Tag Archives: Smitten Kitchen

“Come to the fiesta!” chana masala

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I’m hosting a party!

This little blog has seen many parties – real and imagined – pass through its virtual doors. I’ve occasionally talked about dinner parties at Casa Gander. I’ve planned a middle eastern tent feast with Laura of Laura’s Mess (and she has done it, wow!). I’ve even gatecrashed a Sicilian cocktail party with Liz of Food for Fun.

This time, I’m co-hosting Fiesta Friday at Angie’s place (of the Novice Gardener) with Sir Johnny (of Kitschnflavours and Flours n Dainty Buns).

If you haven’t met Angie yet, you should – she is fun, witty, her blog is full of creative food ideas, she gardens and forages and makes the prettiest things from the foraged bounty. And Sir Johnny? – I can’t wait to see what he will wear, having come to previous Fiestas in fisherman’s waders, a black PVC ensemble, that magenta onsie with a white zip, and – it was rumoured – a chamois.

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As for this week’s Fiesta, get ready for madcap party tricks when you least expect – Sir Johnny and I are both in crazy time zones compared to State-side friends, so when you are blinking at the rising sun, we’ll be just getting the disco lights and cocktails started.

Fiesta Friday celebrates that best of weekdays with the funnest of parties. Please, please, come and join the party! Visit the Fiesta-goers’ posts, even better link up your own post! We may be rowdy, but we are a friendly bunch and always looking out for more people to share the fun. It’s a great way to get more people visiting your blog, and I’ve met some talented bloggers along the way. Have I convinced you yet? (actually, can you tell I’m not a salesperson??)

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And onto the food! This week, I’m bringing to Fiesta Friday a bowl of chana masala (or chole masala), a chickpea dish that is found in Indian and Pakistan cuisine. According to Sir Google, a popular version of chana masala comes from Punjabi cuisine, and has a distinctive sour and tangy flavour. There are also south Indian versions such as one from Kerala, and a version with black chickpeas.

I made the Punjabi chana masala, which has been popularised by Madhur Jaffrey (including via Smitten Kitchen). This was one of the most flavoursome and fragrant dishes I’ve ever made, and it looks like you’ve slaved over a stove for positively hours – when in fact it’s quick enough for a weeknight meal. Low fuss & high impact = win win.

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When cheese pastry meets pineapple jam meets dumplings

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14 February is a super-happy day. It’s the 15th day of the Chinese new year (based on the lunar calendar), and Valentines day. It’s an all-red, all-pink, all-red lantern and tanyuan, all-roses, teddy bears and glitter, kind of day.

Even though it’s way past midnight here, so I’ve kind of missed the boat, this post is for the 15th day of the Chinese new year and Valentine’s Day and Angie’s Fiesta Friday.

Last year, I cooked a CNY feast for, oh, lots of people. It involved, among many, many other things, Beggars Chicken: whole chicken stuffed with savoury delicacies and covered in a clay shell and baked. It was epic.

This year, reeling from Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Australia Day, etcetc, we had a quiet Chinese new year’s eve dinner. To make up for that, I’ve been inventing silly names for everyday dishes. Like Lucky Fortune Golden Dragon bolognese, or Year of the Golden Pig shakshuka (Year of the Golden Pig was 2007, it’s still Mr Gander’s favourite-named year).

It was during this mad, faux-festive period that the cheese pastry pineapple jam dumpling was born.

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A tale about kale: kale salad with raisins, walnuts and pecorino

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Here I am, on a Monday night, trying to think of a witty, captivating way to introduce a kale salad. I could wax lyrical about its impressive pedigree: from Barbuto in NY via Deb Perelman’s kitchen to yours truly. I could go all food anthropology on you and talk about the similar ingredients found in pasta or even bread from that island off Italy (disclaimer: only in the world according to Google).

Or, I can just sit back and tell you about this salad – the flavours, textures, ideas.

Because, this way, I won’t have to talk about how this is yet another kale salad. I can just say – this salad doesn’t make me feel like I’m eating grass. Grass is virtuous to be sure, and good for moo-cows, but I prefer my grass a little more mediated by cows, say in the form of pecorino cheese.

Then, I can tell you the salad is savoury, sweet, tart. These bold flavours complement (but not mellow) kales earthiness – think Ottolenghi’s way with radicchio in Plenty. The textures vary between lemon-softened kale, plumped raisins, crunchy walnuts and crumbly-creamy pecorino.

I’ve served variations of the salad at two elaborate dinners, a Moroccan/Sicilian epic, and our similarly epic Christmas lunch. Both times, it was hoovered up, with people asking about it as they peered into the salad bowl for more.

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Life in the popcorn lane: popcorn, chocolate chip, brown butter cookies

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As you would have seen on many blogs, it’s December, Christmas is on its way. A period of holiday cheer, seasonal madness, and a kitchen covered in sticky flour-y patches.

I have started planning for The Christmas Lunch, trying to balance the preferences of two families. There’s the anti-Turkey matriarch, the other matriarch who likes Turkey With All The Trimmings, someone who likes an early lunch followed by a stroll on the sunburnt beach, and another who enjoys nothing more than a late night post-pudding egg nog.

I can’t do anything about the time of Christmas lunch, but I think I’ve written a menu that will keep both sides happy, ish, esp when prefaced by a couple of happy, festive cocktails. Whew!! For a moment, Christmas on a deserted island (with a Christmas tree, and reindeers) seemed just a tad appealing. 🙂

This is when I turned to something child-like in its simplicity, and universally happy-making.

These cookies, stuffed to the brim with buttered popcorn, dark chocolate chip, and brown butter.

Think: buttered popcorn with salty, crunchy bits, dark, dark chocolate chunks, extra flecks of chunky sea salt, brought to you by a soft, chewy, sweet cookie dough.

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Not your average box mix brownies

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Lately, it feels like life is spinning, rushing past, so, so quickly, and I barely have time to say “woa!”.

Times like this, I like to bake and cook, take time out, slow down, and feel (slightly more) grounded. Baking and cooking helps me to remember that I don’t have to do everything at work before we head off on holiday. Other people will step in and help out, because they are good colleagues, smart people and good friends, and we’ve always helped each other out.

But, when baking starts at 9 or 10pm at night, I’ve been at a loss about what to bake. Nothing that takes too long (baking past midnight is fun but slightly surreal), or requires the Bosch kitchen mixer (our neighbours will start to give me odd looks). And I don’t want to beat eggwhite by hand and develop hausfrau muscles in my right arm only (that would be funny, but surreal and possibly impractical clothes-wise).

Last night, I found the answer. Box mix brownies – with home made box mix.

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I was thinking about house warming presents for some friends we’ve known forever. They have never wanted very much, and have always been happy with what they have. Instead of giving them the usual wine glasses or home furnishings, we wanted to give them something that won’t end up cluttering their modestly minimalist life.

And last night, it came back to me: box mix brownies. I give them the mix of dry ingredients and add-ins, and all they need to do is add butter and eggs. Home made brownies within 30-40 minutes, including baking time.

I used an Alice Medrich cocoa brownies recipe to make up a box mix. I first saw this recipe on Smitten Kitchen, where Deb explained how she was converted to the idea of a good cocoa brownie, where cocoa is intentionally used in preference to blocks of dark, shiny chocolate. I was intrigued, and this idea lingered in the back of my mind like one of those cat pictures that never quite stop doing the rounds of office emails.

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Comfort: roasted caramelised whole garlic and slow ribs

The world has felt out of kilter this week.

The flood of images from Boston; strange encounters at work and after work; a sudden drop in temperature catapulting us from late summer into early winter.

And this morning, one of those torrential, tropical downpours that reminds Sydney siders life is not all about sunburn and beaches. None of those polite drizzles, this was rain with fat, heavy raindrops far heavier than any water saving showerhead can produce. The kind of rain that floods footpaths and cafes, gets under your umbrella and splashes up to knee height, and has us talking about carpentry skills for building Noah’s Ark.

It didn’t feel like a baking day, as I had planned. It was a day for a hot toddy, lemon ginger apple juice, or mulled wine, or congee or chicken soup. Something that says comfort blanket. A day for warm fireplaces, long slow braises, and slooooow roasted ribs and whole garlic.

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The roasted garlic is simple to make, but yields such complex flavours. Whole heads of garlic are cut in half horizontally, then placed, cut face down, in a puddle of olive oil and baked for almost an hour and a half. After an hour, a gorgeous, warm smell, laced with caramel sweetness and with none of that raw garlic bite, fills the kitchen. The garlic bulbs shrink as they caramelise, so the outer layers of the garlic either lift off, or holds the garlic bulbs so loosely they are easily dug out with a small fork.

The garlic bulbs can be spread on toasted crusty bread, added to a dish of roasted sliced potato, or made into a thick garlic soup (soup coming soon), or mashed into almost anything, really.

The slow roasted oven ribs are also lovely, fall-apart-with-thick-sauce lovely. This (I think southern) recipe seemed so simple yet produces such beautiful looking results, it was only a matter of time before I gave it a go. Ribs are coated in a dry rub, wrapped in foil (I use two layers to be sure), and roasted on a slow oven for up to 4 hours, or an extremely slow oven for about 6 hours. The dry rub becomes a barbecue sauce of sorts. The meat can be further browned under the grill (broiler), but I find I prefer it without.

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