What does the last of the housewives do?

Month: April, 2013

Adam Liaw’s Laksa Lemak – From Scratch, In the Thermomix

I went on too many quests today and now I feel like my left leg has come loose. You know, the leg that is currently supporting my whole weight at the moment because I’m on crutches? Yes. But I think it’s all going to be worth it because my main quest was to gather the ingredients to make Adam Liaw’s laksa, and he doesn’t do bought pastes.

I have only myself to blame. I’ve been making Exciting Dinner on Wednesdays because the kids have sushi and soccer training and tennis and orchestra in various combinations. I asked my dear husband what he’d really like me to make. “Laksa.” he replied without any hesitation. I’ve been flicking through Adam Liaw’s Two Asian Kitchens but been too terrified to try anything except the stock, so this was a challenge.

The big problem was to gather the ingredients. I would imagine most of you would have no problem knocking up a European recipe, having the requisite pantry items, but when someone like me goes Asian we have to start from scratch. And that includes where you shop, because this laksa paste requires fresh ingredients.

The ingredients are dried 10 red chillies, 2 tablespoons dried shrimp, 4 fresh chillies (sorted, I have a plant), 1 tablespoon dried shrimp paste, 2 brown onions (no problem), 5 candle nuts (wouldn’t even know where to start, but fortunately macadamias can and will be substituted), 2 garlic cloves (run out), 2 thick slices ginger (ditto), 2 stalks lemon grass, 5 leaves Vietnamese mint, dried coriander (we’ll be using fresh, because I need some for a tomato salsa I’m making tomorrow), fresh turmeric (three teaspoons grated, but Thermomixers don’t grate) and 60 mls of peanut oil. The method is simple, soak the dried shrimp and dried chillies in boiling water, bung them and all the other ingredients in the Thermomix then zap. This makes about two cups, you need a quarter of a cup for two people.

See, I did get all the ingredients. I decided to venture into Ashfield Mall, it really isn’t that far. There is actually an Asian supermarket nestled conveniently in the car park, the Tong Li supermarket and gosh that was exciting. I had to go up and down the aisles three times to drink it all in. If it can be dried or pickled or cryovacked, they stock it. I am puzzled as to why you’d tin quail eggs, pickle lettuce, be bothered preserving turnips or eat Spam with real bacon. I was very fascinated by the snack foods, strips of dried fish, chicken flavoured peanuts (what’s wrong with peanut flavoured peanuts?), desiccated eel. I was awfully tempted by the frozen roast eel in the Japanese section. I’ll have to go back when I’m on two legs. I got dried chillies, dried shrimp and fried tofu puffs for the soup, but that’s all. Oh no, actually, also a bunch of fresh coriander (59 cents for a bunch!!!) I couldn’t find the shrimp paste and I certainly wasn’t going to ask, you know me. I didn’t get peanut oil because I didn’t really want five litres of it, and I couldn’t carry it anyway. I also managed to ignore the siren song of the jar of laksa paste, only two dollars.

I then went through the mall and out the other side to the Asian Greengrocer, where I was accosted by a tiny Asian woman who grabbed me by the arm and pointed at the mushrooms. “Mushroom!” she exclaimed, showing me both her teeth. I agreed, got her a bag and moved on. I found what I’m pretty sure was Vietnamese mint, garlic, some very fresh looking ginger, really cheap lemon grass and some bok choy to veggie it up.

I knew Norton Street Grocer stocked fresh turmeric, and I needed about a kilo of jelly for another quest, so Ho for Coles, curse them. They actually had shrimp paste, wonders will never cease. Also a small bottle of peanut oil that is currently sitting in my sink leaking from a spot I can’t locate. The grocer did have turmeric, so I had a full hand.

So I’ve made the paste and frozen most of it in convenient quarter cup portions. I have defrosted two cups of the basic stock made, blogged about and frozen some time ago. I have poached a sliced chicken thigh in it in the Thermomix. I heated the stock plus a couple of teaspoons of fish sauce to one hundred degrees, added the thickly sliced chicken and put it on reverse gentle stir at one hundred degrees for five minutes. Perfect. Removed the chicken. I then put 70 grams of bean sprouts (had to send the Muffet into the Stanmore IGA for those, completely forgot about them) in the steamer basket over the hot stock while I chopped six fried tofu puffs into quarters and chopped the bok choy up. Then transferred the stock to another bowl. Put a quarter of a cup of laksa paste in the Thermomix with a splash of peanut oil and set it to a hundred degrees and seven minutes. I tried five, but it wasn’t long enough. Added the stock back in, speed two, one hundred degrees for another two minutes, added a 270ml tin of coconut milk for a further two minutes. Tasted it, added the juice of half a lime and about two teaspoons of brown sugar because I can’t find my palm sugar. Maybe three.

Added in eight frozen prawns from the packet Daniela made me buy and the chopped tofu puffs and cooked (reverse, gentle, one hundred degrees), then shredded the chicken and chucked that and the bok choy in for another minute.

Meanwhile I’ve had an eighty gram lot of bean thread noodles soaking in boiling water and just added some random rice noodles I found at the bottom of the crisper. Now I’m going to put the noodles in bowls and pour the soup over then garnish with bean shoots and sprig of coriander.

Adam’s right, making the paste makes a huge difference. And now I’ve made it, laksa will be vurrah easy. Complex, full bodied, really really good. It doesn’t have that off putting red layer of oil on top. Husband thinks it could stand more chillies, but is as good as a bought one. I think this might be three servings, which means I get some for lunch tomorrow.

Or not.

Hazelnut Meringue Biscuits, Brutti Ma Buoni

I first came across these biscuits around the corner from where I live. They were in the diabetes inducing three level four metre counter of the Italian pasticceria that is famous throughout Sydney for its ricotta cakes. I pointed at a brown knobbly looking biscuit and asked the girl behind the counter what it was called. With typical Italian courtesy and willingness to please she said “I dunno. I think it’s got hazelnuts in it”. I have since discovered that it is often called Brutti Ma Buoni because it looks like something that might be produced by a bilious owl but it tastes so good I’ve wanted to make it ever since I had my first five.

It’s the kind of biscuit that needs machinery to make, so as I’m still slightly surprised to be operating in a kitchen that actually has machinery it has taken me until now to get around to it. I found a recipe in the Guardian concatenated with the recipe for panettone I had a few weeks ago and it looked plausible. I needed to accumulate some egg whites.

I didn’t have anything much to do this morning except convert the choir accounts into a new format, so I thought I’d do that after lunch. The cupboard is bare yet again due to the Muffet corralling all the baked goods to share with her friends at school to celebrate her birthday. Knowing I wanted to have egg whites left over I made lemon cornmeal biscuits and had a crack at kourabiedes for the first time which left me with two egg whites. Enough for twelve biscuits. I really could make them half the size, but they do end up being very light.

I put the egg whites in the clean dry KitchenAid bowl, having learned my lesson about that more than once, you think it would stick. Put on the whisk attachment and got it whipping. The whites had to get to firm peaks and you really can’t get there without collapsing from boredom if you do it by hand. I know how foremothers had to, but I really can’t be bothered. It takes ages, even in the KitchenAid. Perhaps I should have had it on a faster setting.

Meanwhile I placed a half a teaspoon of cocoa powder, fifty grams of hazelnuts, a hundred grams of blanched almonds and a hundred grams of caster sugar in the Thermomix. The recipe suggests a coarse grind, so I resist the urge to zap it into oblivion.

I check the egg whites, they’re getting there. I check my mail and a Facebook argument I seem to be in about gay marriage and by the time I hop back into the kitchen they look like this:

Which is just right. I carefully fold in the nut mix plus fifty grams of hazelnuts I’ve meticulously cut in half – I think whole ones are a bit too robust for this light biscuit. I always feel a little sad hearing those tiny bubbles pop as the nuts get folded in, but there’s no help for it.

Plop tablespoonsful of the mix onto a baking paper line baking sheet, you should get about twelve out of this amount. I would have made more, but I don’t like having bits of egg left over, it upsets my sense of symmetry. I’d have had to have made a custard or something, and then I’d just have to eat it. Bake at 180 degrees for about ten minutes, or until they’re just starting to colour around the edges. You need to let them cool completely before getting stuck in. See what I mean about how they look?

Perhaps more a duck than an owl, but definitely avian. Gosh they’re delicious though,

Love food, hate waste.

Do you love food, but hate waste! Well, you won’t have learned anything at the One Million Women gabfest held this morning at the Parramatta Town Hall.

It was all nice enough. They had some great guests. I’ve always been a fan of Bernie Hobbs and she was a very entertaining MC. They brought in the venerable Margaret Fulton and her daughter and granddaughter, who had some extremely unhelpful things to say about fussy eaters. My son was a fussy eater because he had issues with textures, it doesn’t matter how many curries I ate while breastfeeding, nothing is going to help with that but years of experience trying tiny bits of new things. Also it doesn’t matter how many tomatoes we grow in our garden, the children will periodically bite one under parental pressure then spit it out. They just don’t like them. It was a delight to listen to the grande dame of Australian cookery, Margaret Fulton at eighty eight is still full of passion for making everything tasty. So that was a treat.

The mastermind behind the one million women thing had a bit of a chat, but I was a bit surprised that deciding to compost your vegetable scraps, plan your meals before you shop and check the fridge and pantry before you shop was an epiphany. I lost a bit of what she was saying because she had the most amazing hair that kept creeping over her shoulders and gave the impression of trying to strangle her before she’d thwart it and push it back where it would sulk for a bit then start tiptoeing forward for another go. She was clearly very passionate, as were all the presenters.

I don’t mind a bit of Julie Goodwin, but I don’t think any of us were taking notes on how to make an omelette out of some eggs and stuff we found at the bottom of the vegetable crisper. Who can’t do that?

I’m not sure whose idea it was to stick a young lady with a guitar up on stage to sing a song about sustainability that she’d written her very own self, but I kind of wish they hadn’t. Her voice was fine, but she had that extremely whiny sound that’s so regrettably popular among young Australian singers at the moment and the sound system wasn’t coping with her excellent use of loud and soft. Also she sounded as if she was singing with her teeth clenched together, so the only word I heard in the song was “enough” and that was near the end of the song and summed up my feelings about it exactly.

She was followed by a very enthusiastic woman called Lish who made right before our very eyes and to the slightly repressed horror of Bernie Hobbs a worm farm out of two styrofoam boxes and a herb garden out of a third styrofoam box. A worm farm sounds like a lot more effort than my compost bin, which is basically a bin with no bottom that we chuck vegetable scraps in. Periodically the dog decides that there is a rat in there and scrapes a large amount of gorgeous rich soil out of the bottom of it, making more room at the top as the lot subsides. A herb garden sounds doable, but I don’t understand why they just can’t get green grocers to sell herbs in smaller quantities. Surely that would be a simpler solution to the horrendous herb waste this country is groaning under.

The lady from Macquarie University didn’t have a gimmick but some actual facts. She didn’t slip over on the mud left by the worm farmer, but it was a close thing. The main problem food wasters were the eighteen to twenty four age demographic and rich people, neither of which group was even slightly represented in the audience. And this was the problem with the whole shebang. For a start, they were preaching to the converted. There was a bit too much woo hooing and aren’t you all terrificking, which always irritates me. Also practical solutions were lacking.

I would have liked to have seen, after telling us that an enormous amount of fresh food is rejected by the supermarkets because it isn’t pretty enough, an exhortation not to buy fresh food from them. Big corporations understand a boycott. I only buy toilet paper, pet food and giant boxes of cereal from them regularly. I almost never buy fresh food from them. Tell us to buy our fresh food from the local green grocer and local butcher. How about some composting suggestions for people who live in apartments? What are we supposed to do with the kilos of mandarin peel produced at this time of the year? Give us a few different stock recipes so we don’t throw out our chicken and meat bones or fish heads. Show us how easy it is to chop herbs and freeze them in a ziplock bag. You could have got Glad to be a sponsor, I store a lot of things in their baggies. Tupperware, too. And how about some tips for gently hinting to our more wasteful friends that perhaps they could change their ways? Because the people who really need to hear this message weren’t present and don’t listen.

I shall end with something that fascinated me for the fifteen minutes between seating myself and the show kicking off. We were in the Parramatta Town Hall which is delightfully decorated in a style I’d like to call rococo, but I’m not sure if that’s right. Painted stencil work on the walls, a painting of an Aboriginal man holding a spear with palm trees behind him above the stage, lots of plasterwork moulding. At the foot of the buttresses holding up the ceiling was a sculpted man’s face, the same face under each buttress.

It looked like your standard classical face, possibly copied from the Greek, until you look a bit closer and realise it’s wearing a slight moustache. Do you reckon it could be Errol Flynn?

Thermomix Vegetable Patties

I think I overdid it this time. Note to self, just because you have Thermomix doesn’t mean you have to pulverise everything. Here’s how it happened.

I was having coffee with a neighbour and some friends and we were solving all of the admittedly very first world problems of the high school our sons attend. Talk turned to the oversupply of the school cookbook, and my Thermophile friend made the excellent suggestion that she and I should start converting the really excellent and diverse recipes in it to The Thermomix Way. By the time we’d wrapped up I was starving, so after I’d dragged myself across the road home I was looking for a quick and hearty lunch. No bread. No leftovers. Not even frozen leftovers. So I opened the school cookbook and came across a recipe that was a cinch for the Thermomix and I even had all the ingredients, vegetable patties.

I put a medium sized onion into the machine and it made a rather startled sound when I tried to zap it, another note to self – cut them in half first. Added in a slice of butter and sautéed the onion at 100 degrees for three minutes on speed two. I then added in a chopped large carrot, a zucchini and a half and an extremely dried up bread roll I had left over from last weekend’

And zapped them too. Then I added a tin of rinsed chickpeas, a teaspoon of Moroccan spice mix and an egg and gave it a gentle mix on speed two for a couple of seconds. Then I cooked it at 100 degrees for five minutes on speed three, and that’s where I went wrong. I should have had it on speed two or one and put in in reverse (the blunt sides of blades then do the stirring) meaning the chickpeas wouldn’t have been mashed in too. It could do with some texture.

The idea then is that you refrigerate it and it solidifies quite a bit, then you form them into balls and pan fry them in butter. I was really hungry, so I just ate the stuff with a spoon. It was delicious and satisfying. I’ve just had some more for lunch today and it even improves with age. I am eating a lot of vegetables this way, but I’m worried I’m losing the ability to chew. This stuff is also not terribly visually appealing in this form, but would be better as patties.

I won’t tell you what the Moose said it looked like, but I’m sure you can guess. The photo in the school cookbook was worse because the patties had bits of corn through them which for those of us who have had offspring leads to a very unappetising train of thought. Maybe presentation is something to which I should give more consideration.

A Bag of Holding

I had to get out the sewing machine to patch up the giant hole my fibreglass cast has torn in our bed sheets, so I thought while I was at it, I may as well whip myself up a handbag. You see, the one I’m using is perfectly adequate, but its size and composition mean that now that I’m able to hoist myself about on crutches at a fairly reasonable clip it does tend to drag up my clothing as I move along in a kind of ratcheting manner. Not desirable. All I want is a handbag whose handle will fit over my neck and shoulder and that will fit my wallet and phone in it. And some car keys. And some butter menthols.

I actually have a bag that fits this purpose, bought on holidays at Crescent Head.

There are two problems with it. One is that it’s too deep, as at most handbags in this style. I don’t want to stick my whole arm in the thing. The other is that it is my receptacle for the bits of my dream handbag:

And I can’t bring myself to repurpose it. I also need to make a few prototypes before assembling the dream bag, so here is prototype one.

It really only took me about an hour to make. There were a few breaks for arguing with a woman about what the Town Hall will be charging us for the Verdi Requiem and it certainly won’t be nearly twice what they quoted us. I also had to ring up the doctor to apologise for forgetting to come in for an appointment, that was embarrassing. That very rarely happens, I had it in the diary and everything. Perhaps I was subconsciously annoyed that my regular doctor had the temerity to be off having a baby. The strap is leftover material from the Great Soldier Costume Adventure which you’ll find in the archives from last year. I just took a piece of fake black panne whatever that somewhat reminiscent of velvet stuff is called and cut out a piece three times as big as I wanted the bag. I cut a third off and hemmed it, also hemmed the remaining piece. Then I sewed each piece onto the strap. I did have to pick it apart a few times because I have trouble envisioning things in 3D, but we got there in the end.

I did plan for it to be in use just for my remaining three weeks and two days of captivity, but I think with a fair bit of trimming and neatening up it will make a fairly nifty handbag to be put into regular rotation. I just won’t work on it around the time of my rescheduled doctor’s appointment.


Naturally Curly Hair

It took me most of my adult life to come to terms with having naturally curly hair. It’s one of those silly female things, isn’t it? Oh, I’d rather have your hair, yours is beautiful, so easy to manage, oh but YOURS is so lovely! Blah blah blah. Curly hair is a nuisance, it’s never the same two days in a row and it takes a lot of effort to make it look anything other than a fuzzy mess. I thought I’d share with you what I’ve learned.

The most important thing is you need a good hairdresser. Curly hair is difficult to cut, you need to understand that if you snip a little bit off that piece in front it will spring up into a lopsided pompom and sit ridiculously on the right corner of your forehead. You need to realise that it will behave differently at different lengths and in different climates. I was introduced to my hairdresser by a friend with an immaculate blond bob who’d had a longer relationship with her hairdresser than she’d had with her husband. This hairdresser not only understood curly hair, his partner had it herself and even let him experiment on her. Sometimes. I have occasionally strayed from his ministrations, tempted by a voucher or a special, but have always needed to call him in for repair work afterwards, and have learned my lesson.

The next thing is that you need to listen to your hairdresser. I would very much like to have long curly hair, but Gary tells me my hair just isn’t interested. It gets to a certain length, then snaps off in a spray of split ends. Doesn’t matter what nourishing serums I put in it, a bit longer than shoulder length is all I’m going to get out of it. It also looks neater when dyed all the same colour. Because of the dry ends business the natural colour of my hair goes from quite dark brown at the roots to a sandy ginger in the middle and blond on the ends, with some grey sprinkled around the front. A uniform coppery tint makes it look a lot less like something found atop an art teacher.

You will need product. Sometimes more, sometimes less. You will probably also need to blow dry if you don’t want it to sit flat on top and radiate out in a triangle shape like that woman in the Dilbert cartoon. A gentle heat and speed, a little bit of upside down and some scrunching with the fingers is what works best. I use Sebastian Potion Number 9 if I just want no frizz and a weightless product. Revlon Vinyl Twist gives more defined curls, but a slightly sticky finish. It’s good for if I want to go out with curly hair, rather than exasperatedly twisting it up with a clip. Schwarzkopf Silhouette is very good at smoothing down fuzzy ends, but does have an unfortunate tendency to make you smell like your grandma. You only need a tiny bit. I also really like tec texture shine, but they were taken over by L’Oreal some time ago and I’m going to have to make the smudge I have left last.

Of course, I rarely bother with all that. If I was someone a bit more interested in how I look I probably would have had a crack at straightening it at some point. But just to know that it can look like this:

if I wanted it to makes me a lot less likely to risk my marriage by cutting it all off.

Mayonnaise and Coleslaw in the Thermomix

I grew up in a fairly condiment free household, so I never felt a burning urge to make my own mayonnaise. Despite this, I have had two attempts at it, mainly to prove that I could, and it turned out that I couldn’t. Once with a whisk and once with a blender. Both times it was looking very promising, then irretrievably split into a watery, curdy mess. Of course, it’s really easy in a Thermomix. Having a had a good hard look at myself, you could even say it was foolproof.

What you do is put in the Thermomix the yolk of an egg and a tablespoon of vinegar. You can also add flavourings, I put in two teaspoons of hot English mustard and, because the only mayonnaise I’ve regularly encountered is Praise which is really sweet, a teaspoon of honey. You could also add a clove of garlic. It says salt and pepper to taste, but as if you’re going to have a taste of that mess, so I just put in a twist of the grinder of each. I also weighed out 250 grams of olive oil into a jug for pouring purposes. It suggests a neutral tasting oil, and despite using a light flavoured olive oil, you could definitely taste it, but I like it, so there.

You put the butterfly fitting over the blades. My demonstrator told me there was some secret wrist action that would secure it onto the blades, but I haven’t been able to reproduce it, and everything I’ve read suggest you can just perch it on the blades and she’ll be right. So that’s what I did. And it was. Mix it for one minute on speed 4.

Then comes the bit I’ve always failed at. You pour the oil in a thin steady stream onto the lid, with the little plastic lid on, because the lid slopes down to the middle and there’s a small gap under the lid. You do this on speed 4. It is suggested that you take about five minutes to do this. Or you could pour a steady stream for one minute, then realise the biscotti are about to burn, rescue those, blop in some more oil, decide to take a photo because it looks pretty in the sunlight, and I’ll tell you it’s really hard to take a photo of yourself pouring oil into a Thermomix with an iPad while standing on one leg. But I did it, because I wanted to share:

Anyway, my even with interruptions my very unsteady stream took about three and a half minutes, but look!

I made mayonnaise! It’s the colour and consistency of soft butter, which is probably a bit thick for mayonnaise, but eminently spreadable. It’s rich and delicious.

Then you don’t even have to wash out the bowl to make coleslaw. There are an infinite number of coleslaw recipes, but let’s go with a basic one first. Put in the bowl two tablespoons of your terrific home made mayonnaise, a cored and quartered green apple (I can’t help but notice that a lot of the salad recipes in the Thermomix book contain a green apple), a hundred grams of carrot (which is one large one, very roughly chopped) and about two hundred grams of cabbage. I also put in two green onion stems which were a bit harsh the first day, but had mellowed in by the second day. I may replace them with celery the next time. Then zap for about ten seconds. I like to start off at a low speed, increase over a couple of seconds to a medium speed, then check. The machine does shudder quite a bit at first, but apparently that’s normal. This treatment got the coleslaw to what I think of as Kentucky Fried consistency.

It was an excellent, slightly dry coleslaw, but better the next day. It made two breakfast bowls full, and I ate one bowl for dinner last night. I think you could add whatever hard vegetables you had to hand, I’ll have to let you know how that goes. It could possibly stand a little more mayonnaise too.

So all of a sudden I can make salads. It changes my whole perception of myself. I’m going to have to make some sweets to restore my equinamity.