kicking in.....but I stayed true, and after eating it, I am glad I did. It would not have been the chicken palava, if the lime had been in there. Maybe one day the world will be ready for West African/Thai infusion but not yet, my sweets, not yet.
If there were any leftovers, I would photograph it again, having seen a much-less- lazy palava maker’s efforts on the web and being inspired. I probably should let you see the link, but hey, I want you to read my stuff, not their stuff....haha!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sleepover Staples

Know what the first thing I always ask my kids is after they have been to a friend’s place for a sleepover?
“What did you eat there?’
Is that strange? Or am I not alone in being a nosey parker? Don’t you wonder what people serve up for dinner in their homes, even if it is only for their kids’ friends? It fascinates me. Truly it does.
I think my over-interest all stems from several years ago, when Boy 1’s best friend used to come over a lot..... and he never touched anything I served. I kid you not! He would just say , “Oh, I am really too full. Sorry.” OR he would take whatever I served him, and then later I would find his fully untouched meal congealed on the plate in a corner somewhere. Then, the little wretch would sneak down to the corner store and buy coke and chips to sustain him till he got back to his own home and the food to which he was accustomed. Poor Boy 1 never ‘fessed up to this, because he thought I would be devastated. I certainly wanted to know what it was I was getting wrong! So when Boy 1would go to this child’s house, I would always ask what he ate there. What were they eating that was so different?
Pancakes and bacon? Really? OK, let’s try that; again! I would carefully make delicate fluffy pancakes and crispy bacon for breakfast for our visitor, but still he wouldn’t eat it. Turns out I discovered later, he was used to the shake-it bottle pancakes, which are quite a bit sweeter than homemade.....but still it left me feeling like a sleepover failure!
Back to the here and now: I still make my poor kids spell out every meal they had, blow by blow before even enquiring if they had a great time away. Some of the regular fare they tell me about is hot chips, McDonalds, chicken nuggets, stir fry, takeaway pizza, sausages and veggies....... and now that we live in posh Canberra, sometimes they have been taken out for dinner!!!!!
Over time, I have worked out the easiest and cheapest food to impress honed sleepover cuisine into a fine art, weeded out the duds, and kept whatever has been raved over.
What do we serve our sleepover victims?
Well, traditionally I chuck a ‘Make your own pizza’ night. While the bread maker makes the dough (I use this pizza dough recipe), I chop up the general range of kid friendly ingredients (shredded bacon, mozzarella, LOTS of pineapple, chorizo sausage (Primo brand), Italian sausage, cabanossi ( again Primo), mushrooms (I usually eat these as no one in our family will go near them), sliced red onion, and green capsicum) Then I set them out buffet style. There is no-one on God’s green earth who doesn’t enjoy creating their own pizza.

Here is how it goes down for my kids, toppings-wise:
Boy 1 does a massive Meatlover’s with BBQ sauce and all the meat and some cheese, onion and a little capsicum.
Boy 2 makes a calzone- which I can’t really tell you is inside as it is not visible !

Solo Girl does a classic Hawaiian pizza (but uses bacon instead of ham. Um, does that negate what I said about it being the classic version?)
Boy 3 loves, loves, loves to make his own pizza. He smears the tomato sauce on, then some cheese and finally a generous topping of pineapple pieces !
Note: when we do our own pizza nights when we are on our own, everyone still makes their own smaller ones, but I make 2 or 3 to share. Generally a Meatlovers, then a Hodgepodge (a Taylor special using all the meats, some veggies, baby spinach and precooked potato wedges on BBA sauce), and our very favourite Tandoori Chicken Pizza. So yummy!

For the extra nosey parkers (like myself)
My other sleepover staples are:
Breakfast: Pancakes (duh!) or homemade bacon and egg (mc) muffins.
Lunch: chicken schnitzel burger or a regular burger to get some veggies into them.
Movie Snacks: large batch of choc chips cookies, large batch of brownies, homemade caramel popcorn, and of course chocolate. Just to totally negate the veggies!
What do you cook for sleepover food? I’d love to know.

PS. Flatatta- a lesson learned
I loved the picture I saw of the Frittata Bites with Spinach, Sausage, and Feta
and decided I must make the dish...... - note to self- What I MUST do is actually read the recipe thoroughly first! I baked the mix in a pan twice the size the recipe called for, and by the time I realized; it was too late and the damage was done. Not so photogenic my flatatta, but it went like hotcakes, which surprised me! I really underestimated my children in thinking that the spinach would turn them off, but not a bit. And they didn’t even seem to realize that they don’t like feta cheese. Every last crumb went down the hatch. I am certainly going to do it again. In the right pan. Haha.

Frittata Bites with Spinach, Sausage, and Feta
 Nonstick vegetable oil spray
 12-ounces baby spinach
 1 tablespoon olive oil
 1 cup chopped onion
 8 ounces mild Italian sausages, casings removed, sausage broken into 1-inch pieces
 8 large eggs
 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
 1/2 teaspoon salt
 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
 1 cup crumbled feta cheese (about 41/2 ounces)
 Fresh Italian parsley leaves
Preheat oven to 325°F. Spray 8x8x2-inch glass baking dish with nonstick spray. Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Add Swiss chard and cook just until wilted, about 2 minutes. Drain. Finely chop chard, then place in kitchen towel and squeeze dry. Set chard aside.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion to skillet and sauté until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add sausage and sauté until brown and cooked through, breaking up with fork, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.
Whisk eggs, cream, salt, and pepper in large bowl to blend. Add chard and cooled sausage mixture, then feta; stir to blend. Transfer mixture to prepared baking dish.
Bake frittata until set in center, 45 to 55 minutes. Transfer baking dish to rack and cool frittata 15 to 20 minutes. Place platter atop dish with frittata. Using oven mitts, hold baking dish and platter firmly together and invert frittata onto platter; place another platter atop frittata and invert again so that frittata is right side up. Cut frittata into 20 pieces. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Place frittata pieces on rimmed baking sheet. Cover and chill. Rewarm in 325°F oven until heated through, about 10 minutes.
Transfer frittata pieces to platter. Garnish each piece with parsley; serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes 16 small squares.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Rebecca's South Indian 'Korma'

Yesterday my friend Rebecca came over and we did something very Middle Eastern, something I haven’t done in years. While we visited, we cooked a meal to divvy up and have as dinner that night for our families. In Kenya, especially when we lived up North near the Somali border, I noticed that the women often got together to do their tiresome domestic tasks; and this always managed to transform the tedius into a social exercise. The ladies went to the well together to draw the day’s water, and I remember how the laughter (and gossip) rang out in loud, sometimes almost-bawdy peals.
Back to OUR tedious task at hand dinner which we would be cooking with tender loving care for our beloved families.
Rebecca has spent time over in the Middle East, and she loves cooking exotic food, just as much as I love eating it. She had in mind a dish from Southern India that is a family favourite and staple. I provided some of the ingredients also and we began to cook.
South Indian Korma (these measurements are based on memory, as we were really just chucking it all in! So, especially in regards to the powdered spices, do it according to taste.)
2 kilos chicken thighs
2 tbsp chicken stock powder
2 tbsp korma powder (or curry powder if you cannot access an Indian spice store)
2 tbsp cumin
3 large onions
A large bunch parsley
1 large bunch coriander
7 garlic cloves
1 large chunk ginger
2 cans coconut cream
6 tomatoes
Chop up the herbs, onion, garlic and ginger; then sautée these in oil till soft. Scrape this all out of the pan and set aside.

Chop the chicken into large cubes. Stir/rub the curry, chicken stock powder and cumin into the chicken well, before frying the chicken cubes in oil till browned. Add the onion mixture, two cans coconut cream, 2 canfuls of water, and chopped tomatoes (each tomato chopped into 8 pieces). Stir over highish heat till it starts to boil, then simmer over a lower heat for 45 minutes !

This is just so yummy. We were so engrossed in our task, that both of us were totally oblivious to the fact that our sons had decided to break their morning tea into great big crumbs and do a Hansel and Gretel all through the house (note to self, next time give them vanilla cookies instead of Oreos)
Next fortnight we are going to do a tagine.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Ruchi- South Indian Cuisine

Last night, Jane and Sarah from our small group ventured out for dinner with me at Ruchi on Jane’s recommendation. Why 'ventured'? I still feel a little self-conscious taking photographs of every dish that arrives at my table, so I can only imagine it might be a little disconcerting for my dinner companions.
The word Ruchi means ‘taste’ and Ruchi, the restaurant is the only restaurant in Canberra to offer the gentle yet rich, distinctive flavours of South India. I planned to be the first one to arrive but ended up being the last to slide into my chair, even though I was 5 minutes early.
While I love (love, love) looking at menus, sometimes a great deal of choice boggles my tiny mind. Ruchi’s full and varied menu did that to me, even though I had already seen it on the internet beforehand. Hence I went with one of Jane’s recommendations, choosing a dish she enjoyed on a previous visit.

My Vegetable Bhaji entree was yummy. Anything deepfried in chickpea batter floats my boat, so I knew I was onto a winner. Mine was the biggest entree by far (surprise!) 2 onion, 2 potato and 2 eggplant bhaji. My favourite was the meaty eggplant bhaji. They all were crunchy with moist soft insides. The accompanying green coconut relish was mild and delicious. I wanted more.

Sarah had thePaneer Tikka Masala for entree(the girl loves her cheese). 4 generous pieces came with two tangy sauces that carried some heat.

Jane’s Vegetable Samosas were tasty, full of well spiced potato and peas, but I really love my meat samosas!

Did I mention that I had a refreshing mango lassi? Cannot eat Indian without really cuts through the heat of the curry.

My main, Chicken Palak, was the hottest dish of the night, though it was still mild. The chicken pieces were generous and there was plenty of fragrant spinach sauce to sop up with our various breads. (those being a plain Naan, garlic Naan, and a plain Paratha.

Jane’s main, the Chicken Kerala was divine. Big tender hunks of chicken in a cream sauce that had a real nutty (cashew?) taste to it. If you like your food salty, this dish is for you. I sure do! Mmmm mmm.

Sarah ordered an unusual daal–like main, Vegetable Kootu. It was unique in that the lentils were cooked together with vegetables and grated coconut . It was fresh and certainly not overcooked. You could see the separate peas; it had a smoky quality.

It was a very tasty dinner all up. Ruchi is located in Oatley Cct, Belconnen. It's modest prices and mild filling dishes make it a great place for families and groups to check out and a great take away option.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Butterfinger Blondies

My double ear infection felt more like a triple ear infection this lastweek, and I could barely taste or smell ANYTHING ( if *I* was smelling at all stale or too per-fumey, sorry, and you should have said something.)
So I went nowhere, and cooked even less.
I am back to nearly 100% now, and this week I have a dinner at Italian and Sons, as well as a morning cooking middle Eastern food with a friend, to look forward to.
Hence all I got for ya today is the fantabulous Butterfinger Brownie I promised the kids for afternoon tea on Thursday. I couldn't NOT make them. You cant' mess with a promise where a Butterfinger is concerned; three infected ears or not.
Butterfingers are my second favourite candy bar in the universe....after Reece's Pieces (feel free to write my preferences down, haha).
How do I describe such goodness?......Well, think of wafer-thin orange flakes of sweet crunch peanutbutter candy (a bit like peanut brittle) compressed and covered in chocolate.
Oh my stars, I need one right now!
If you are wanting a big nutty taste like peanut M&Ms or like Reece's Peanutbutter Cups, then Butterfingers are not going to deliver. I actually only just now realized they contain nuts, that is how subtle the flavour is. Being an American candy, Butterfingers are only available in some IGA stores (definitely the one in Palmerston, and the one in Dickson usually, for the Canberrans) and at the Lolly Shop in Gold Creek, ACT. If you cannot get a hold of any, I think the closest substitute would be a Crunchie bar.

I am assuming everyone knows what a blondie is. A Blondie is often said to be a Brownie without Chocolate, because like brownies, blondies are also dense and chewy and divine- usually made with brown sugar.

Here without further ado here is the recipe as I found it at Recipe Girl

2¼ cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
¾ cup butter, softened
2¼ cups brown sugar
3 large eggs
1½ tsp vanilla extract
4 regular-sized butterfinger candy bars, crushed

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 13×9-inch baking pan.
2. In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, with electric mixer at medium speed, combine butter and brown sugar.
4. Beat in eggs and vanilla until smooth.
5. Stir in flour mixture and 1 cup of crushed butterfingers.
6. Spread in prepared pan. Sprinkle remaining crushed butterfinger bars over top of batter.
7. Bake 30- 35 minutes, or until the bars are a bit firm to the touch. Cool completely before cutting into bars.

Servings: 12

2¼ cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
¾ cup butter, softened
2¼ cups brown sugar
3 large eggs
1½ tsp vanilla extract
4 regular-sized butterfinger candy bars, crushed

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 13×9-inch baking pan.
2. In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, with electric mixer at medium speed, combine butter and brown sugar.
4. Beat in eggs and vanilla until smooth.
5. Stir in flour mixture and 1 cup of crushed butterfingers.
6. Spread in prepared pan. Sprinkle remaining crushed butterfinger bars over top of batter.
7. Bake 30- 35 minutes, or until the bars are a bit firm to the touch. Cool completely before cutting into bars.

My verdict? Rich, buttery and chewy, though wonderfully crunchy round the edges, and so very more-ish. I wish I had bought 5 Butterfinger bars though; nah, make that 6. 5 for the recipe and 1 for me (for naughty day, of course)