Sunday, 29 August 2010

Winter Greens and Pancetta Fettuccine

Last night I had a friend over for dinner. I debated long and hard over what to cook, and, having decided on Donna Hay's Molten Chocolate Puddings for dessert (I love chocolate, I love pudding, and I need to make pudding while the thermometer's low!), finally arrived at the decision to make Winter Greens and Pancetta Fettuccine.

For some reason, I often pass over my extensive Donna Hay collection of cookbooks (below, left hand side) in favour for my Australian Women's Weekly ones (below, right). I own Instant Entertaining, No Time to Cook, and the entire Simple Essentials range - Chocolate; Salads + Vegetables; Pasta, Rice + Noodles; Chicken; Fruit; Beef, Lamb + Pork; as well as Christmas, which is not strictly in the same range of cookbooks, but is in the same format and with the same cute presentation. Of the AWW ones, I own Cook; Bake; Kitchen; and The Complete Cook.

All I can think of is that the presentation shown in the Donna Hay ones intimidates me, and makes me assume that the recipe is going to be complicated and take a lot of time.

How wrong I am. And I should know that. I have cooked no fewer than three menus from Instant Entertaining, and none of it was difficult, and most of it was quick. But my brain won't listen!

Last night, I delved into Winter Greens and Pancetta Fettuccine. I did make two small and probably fairly irrelevant alterations to it though - firstly, I made it with spaghetti (because I was originally going to make a different recipe which called for spaghetti, and obviously the need for spaghetti, not fettuccine, lodged itself in my brain when I went to the supermarket); and secondly, I used baby spinach instead of silverbeet/Swiss chard (because I was fed far too much silverbeet as a kid. It ran rampant in our backyard and we ate it nearly every single damned night in winter. Adults may like it okay, but kids don't, especially not when you get it every night, and I'm scarred enough to have not ventured into silverbeet territory since).

400g fettuccine pasta
30g butter
1tsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 brown onion, chopped
1tbsp thyme leaves
1 bunch silverbeet (Swiss chard), trimmed and chopped
1/2c chicken stock
2tbsp finely grated lemon rind
sea salt and bracked black pepper
12 slices pancetta, grilled
finely grated parmesan cheese, to serve

1. Cook pasta in salted water until al dente. Drain and keep warm.
2. Heat a large non-stick frypan over high heat. Add butter, oil, garlic, onion and thyme and cook for 2 mins
3. Add silverbeet and toss for 1 min or until just starting to wilt
4. Pour in stock, cover and cook 4-5 mins or until silverbeet is wilted and cooked through*
5. Stir in the lemon rind, salt and pepper. Add the silverbeet mixture to the pasta and toss to combine
6. Serve topped with pancetta and parmesan

If you're really coordinated you'll be able to cook the onion, spinach etc. while the pasta is cooking. I cooked the pancetta before everything else, which put a bit of that flavour through the rest of it, and then, after tipping the mixture into the pasta, quickly re-heated the pancetta in the frypan.

Quick, simple and delicious! (And you could maybe substitute the butter for more oil for a lighter finish)

*note that when using baby spinach, the cooking process is much shorter

Things That Excite Me

PROLOGUE: I'm really, really annoyed right now. Apparently holding down shift and scrolling up to the top of the page deletes every single last word you've written. I'd just finished a post, and was making all the text the same colour, and now I have to start from scratch. Fan-flippin'-tastic.


There are lots of Things That Excite Me, mostly trivial, and lots of them, as you may already have gathered, are kitchen utensils. I have already introduced you to my loaf pan and my Piranha peeler, and I now wish to introduce to the following:

1) My teensy, tiny Pyrex dishes.

The ones holding thyme and garlic hold about a tablespoon comfortably (maybe two if densely packed), the one holding lemon zest holds about two tablespoons comfortably, and the larger one holds one finely chopped smallish brown onion at a bit of a squeeze (don't ask me how many tablespoons that is!). I would imagine you could get a larger onion in there but it would be piled up quite high.

2) My offset spatula.

Granted, I have not yet had the opportunity to use it, but I'm looking forward to spreading icing and tart or cheesecake filling perfectly flat and smooth without getting it on my knuckles. I'm thinking I shall christen it on cheesecake, partly because I like cheesecake, and partly because Grant likes cheesecake more than I do, which means that because the calories can be blamed on him, that they will go to his hips and not mine. I'm not entirely sure how that works just yet, but I'll figure out the details later. I'm sure that's how it works...

A lot of non-kitchen stuff also excites me right now, and most of those things are related to our new house.

1) The venetian blind in the loungeroom, which I picked and Grant installed, excites me because it looks much nicer than before, and lets more light in, making that corner of the room lighter and brighter (you can sort of gain appreciation for that in the following photo - the window is on the right hand side).

This window, which faces the TV, originally had a double layer of crappy brown polar fleece tacked in between the window - which doesn't open - and the flyscreen. This corner was all dark and horrible until I decided to spring for the $36 blind at Spotlight, and don't ask me why the previous owners didn't take the same leap of faith that they did on the $12 Spotlight blind in the bedroom and instead opted for a rag as a curtain! Maybe I'm really excited because I have superior taste in drapery...

2) Our new dining table and kitchen dresser excite me, partly because we have somewhere to eat and enough storage space, and partly because we made out like bandits (remind me to tell you a story about that) on them both - bargain!

We bought both on sale - the table was a floor model and the last one left, so we got it at a discount, and we found the dresser at the Le Cornu Monster Marquee Sale (basically a scratch and dent sale held - as the name indicates - in a sizeable marquee in their carpark). They actually delivered the wrong dresser (same model, different dresser). A better one! It came in two pieces, and the top half was most certainly not the one we bought, which had a big split in the upper left cornice (for want of a better word), whereas the front of this one isn't glued quite as closely to the side as it should be, resulting in a 1.5mm gap down the right hand side, which I reckon I can fix with a texta! The bottom half is also not the one we bought, because I clearly remember it belonging to the other dresser that was on display, which had a top that was far worse damaged. I remember it because it has a small "is that all??" kind of scratch in it, which nearly sucked me in until I noticed how badly screwed the top of it was.

3) My new herb garden excites me, perhaps irrationally so.

The herb garden is comprised of two large (large enough for me to require man-help to lift) oblong terra cotta pots flanking our back steps. I have planted two types of parsley, dill, corriander, oregano, thyme and mint in it. I also planted rosemary in the back corner of the yard in the knowledge that it would probably grow prolifically and take over the pot (which the mint may also do - the mint is the one at the front right of the pot, and it is already three times larger than when I planted it a week ago. Best I keep an eye on that...). I also want basil and maybe sage but will be content with just the basil.

I am so excited to have herbs growing at my back doorstep, but am even more excited at the prospect of planting a vegie garden. On the list of improvements for the house (along with installing a bathtub - un-necessary, but would be nice - and a gas cooktop - not only do I abhor cooking on electric (it's so unresponsive), but my electric one is also a little quirky (by which I mean kind of unsafe, evidenced by the fact that to use it you must flip the retro-fitted override switch - I will tell you about in another post - so at least for that "want" I can cite safety as a reason!)) is one of those corrugated iron raised garden beds. I love gardening and have really missed it the last two years, and once I've got that garden bed I'll be as happy as the proverbial pig. My love for gardening doesn't always extend to mowing the lawn, mind you... *reaches for the yellow pages*

But I think the thing that excites me most about our house is the fact that it is ours.

EPILOGUE: I'm quite pleased with how this re-hashed version turned out - it's quite a lot more succinct. Pity I just missed out on an hour of sleep, though...

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Things that probably shouldn't exist - Hot Chocolate... IN A CAN!!!

The other night I was at the supermarket picking up a few odds and ends to tide me over for the week, and I came across this.

Now, before you start to think that I have taken leave of my senses, I only bought it because it was on sale. I'm not sure whether it was on sale because it's a new product, or because they're trying to get rid of them. At this point, either option is a possibility!

The instructions seemed fairly straightforward, but for some reason I was a bit nervous about setting the wheels in motion. Step one was to remove the anti-tamper seal. Don't ask me who in their right mind would bother tampering with a can of hot chocolate, but anyhow...

Peeling back the seal revealed more - very specific - instructions.
I was half tempted to whip out a ruler to ensure I was pushing the button in precisely 1.5cm, but in the end I restrained myself because I figured I wasn't strong enough to push it in too far and bollocks it up completely. As I pushed it down, it felt kind of crunchy, like when you bend a cyalume stick to make it glow. My best guess is that when you push the button down, you're releasing something that mixes with another chemical that's in there and causes an exothermic reaction. Kind of like those hand warmer things you can buy from hiking shops.

Next, I was required to shake the can gently for about 20 seconds. That has to be one of the most daft instructions I have ever read, because "gently" is a very subjective thing. "Gently" to a two-year-old or to a frail old woman may not be the same as "gently" to, say, Arnold Schwartzenegger in his heyday. I started out flailing it about in a kind of pathetic, weak, manner, but decided that it wasn't hard enough so I shook it a little harder. And don't ask me how long I did it for, either. We've already established that precise measurements are not my forte, so why should timekeeping be??!

After I placed it down on the table nothing happened for a bit. Then, suddenly, the can started to vibrate and steam started to pour out of it and it made a high-pitched squealing noise. I began to worry that it would scald the top of our new dining table, so I picked it up with a potholder and put it on the bench. As a side-note, the jiggling motion and the high pitched squeaking noise that came out of it reminded me of a Paul Jennings story about these magical mushroom thingies that imitate objects that they are put next to, and then eventually jiggle and giggle and explode into a puddle of pungent goop.
I sure hope someone else remembers that story otherwise I'm going to sound like a total nutcase... YES! I Googled it! The story is called Yuggles, and basically, whenever someone nasty is around one of these toadstools, they turn into a brown, motionless replica of something nearby. But they're not very stable and eventually explode, just like I said.
Now, theoretically the temperature indicator was supposed to tell me when I should be drinking it, but it didn't. And patience isn't my forte, either (that's not true, I'm a very patient person... but rarely when it comes to food!), so I decided to judge it on how warm the can was to the touch.

For the purpose of this blog, and also because it felt weird drinking something hot out of a can, I poured the warm hot chocolate.

Hmm... it's a brown puddle... wonder if it's a Yuggle... kidding. I know that Yuggles don't really exist (or do they?), but this might as well have been one. I wouldn't bother with this product. I really, really wouldn't. But it doesn't resemble the frothy-topped hot choc on the label, at all (thankyou, Captain Obvious!), and it doesn't taste much like one of those frothy-topped speciems would. The hot chocolate was thick and syrupy but tasted plasticy, too. The texture reminded me somewhat of one of those Supa-Shakes you can get at the supermarket, where you shake them up and they turn into a thickshake. But hot. And plasticy. Eugh. I only made it half way through the mug (which was only about half full to start with) before I threw in the towel and tipped it out, which, if you know me and how I feel about food, chocolate especially, is really saying something!
So, although, in its defence, it was perfect drinking temperature, hot chocolate in a can shouldn't exist. DON'T DO IT, PEOPLE!!!
PS - they also make cafe latte in a can...

Sunday, 1 August 2010

NOT a Practice Cake, or, I Really Am That Good

As you may recall, I made a couple of practice cakes in preparation for making a cake for my friend Jody's 30th birthday. I was pretty smug about how well they turned out.

And my smugness was apparently well-placed, because this is how the actual cake turned out...

Today, though, my smugness was turned down a notch. I attempted to make Neenish Tarts, and they turned out NOTHING like I remember them, and they looked a little scrappy, too. Perhaps it's because I used a very home-made recipe (from a cookbook I got for my birthday from Alice - thanks A!) which, except for the fact that they're two-tone, holds little to no resemblance to the ones you get at bakeries. Also, the pastry was a little over-brown because I over-greased the tins, and also because it would seem that, for once, the fact that the fan-forced oven in my new place is the third and only oven in a row that actually requires you to drop the temperature by twenty degrees! Just when I was beginning to doubt that you needed to it, too. And, lastly, I've always been a bit unco with decorating. Hopefully practice will make perfect.
So here they are.

Soooo, let's focus back on that cake, shall we?! Nice and close!

Catchup from the old Esplanade place #1

As you may or may not recall, some time ago I began emptying the pantry. Check out the link for the "before" shot, and here is the after shot. It's not as empty as I had hoped, but believe me when I say I used a LOT of stuff from it! There were these super-cute mini mud muffins...
...which contained terrifying quantities of oil!
Oh, and here's a gem I found in the very back of the fridge, behind the jars of garlic and jam and chutney - half a can of passionfruit pulp from some passionfruit yo-yo biscuits (or, Melting Moments for you South Aussies) that I made at Christmas last year.

And here's the scary part - what it looked like. Specifically, the fact that it had no mould on it at all. The dehydration was to be expected, but the fact that it was basically passionfruit concentrate was not. Seven months in the fridge, and not a mould to be seen. Freaky. I checked out the ingredients, and no preservatives! Just passionfruit and sugar. Maybe they should try marketing passionfruit pulp as an antiseptic. Oh, and don't be judging me about the fact it was still in there!!!Also scary was - is - the packet of grated mozzarella that I haven't touched in probably 3 months, and which is still fine. I haven't investigated the preservative content of it, but I'm not sure I want to!
Here's another yummy creation from cupboard - chocolate lace crisps (they didn't ask long).

Other creations included beef and barley soup, polenta with currants (sweet, made with milk, for breakfast), pastiso, berry cobbler, plum cobbler aaaaaand some more Whatever Biscuits.
Stay tuned for a walk-through of the old house by the sea, to be followed by a walk-through of the new house (eventually. I need to make sure everything's put away before I start waving a camera about the place!). And whatever else takes my fancy in the meantime (which will probably include some baked goods).
Hope you all had a good weekend!