Sunday, June 13

comfort food: garlic prawns

If there's one thing Caliban and I do well together, it's the Sydney Morning Herald crossword. If there's another, it's host dinner parties. I do the cooking, Caliban creates the playlist, keeps the wine glasses full and occasionally steps in as my sous chef.

On Saturday night, our friends B and S came over for dinner. They too are excellent at hosting dinner parties - like me, B takes care of the cooking and S is in charge of entertainment and ambience. They're a fantastic match.

We've eaten at B and S's twice now, and both times we experienced super culinary delights. B spent some time in Spain as a spring chicken, so his paella was a dish to be reckoned with (I just ate it, though, and then asked for second and third helpings until my heart could no longer bear the thought of more chorizo sausage). We knew that our meal had to be up to their standards.

I decided to make garlic prawns, mushroom risotto and sticky date pudding for dessert - it's officially winter now, and comfort food is a must. What could be more comforting than a bowl of steaming garlicky tomato stew topped with prawns, hearty, creamy risotto dotted with meaty mushrooms and the ultimate crowd-pleaser, sticky date pudding (for which no adjectives are needed)?

The mixed mushroom risotto is courtesy of Donna Hay, and the sticky date pud is from BBC Good Food, but the garlic prawn recipe is all mine. It's not a traditional garlic prawn recipe - I don't have cast-iron pots, so I didn't use them. It's a bit of a cheat's recipe, really. I don't have a problem with it, because it tasted wonderful - let me know what you think!

Garlic prawns (serves 4)

1kg raw prawns, tails intact
2 400g cans diced/whole/chopped tomatoes*
2 heads garlic
12 cloves garlic
1 brown onion, chopped
Olive oil
1 cup vegetable/chicken stock

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees.
2. Add onion and a tablespoon of olive oil to a saucepan over medium heat. Cook slowly (for around 5-7 minutes) until onion has browned and softened.
3. Smash garlic cloves (do not chop) and add to onion mixture. Cook for another 5 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, chop the stems off the garlic heads and place on a sheet of foil. Drizzle some olive oil over them and wrap the foil around them tightly. Place on an oven tray and roast for 15 minutes.
5. Add tomatoes and stock to garlic and onion mixture, and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat as low as you can and simmer until the garlic heads are ready.
6. Remove garlic heads from oven and allow to cool slightly. Carefully (they'll be ridiculously hot) use tongs to squeeze the garlic flesh from the skin. Add to the tomato mixture (along with the olive oil in the foil).
7. Add prawns and simmer for another 5 minutes, or until prawns are cooked through.
8. Serve with crusty bread, aioli and lots of good red wine.

*I like using whole canned tomatoes, because I like the chunky texture. But if you'd like a smoother stew, try diced or chopped tomatoes. I used Annalisa Cherry Tomatoes, because I like their sweetness.

Friday, May 28

breakfast at bills

"Lauren is looking forward to ricotta hotcakes and champagne for breakfast!" read my Facebook status update, the day before my 25th birthday.

To celebrate my quarter-century, Caliban took me to bills for breakfast. One of my favourite places to eat, bills is home to the best breakfast in Sydney. As you already know, I'm a huge fan of the morning meal, and bills is the best place to get it. Everything is sublime, but the ricotta hotcakes with honeycomb butter and fresh banana are like manna from heaven.

Caliban ordered scrambled eggs with sourdough and cured ocean trout, and I stuck with the hotcakes. After refreshing ourselves with a latte (me) and a chai (Caliban), we tucked into the meals. Caliban's heaped serving of soft, pillowy scrambled eggs was amazing - just the right texture, with all the creamy richness you want from a dish like this. The cured ocean trout was, according to Caliban, salty and smoky without being too overpowering or oily. It's a great balance - rich, creamy eggs with fresh, salty trout. Yum.

Three plump, delightfully misshapen hotcakes made a tower on my plate, with two slices of honeycomb butter melting over them, and a tiny jug of maple syrup was served on the side. Long slices of fresh banana lay underneath the hotcakes, warming them and infusing them with the honeycomb butter flavour. As breakfasts go, this is possibly one of the naughtiest and least virtuous (hey, it does have banana) but for breakfast on a special occasion, it's unmissable. Honeycomb butter is a stroke of genius and Bill Granger, the chef behind bills, deserves every accolade heaped upon him just for this little wonder, I reckon. Honeycomb is sweet but not sickly so, and whie butter is butter, you only need two half-centimetre discs of it when the full flavour of honeycomb takes part. The maple syrup is good, even though I don't normally love the stuff. And the hotcakes themselves are exactly what they should be: fluffy, light hillocks of just-cooked batter. Lovely.

We finished off the meal with a glass each of Veuve Cliquot. It was 11am by that stage, so we thought it was acceptable to break out the bubbly. The waiter informed us that while the cafe had run out of the house champagne we ordered, they'd serve us Veuve Cliquot at the same price. What a lovely surprise - one we thoroughly enjoyed, to the last drop.

359 Crown St, Surry Hills
+61 2 9360 4762

Tuesday, May 4

david fishman, 13-year-old food critic

David Fishman is in the seventh grade. In the past year, he's been featured in GQ and The New York Times. Why? Because, unlike regular 13-year-olds, who read Sweet Valley High and obsess about having a "perfect size six figure and eyes the colour of the Pacific Ocean"*, David Fishman is a food critic.

I chatted to David last week because I'm writing an article about tweens. He was polite to a fault, interesting, and interested (a key quality in good interviewees, I say). His precocity was pretty amazing...but I'll get back to that.

David's story goes something like this. He walked into a local restaurant alone (he lives in New York with his parents) and made a deal with the waitress to dine there (she wasn't keen on having a kid eat alone...but he promised he'd be out by 8pm). He pulled out a notepad, and proceeded to take notes on the evening's meal, giving decor, service and food a score out of 25 (like the Zagat Guide does). Other customers and even the chef began to take notice. The next day, someone told someone else at The New York Times, and poof! A star was born.

Fishman might be the youngest food critic around, but like other critics, he's both feted and frowned upon. Alan Richman, GQ's food correspondent, profiled David for the magazine, and took a liking to the young foodie. But Eric Ripert, head chef at New York's Le Bernadin, isn't keen on the idea of a kid critiquing his goods. "Let's not glorify kids who are going to break our balls," he told The Telegraph (UK). "This is not fair. Hopefully, when he's 18 and writing officially, I'll be retired."

But when I spoke to David, he was nothing if not humble. He downplayed his food writing experience, saying "I don't pretend I'm a professional. I'm a foodie...I'm just someone who loves food." He says he understands Ripert's frustration, and explains, "I think he disapproved of the publicity [I was getting], which is fair enough." For his part, David overlooks the criticism, and just gets on with the reviews. "I've been reviewing restaurants - just for myself - for a while now. All I want to do is gain knowledge. I did this for me and I'll continue to do it just for me."

If you have some spare time, and room for another bookmark on your blog roll, check out David's blog,

* That might have just been me.

Friday, April 9

food tv

In the past few years, a lot has been written about food television, and our fascination with it. It really does seem to defy logic that cooking - an everyday activity that most of us have tried our hand at - has filled so many hours of television in the last 15 years or so. Sure, it takes skill to cook well. Most TV chefs have undeniable charisma that makes them easy and enjoyable to watch. But could anyone have predicted our insatiable appetite for shows solely about cooking, say, 20 years ago? I doubt it.

I watch shows about food for lots of reasons. For techniques and advice, definitely. ("Add creamed corn to your scrambled eggs," says Tetsuya. "Salt is the key to great muffins," says Nigella.) But mainly, I watch for the porn factor. This is nothing new - TV critics have identified the parallels between porn and food TV for years. Frederick Kaufman wrote an article for Harper's magazine about the overlapping of the food TV and porn industries, from which I unabashedly stole the name of this blog. It's a great article, and explains the ways food TV has borrowed its "signature" features from porn, wittingly or not. The close-up "money" shots, the idealised scenes where everything looks perfect and beautiful, the gorgeous presenters who delight in tasting their lovingly prepared meals. And like porn, food TV is as much about the viewer as it is the action on the screen. Porn is produced with the explicit knowledge that the viewer will almost always be doing something else while he or she is watching (if you catch my drift) and so is food TV (although, one hopes it's not the same thing). You take something away from food TV - you want to emulate what's being done on the screen, even though you know you probably can't. And there's another parallel - just as the average Joe watching porn will never have three blonde, pneumatic-breasted women in his bed, the average Jamie-watcher will probably never produce a coq au vin that looks, smells and tastes exactly as wonderful as Jamie's does on screen. It's a strange mix of accessibility and exclusivity that makes food TV - and porn - so inherently watchable.

With that in mind, I wanted to share some of my favourite food TV shows, and why I love to watch them.

Nigella Feasts/Nigella Bites
Love, love, love Nigella. I honestly think she's a bit mad, but I love her just the same. I want to look and cook like her, and I really get a kick out of watching her add "just a bit of butter" to everything she cooks.

Heston's Feasts
If Nigella is the security blanket chef, Heston Blumenthal is the Evil Knievel of the cooking world. This program showcases his creativity and brilliance beautifully. Each week, he challenges himself to recreate recipes from a different age - like ancient Roman times or the Victorian era. If you haven't seen it, you must take a look. It's culinary genius, and I guarantee you'll be inspired.

MasterChef Australia
I truly loved MasterChef. I can't wait til it returns on April 19! Stay tuned for my weekly wrap-ups.

Iron Chef
Who hasn't secretly wanted to stay home of a Saturday night to watch this wacky Japanese cooking competition? If Julia Child sired food TV, Iron Chef is certainly the godfather. The completely unnecessary dubbing, the sporting-style commentary and the ever-present Japanese actress who invariably says something like, "Mmm...the my tongue. It's...intriguing." Behind country music, this could be my guiltiest pleasure.

The Naked Chef
Vintage Jamie! Totally pukka. And he was much cuter back then, yeah?

The Cook and the Chef

Maggie Beer (the cook) and Simon Bryant (the chef) go head-to-head (in the nicest way possible) each week with a different challenge. They disagree in the most charming ways (rather like Margaret and David of At the Movies) which is just great for us, the viewers. See how the chef does it, and how the cook does it...then do it your own way.

comfort brekky

This morning, I sat in bed, re-reading The Road. It's by far the most tragic, unrelenting book I've ever read - as you flick the pages, an overwhelming sense of dread fills you, and you scan the text for bad news. It's a terribly disturbing read, but for all its sadness, it's a wonderful book. I can't recommend it highly enough.

That said, once I was done, I was in desperate need of some comfort food. As I've mentioned before, I do like to keep things relatively healthy in the kitchen, so I decided to whip up some not-so-bad-for-you banana bread. It's baking as I type, filling the apartment with the lovely whiff of freshly baked goods. So perfect for a miserable Saturday morning!

Not-so-bad-for-you Banana Bread
Serves 8

1 1/4 cups wholemeal plain flour
1/2 cup flaxmeal
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp bicarb soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
Handful chopped nuts (I used macadamias, but anything will do - walnuts and almonds would be especially yummy)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup milk (I used soy)
2 ripe, mashed bananas
2 tbsp manuka honey (it has a more caramel flavour than regular honey)
16 squares Dairy Milk chocolate, broken into individual squares (well, this part is sort of bad for you...but it does make the bread particularly awesome. Use at your own discretion)

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees (centigrade).
2. Lightly grease a loaf pan.
3. Mix dry ingredients in a bowl (except chocolate).
4. In a separate bowl, mix wet ingredients. Gently fold wet ingredients into dry, being careful not to overbeat. When the ingredients are combined, you've mixed it enough. Overbeating leads to tough batter.
5. Pour half of mixture into pan. If using chocolate, drop eight squares, evenly placed, over mixture.
6. Add remaining mixture and remaining chocolate squares over the top.
7. Bake for 25-30 minutes.
8. Devour.

I love this banana bread because you can do so much with it. If you don't have nuts, add something else - shredded coconut, perhaps, or even grated apple. If you don't have chocolate, that's fine too. A ribbon of good quality raspberry jam over the top of the bread, just before you place it in the oven, would be divine. If you have blueberries or peaches, add them to the mix, too. There are endless variations, and I'd encourage you to play around til you find the perfect banana bread for you.

What's more, this is relatively healthy. OK, so it's not exactly rabbit food, but it's way better for you than that ghastly banana bread they sell in cafes. It's overpriced, full of trans fats and artificial ingredients and I'd be surprised if there was any banana in it at all. This recipe uses no butter and just one egg. If you wanted to make it vegan, you could substitute the egg for 1/2 cup of rice bran or coconut oil. And yes, the chocolate is a touch naughty, but you can just as easily leave it out. I love recipes like this - so simple, so quick and so easy to adapt to what's left in your fridge.

Monday, March 22

one morning, two brunches

It's probably unnecessary to tell you that I love brunch. But I do. I know there are some people who just "don't do breakfast" but I am not one of them (and I don't understand people who are: I wake up positively starving).

So brunch gets a thumbs up from me. And today - lucky me - I got to have two brunches, with three lovely ladies.

The first was at The Cove, in Drummoyne. After D and I walked around The Bay, we settled in for coffee and eggs. While the service was pretty poor (a sign instructed us to "Wait to be Seated", which took forever...despite the fact that there were at least ten empty tables; our coffees arrived after our meals did; the staff were blunt and not very helpful) the food was good. I was disappointed that the "crumpets with strawberries, honey and mascarpone" weren't fresh, homemade crumpets. I mean, who wants to pay $12.50 for supermarket crumpets? Not me. I was tempted by the muesli, but after our 8 kilometre walk, bacon and eggs were in order. I settled on the breakfast special - poached egg with avocado salsa, tomato relish, bacon, rocket and house loaf. D ordered house loaf with fried eggs and bacon. Everything was delicious. The house loaf is soft, gorgeous bread that is just perfect with the crispy bacon and gooey poached egg. The avocado salsa and tomato relish added more texture and depth - the tomato was quite sweet, a nice break from the salty bacon. It was just enough to satisfy, too. D reported that her bacon and eggs were similarly fantastic, and we both enjoyed the coffee.

On to Brunch No. 2 at Cafe Pavilion, Abbotsford, with Ed and Nurse Jacquie. Since I'd already eaten quite a bit at the first brunch, I decided to restrain myself, and ordered a cranberry and raspberry Nudie (no fresh juices, which is a shame) and the fruit salad with berry yoghurt. Nurse Jacquie ordered the blueberry pancakes (from the specials) and Ed went for grilled mushroom topped with asparagus, ricotta and dukkah. Not something I'd have chosen, but it was delicious. The blueberry pancakes were just what pancakes should be - fluffy, soft to the touch, buttery and golden. It's funny - pancakes seem such a simple meal, but so often cafes (and yes, me) get it wrong. It's easy to overbeat the mixture, I guess, and to overheat the grill. It's just fantastic when you get really good pancakes, though, so Nurse Jacquie won the ordering competition today. Topped with a handful of plump, fresh blueberries, a dollop of mascarpone and a drizzle of honey (it smelled like manuka), they were amazing. I went back for a second bite.

My fruit salad was just what the doctor ordered - a heaping plate of rockmelon, honeydew, watermelon, passionfruit, blueberries, red grapes and pineapple. The berry yoghurt was very sweet, and there wasn't much of it. I would have preferred a simple Greek yoghurt, but I suspect I'm in the minority there.

Special mention must also go to Nurse Jacquie's banana-nut-shake, which was so, so, so good. Never have a normal milkshake again - always, always, always add a tablespoon of nuts before you blend. Such a great taste.

Until next brunch...

The Cove at Drummoyne
1 Henley Marine Drive, Drummoyne
+61 2 9719 3022

Cafe Pavilion
378 Great North Road, Abbotsford
+61 2 9712 0366

Sunday, March 21

australia's 50 most eligible men... an odd blog post title for a blog about food. But last week, Cleo published its annual list of Australia's 50 Most Eligible Bachelors, and not one - not two - but three foodies made the cut. It's official: women love men in the kitchen.

The three foodies awarded Eligible Bachelor status were pastry chef Adriano Zumbo, who came to national prominence when he appeared on MasterChef last year, Curtis Stone, a chef who is experiencing major success in the States, and Luke Burgess, a food photographer and chef, who tells Cleo that his best tip for aspiring chefs is to "read, read, read."

Just a day later, Jill Dupleix wrote about TOYS for Good Living. TOYS is "Taste of Young Sydney", a group of young, spunky chefs (including Zumbo) who are orchestrating a series of foodie events aimed at Sydney's young gourmands. The article was about the young chefs' inventiveness, ambition and nous - three very attractive and laudable qualities, that definitely inspired Zumbo, Stone and Burgess's places on the Bachelors' list.