Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Hash browns

Last year my dad and I did a road trip through the American south. In Florence, Alabama we went to our first Waffle House. I'd read an article about it in Bon App├ętit, of all places. Turns out this fast food franchise with its bright yellow sign is beloved of fancy food writers who grew up in the south. And not just them, obviously. In our second Waffle House in Kimball, Tennessee, a couple of loggers in their 60s sat in the booth next to ours and struck up a conversation. Families traipsed in and out. Old people, young people. Open 24 hours, serving breakfast any time of the day as well as familiar fast food fare like burgers and BLTs, furnished with booths and a wraparound diner counter, there was something undeniably cheery about the place, so much so that by our third Waffle House in Dandridge, TN, we were actually picking our motels based on how close they were to one. 

It goes with out saying that they're famous for their waffles. But the other menu mainstay no matter what time of the day or night, are their hash browns. Brilliant for breakfast with eggs and bacon and all manner of greasy goodness, perfect for lunch or dinner too especially if you order them "all the way" which basically means topped with everything from mushrooms to cheese to sausage gravy. There's nothing not to like about fried potato, especially when they're like these: lacy, crispy latticework, golden brown and buttery. Best of all, now I'm back in Sydney and a million miles away from my favourite fried food fix, I just discovered that one of those fancy food writers - James Beard award-winning Josh Ozersky - worked out how to make Waffle House hash browns at home. All you need is a box grater, a potato, some butter, a sprinkling of salt and a cast iron skillet. Oh. And three minutes. Don't believe me? Watch. Then make them yourself. I did. And I'm going to again. For dinner tonight.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Chocolate orange date truffles

Food presents are my favourite. Among the best I've received in recent years: vanilla beans from Bali, a catering-size container of corn relish from Tasmania, biscotti baked in one hemisphere and mailed to another, home-roasted coffee beans, a dozen hot cross buns from my favourite Hobart bakery, a tin of homemade biscuits to last through Christmas and beyond, my mother's green pawpaw chutney (which I'm lucky enough to have a lifetime supply of thanks to her obsessive need to bottle everything she ever grew), and last week, a huge haul of premium grade cocoa from my American cousin Amy, transported across the Pacific Ocean and lugged halfway around Australia by her parents, who've been out here visiting. To thank them for being such good-natured cocoa-mules, I wanted to make them something with it to say thank you. I wanted to make something the gluten-free giver of the gift could eat, even if she wouldn't get to taste this particular batch (her folks are heading home on a three week cruise). Something to showcase the cocoa, in all its dark, bitter beauty. Happily I had just the recipe. It required only a handful of ingredients, all easily available: dates, orange, walnuts and cocoa. Blended together, rolled in extra cocoa to make an elegant truffle that just so happens to be gluten-free and dairy-free too. There's no refined sugar but the natural sweetness of the date and the orange in combination with the richness of the nuts and the cocoa create a taste not unlike the very best dark chocolate... which if you've recently OD'd on supermarket-grade milk chocolate Easter eggs, you will appreciate all the more. Just like a thoughtful gift*. 

* special shout out to my friend George too, for the beautiful plate these truffles sit on, which may not be edible but makes anything that goes near it infinitely more so.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Red cabbage, date and fetta salad

I've never been big on salad. It can't compete with a sandwich in the lunch stakes and I'm too lazy to whip up a whole separate dish to go along with whatever I'm making for dinner. It's not that I don't eat vegetables (though the name and focus of this blog might suggest otherwise), I just incorporate them into whatever I'm cooking - a soup, a pasta, a curry, risotto, thrown under a roast chicken... But! Along come a new breed of salad which is forcing me to reconsider my long-held position. These salads are robust, verging on hearty. They are colourful and crunchy. Best of all, they're the sort of thing you can make on a Sunday and have on hand for the week ahead. They're all about texture and contrasting flavours - soft, salty fetta, sweet dates, crunchy cabbage, toasted sesame seeds, bright lime... 

I'd had this recipe bookmarked for months but was prompted to finally make it following the enthusiastic endorsement of my friend Joanna, who extolled its virtues as a store cupboard salad. Red cabbage keeps forever in the fridge, and the other ingredients I usually have on hand, so it can be made at a moment's notice. And only takes moments to make.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Lemon bars

It's summer here in Sydney and I've no business buying single lemons for $2 when there's all sorts of amazing stone fruit still in stores but I was craving lemon tart. This presented somewhat of a conundrum as lemon tart is not the sort of craving that can be satisfied quickly. There's pastry to be made, rested, rolled out, refrigerated, a food processor to be dragged from the cupboard (and washed afterwards), not to mention a finished tart to be cooled. Hooray for lemon bars. All the taste of a tart, with none of the hassle. 

The bar cookie is an American baking classic, a mainstay of picnics and potlucks. They're brilliantly portable and utterly unpretentious. What you see is what you get and here it's a burnished gold top, a dense, buttery biscuit base and sandwiched between them, a sweetly tart custardy lemon filling. This recipe uses everyday ingredients, whole eggs (no separating or extra yolks), the zest and juice of a single lemon, and, best of all, one mixing bowl. It takes hardly any time to make, only 25 minutes to bake, and not too long to cool. And because it's meant to be cut, you have no compunction about eating a piece before guests arrive.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016


I took a break. I took a plane. I took granola. Easy to make, possible to pack, granola is a simple breakfast that seems a little more luxurious than the everyday. There are a million recipes out there, but this one came recommended by a friend I trust in all things cooking. I'd made it before, for another friend just home from hospital, but never for myself. While many such cereals are overwhelmingly sweet, this one skews almost savoury, the maple syrup providing the sugar balanced with an almost equal amount of olive oil. There's shredded coconut and oats for chewing, nuts for crunching, and a fat dollop of Greek yoghurt to smooth it all out. It's breakfast to make you feel like you're on holidays, no matter where you are - a good start to any day.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Marmalade cake

Some tastes you grow into. When you’re little, you want sweet, plain and simple. With toast you want jam. Specifically, you want strawberry – something straight-forward and sugary: reasonable, red, familiar. Then you graduate to something a little more sophisticated, a gateway fruit, maybe a raspberry. You come to like that slight sharpness with the sweet, and from there you start contemplating that most grown-up of grown-up spreads: marmalade. You never would have entertained the idea of chunks of tart chopped-up orange on your toast some years ago, but now, that citrussy sour-sweet is somehow what you crave each morning. How did that happen?

Though strictly speaking, cake is not for breakfast, this particular one is actually kind of perfect as the first meal of the day - soft and golden as the sunrise, its bittersweet bite as good a wake up as a cup of coffee.

Come to think of it, cake for breakfast is kind of a childhood fantasy, so maybe you aren’t as grown-up as you thought after all. Phew.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

My grandmother's fruit cake

December and January are - in Australia anyway - associated with one cake. Though it's often called Christmas cake, fruit cake straddles the summer. For me it's evocative of catching up with rellies in between present shopping and menu planning in the lead up to the 25th, and of morning teas in rest areas on road trips in the new year. It goes as well with bone china, as it does with tea from a thermos. My grandmother Irene, who I've talked about here before, many times, was famous for her fruitcake. When she died, my mother took up the tradition, and now, this year, it falls to me. In mum's cooking files, I found my grandmother's original handwritten recipe. Curiously, it listed only the ingredients, and no mention of method, but after a little internet research I was able to take a stab at how they combined. The key point of difference in any fruit cake, it seems, is whether or not the fruit is boiled. From what I gather, the boiling is a shortcut to allow you to make the cake the day you want to eat it, speeding the softening of the dried fruit. My grandmother did not believe in short cuts, so I elected to take the long road and soak the fruit the night before. Really, this took no time at all and required nothing more than a bit of measuring out. The next day, it was just a matter of combining the plumped, boozy fruit with the remaining ingredients to form a rich, robust batter, pouring it into a tin and baking it for three hours in a slow (low) oven. Though I didn't have either of my senior fruit cake advisers on hand, I did have the help of my dad's 16 year old neighbour William, a keen baker with 2nd and 3rd place wins in the fruit cake division of the Brookfield Show behind him. On the lookout for a prospective 1st place recipe, he offered his services and I gratefully accepted. I'm pleased to report it was a win for both of us, the cake pulled from the oven as good as I remembered my grandmother's and my mother's: deep brown, moist, and fragrant with citrus, dried fruit and the memory of those who'd made it before me.