Click the Month: August 2014

I have cake!! Well, pictures of cake, anyway.  Some time ago I attended a cake decorating workshop with Celebrations Cooking in Sydney, where Andrew taught a small group of us how to work with chocolate to cover and decorate cakes.  I found the course so fulfilling and such great value that I recently attended another workshop, this time working with RTR, or fondant icing.  I think I’m hooked and will be attending more classes, of which they have many including more advanced cake decorating, pastry and cooking classes.

The best part?  At the end of each class, we all skipped home happily with the cakes that we had decorated, to eat or gift as we pleased.  And yes, those are sheep on my chocolate cake.

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Tuscany in Transit

The man sat on a platform bench, directly in my line of sight as I peered out of the water-stained window of the train carriage.  His shirt hung completely open and the dazzling rays of the Tuscan sun reflected off the curves of his generous belly.  The equally reflective surface of his bald head was surrounded by a thick ring of dark, unkempt hair that spilled over the tops of his ears.  He held a brown glass bottle in one hand which he rested on his knee.  An unlit cigarette dangled from the fingers of his other hand.  It was lit as if on schedule by a passing man of about the same age who was, bafflingly, wearing a knitted beanie and sweater.  Large sunglasses were perched on the bare-chested man’s nose, heightening the sense that he should be the head of a crime ring in some Hollywood movie.  He held a grotesque fascination for me and before my train pulled away from Pistoia station, I fought the urge to take a picture, reminding myself that I was in his direct line of vision just as he was for me.

Tuscany in Transit Deepa Pizzetta 1

The train I was on was headed for Lucca, a walled city about 140 km from Florence.  Almost three hours earlier, I had entered Santa Maria Novella Station after a brisk twenty minute walk along the sun-baked streets of Florence.  I had approached a small biglietteria, a stall selling tickets for the buses that stopped on either side of the city’s main station.  There, I met the very first impolite person I had come across in Florence, an insipid man who reminded me (in appearance but not in attitude) of my high school economics teacher.  He had set his mouth, sliced his hands through the air and in no uncertain terms told me “Lucca? NO!” promptly turning away as if I had just asked for his bank account details.

A more kindly man at another stall had told me that he too did not sell bus tickets to Lucca, but that if it was him, he would take the train.  I needed no more reasons to opt for the train, especially as I hadn’t been looking forward to the queasiness that I often experienced on drives along winding roads.

Through a combination of my suboptimal touristic Italian and my misreading of the train boards (who knew that they would have both departure and arrival information?), I failed to board one train and had to wait an hour for the next one.  It gave me the opportunity to explore Santa Maria Novella station.  The hub of the Florentine rail and bus networks, it’s imposing ceiling was what kept drawing my eyes upwards.  An intricate arrangement of criss-crossed steel beams supporting panes of grey tinted glass looms over scores of purposeful commutors and bewildered tourists. It’s cavernous underside houses a string of shops selling anything from cheap clothing, to mobile phones and gelato.  The shopping was not exactly a must-do in Florence, but an acceptable way to while away half an hour or so, if one happens to misread the train time signs.

All that speed-walking around a city and missing of perfectly good trains makes one hungry and so I picked up a pizzetta (mini pizza) at a nearby pasticceria.  The round of flaky puff pastry was smeared with pizza sauce and topped with good prosciutto, a puddle of mozzarella and sprinkling of herbs.  It was a simple but satisfying snack that proved to be worth the train mishap.  I picked up another for the journey and vowed to replicate the recipe in my own kitchen.

Tuscany in Transit Deepa Pizzetta 2

Finally aboard the train, I settled into one of the comfortably cushioned seats and set my bottle of water on the tiny table.  In front of me was a young African woman who was engaged in a very loud and animated phone conversation, seemingly oblivious to the annoyed looks she was receiving from other passengers.  Across from me sat a middle-aged man in army pants, sporting a mohawk and impossibly dark sunglasses.  He left the train at a station midway to Lucca, with a chesty swagger that I couldn’t help but watch.  A young, slim woman, probably a gypsy, walked up and down the aisles using printed flyers to beg for money.  As always, I was mildly surprised that she wore jeans and a sweater rather than the flowing skirts and jangly bangles of storybook gypsies.

So it was that for the eighty minute ride to Lucca, I took in the undulating emerald green Tuscan hills, dotted with old farmhouses and historic towns.  At each station, I admired the bright scarlet poppies that grew like weeds along the tracks and around the stone buildings.  I peeped at the laundry drying out of windows and in balconies, guessing what kinds of people lived there and how many.  I observed the Italians that I saw on the many platforms that we passed.  Some were intriguing like the very proper little old lady dressed all in grey, others distasteful like the bald, abundantly bellied platform sitter at Pistoia.

I was surprised to find the train mostly filled with residents rather than tourists.  For me, the gentle rhythm of a train has always had a lulling effect, and it was a forced time-out in what had so far been an overly active holiday.  I sunk into my seat, chewed on my pizzetta and I people-watched.  The good, the bad and like that bare-chested gentleman, the downright unsavoury.

A recipe is probably more effort than a pizzetta needs.  You see, it’s as simple as an assembling of tasty, quality ingredients followed by some oven time.  When Spiral Foods sent me a few bottles of their Sugo (Italian Pasta Sauce), I started using this to smear onto the puff pastry and it worked a treat.  It truly is a fresh, homely tasting pasta sauce.  If you are vegetarian, swap the prosciutto for a few thin slices of flavourful tomatoes or red onions.

In other news, can you believe this is my 100th blog post?? I must admit I’m a little shocked that one with as limited an attention span as myself (ohhh…..look…..a butterfly!) would have lasted this long.  But here I am.  And here you are, reading each new post and supporting me with your presence, comments and encouragement.

Thank you!  Keep coming back, and enjoy the Pizzetta.

Tuscany in Transit Deepa Pizzetta 3

Prociutto Pizzettas

Makes 8

Get:

4 sheets good quality frozen puff pastry, thawed
Olive oil
Melted butter for brushing
1/2 cup passata
1 tsp (3-5) fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped, plus a couple of leaves
Generous pinch salt
8 slices good quality prosciutto
150g buffallo mozzarella
Salt and pepper for seasoning

Make:

Preheat the oven to 200 C.

Quarter the pastry sheets.  Lay 8 pieces out onto oven trays and brush with melted butter.  Lay the remaining 8 sheets onto the brushed sheets, lining the corners up with the middle of the sides to form a star.

In a small bowl, mix the passata, basil and salt with a drizzle of olive oil, or use Spiral Foods Sugo straight up.  Taste and add a little more salt if desired, remembering that the prosciutto will be a little salty.  Spread the sauce over the middle of the pastry squares, leaving a 2 cm border clear all the way around each square.

Lay a slice of prosciutto onto each square and top with pinched off pieces of mozzarella, again leaving the border clear.

Scatter torn basil leaves over the top and season with salt and pepper.

Bake for 15-18 minutes until the pastry is fully cooked and browned.

Tuscany in transit 3

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post, however Sugo product samples were provided by Spiral Foods.

 

Why I Write

I write because when I do, I forget all else.  As my fingers bounce across the keys, as words tumble over each other to land in succession on the page, as letters become words become sentences become paragraphs, life becomes something that makes a little bit of sense.

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To write makes my heart beat faster with the sheer invigoration of it.  It is my car racing, my bungee jumping, my watercolour.  It makes me more of what I am, the best version of myself.

There are days when ideas and concepts in my head that are jostling their way out of my little brain.  Characters….some real, some imagined and some real-imagined.  Each being born in the fog of science in my cranium, elbowing their way past treatment protocols, drug contraindications, suture properties, principles of wound healing.  Many of these men, women and yes, animals, never see the light.  Some underdeveloped and some not very interesting in the first place languish quietly before they can emerge into the world.  But a few remain, laying low, biding their time, building their strength until they can climb out onto my laptop.  Others form stories that blossom, give me hope, then whither like the end-of-day flowers at the railway station kiosk.  The ones that sell for half price to husbands who are home late again and couples who don’t like to turn up empty handed to dinner parties.  Perhaps one day a concept, an idea will take on a bigger life….one that makes it to my screen and eventually onto paper.

Why do I write? I write because that act of weaving words, of hitting keys to make people, places, animals and situations take shape is what allows me to call myself a writer.  I write because writing is like medicine for my soul.  Because what I have written may be all I ever leave behind, even if no-one ever reads it.  Writing allows me to start to un-jumble the mess that at times is life, to put it into simple words and complex sentences.  I write because sometimes the beauty and sorrow of life is so overwhelming that I need to reduce it to mere words to improve my grasp on it.  When I write, I at times escape reality and at other times embrace it.

I write for me.  I write to show you a piece of me.  To connect with you, even if it’s only through words on your screen.

I write because I am a writer.

Why do you write? And if you don’t, what is it that takes you to that happy place?

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This is a blog hop and the lovely Kate of Raising Misters gave me the opportunity to participate.  Check out her post here.  The bloggers I am tagging are Amy from Milkteaxx, Zarine from Maybe in Madras and Tammi from Insatiable Munchies.  These ladies are very talented so do keep an eye out for their posts.

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Cooking with Enrico

Gnocchi Pan fried 3

He would stride confidently into the dining room, his kingdom, all six foot something of him.  He was the pulse of Antica Tenuta Le Casacce…….big hair, big smile, big personality.  His welcomes were always warm, his attire always quirky, and his enthusiasm always infectious.

Every evening with pride, he would make a booming announcement at dinner before each course.  All the diners were served the same thing.  There were no menus, buffet or orders.  Instead, we all trusted that Enrico would look after us, fill our stomachs beyond belief and leave our palates wanting more.  When he appeared in the archway, we would stop shovelling forkfuls of his food into our mouths, put down our wine glasses and cease the chitter chatter to just listen.  Animatedly, the Roman chef would describe the course before us, proudly declaring the ingredients were of this land, the Tuscan land he loved.  With a flourish of his hand, he would finish with the most important of those ingredients…….

“My olive oil, and my love!”

It was only after I heard of his passing, not long after I had left Italy, that I realised what an instrumental part Enrico Casini had been in the happiness these two weeks away had brought me.  From his warm smile to his willingness to tailor my meals to exclude beef, a real feat when it came to Tuscan cuisine, he had made a real impact on our group.  Our group was one of the last few to be welcomed to Le Casacce by Enrico.  One of the last to share his kitchen with him for a pasta-making class.  Probably the very last to tease him about his kooky, colourful spectacles.

It is some reassurance to know that he died in his sleep, a smile on his face.  Perhaps it was the same smile he wore when he taught us how to make his favourite sauces, or the cheekier one he sported when he made it a point to assure me there was no beef in the Tiramisu.

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After two previous gnocchi disasters, Enrico’s gnocchi recipe gave me my first success.  It is cloud-like and delicious cooked in the traditional way, in salted boiling water for a few minutes.  I choose instead to pan fry it, not with Enrico’s olive oil but using Spiral Foods’ Rosemary and Garlic oil.  The range of ‘Dip ‘n Toss’ oils is a range of delicately infused organic extra virgin olive oils that also includes Sundried Tomato & Basil as well as Garlic & Parmesan.  The oil brought a wonderful crispy skin to the pillowy ricotta gnocchi, as well as imparting a herbaceous, subtle flavour.  The enoki mushrooms do a great job of soaking up the rosemary and garlic flavours of the oil, but you could use thinly sliced button mushrooms if those are all you have on hand.  This is a ricotta gnocchi, and the cheese needs to be drained for at least a few hours, requiring some forward planning.

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Pan-Fried Rosemary and Garlic Gnocchi with Enoki Mushrooms

Serves 2.  Gnocchi Recipe serves 4 and can be frozen for later use

Get:

500g fresh ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese + extra for sprinkling
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
Plain flour (about 1 cup + more for rolling)
Salt
Sprinkle of freshly grated pepper
4 tbsp + extra Spiral Foods Organic Rosemary & Garlic Dip ‘n Toss Oil
Generous handful enoki mushrooms, fibrous part of stems cut off
Small handful fresh parsley, finely chopped

Make:

To make the gnocchi, the ricotta needs to first be drained.  Tie the ricotta up in a clean cheese cloth or thin cotton tea towel and place in a colander.  Sit the colander in the top of a deep bowl.  Place a weight (I used a tub of rice) on top of the cloth covered ricotta and leave to drain for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Once the ricotta is drained, place it in a large bowl with the egg, parmesan, nutmeg, salt, pepper and 1/2 cup of flour.  Before you start kneading, have a large tray or two small ones ready, as well as a hand held sieve/strainer.  With clean hands, knead the mixture, combining well and adding more flour until a soft and slightly sticky dough is achieved.  I ended up using about 3/4 cup of flour.  Transfer the dough onto a clean, floured surface and knead for another minute or so.  Have a small pile of flour on one corner of the bench.  Pinch off golf ball sized parts of the dough and roll into logs about 1 to 1.5 cm thick.  Cut into 1cm wide pieces and add these to the pile of flour.  When you have made all the gnocchi, toss them well in the flour.  I found this easier to do in small batches.  Sieve the gnocchi to get rid of any excess flour.  Place on trays in a single layer to dry for an hour or so, then place any gnocchi that you are not intending to use immediately in an airtight container and in the freezer.

You will need about 2 cups of the gnocchi to serve 2 people.

In a large non-stick fry pan, heat 4 tbsp Spiral Foods Rosemary and Garlic Oil.  Add 2 cups of the gnocchi and fry on medium heat, turning the gnocchi over every couple of minutes so that it is evenly browned.  Toss in the mushrooms and a generous sprinkle of salt and cover.  Cook on low heat for a further 1-2 mins until the mushrooms are tender.  Toss through before serving.

Serve with freshly grated parmesan and finely chopped fresh parsley, as well as a generous drizzle of the oil.

**Disclosure: The Dip ‘n’ Toss oils were product samples provided by Spiral Foods, however this is not a sponsored post.  Opinions are my own.

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Curry Leaf Thambuli

Curry Leaf Coconut Raita 1

My parents are farmers, of sorts.

Not really, but in one corner of the garden is a curry leaf tree of grand proportions.  It towers above the hibiscus, overshadows the quietly achieving chilli plants and puts the tiny basil crop to shame.  The slender, lustrous leaves caress the fence and carpet the garden bed, softly making their presence known.  They tickle your face as you walk past, filling the nostrils with their subtle but unmistakable scent.

It is quite common for Indian families to have a curry leaf plant.  The herb is a staple in South Indian cuisine, most dishes bearing a scattering of the deep green leaves.  That they aid digestion is well known, but curry leaves are also packed with iron, buzzing with antioxidants and help regulate blood glucose levels.

Curry Leaf Coconut Raita 6

Couple that with the fact that a small package of shriveled leaves, their fragrance but a distant memory, will set you back at least four dollars in most Australian supermarkets, and growing your own just makes good sense.  My parents’ version however, is one of mammoth proportions that surpasses what is dictated by that good sense.  It turns out that this particular Indian has taken a liking to Aussie climate and soil.  This piece of urban foliage could probably supply a small Indian city or a large Indian town without too much trouble.  It certainly does supply a sizable sector of my parents’ friends circle on a regular basis and anyone who dares to ask for a few curry leaves is usually bombarded with an overstuffed shopping bag of vegetation that will suffice for the coming year or so.

Curry Leaf Coconut Raita 2

The tree’s offspring have been adopted out to various friends and colleagues in the past and are now thriving like leafy teenagers in pots and backyards.  When it begins to flourish out of control, Dad has been forced to prune the tree back lest it completely destroy their pergola and invade the garden, engulfing the house and possibly even the entire street.

This Curry Leaf Thambuli sees the leaves blended with fresh coconut and yoghurt to make a spicy cold soup or condiment.  This is another recipe from my cousin Chaithra, you know, the one who brought you that delicious ivy gourd and coconut dish, Thondekaye Sukha.  You will have to make a trip to the local Indian store for this one, and a good food processor is important.  Eat it on its own, stir it through rice or even drizzle it onto a piece of grilled, Indian spiced fish.  Should you find yourself in possession of a large overstuffed shopping bag of these leaves, this is a fabulous way to use them up in a healthy, nutrient-rich way.  If you do not have access to such a bounty, well then the investment is probably worthwhile.

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Curry Leaf Thambuli

Serves 2-4 as a side dish

Get:

2 tsp ghee
70-80 curry leaves (or the leaves from 4 sprigs)
1/3 cup fresh or frozen grated coconut
1 cm ginger
1-2 hot green chillies (I used frozen ones), to taste
1 tbsp + 1/4 cup Greek style yoghurt
Water
Salt, to taste

For the tempering:
1/2 tsp ghee
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
1 dried red chilli, broke into pieces
Pinch asafoetida
2 tsp urad dhal

Make:

In a small saucepan, melt and heat 2 tsp ghee.  Add the curry leaves.  If they are fresh, they will splutter, so stand back.  When they are browned and crisp, take off the heat and allow to cool a little.

In a food processor, blitz the ghee/curry leaf mixture, coconut, ginger, green chillies 1 tbsp yoghurt and a couple of tbsp water.  When it is a slightly coarse paste, add it to the remaining yoghurt in a bowl.  Add 1/4 tsp salt and stir through.  Taste and add a little more salt if needed.  The mixture should be spicy and slightly sour.  The salt serves to balance out the sourness of the yoghurt.

In a small saucepan, on medium heat, melt and heat the ghee.  Add the mustard and cumin seeds and when they are popping, turn the heat down to low.  Add the other tempering ingredients and stir until the urad dhal browns a little.  If it is browning quickly, take the pan off the heat and just stir the hot oil mixture.  Add a few more curry leaves if available and stir until they are crisp.

Add the tempered mixture to the Thambuli and stir through.  Serve with rice or as a sauce.

Curry Leaf Coconut Raita 3

On grassy slopes

 

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It is my firm belief that as adults we don’t take enough opportunities to roll down grassy hills.  To lie supine, succumbing to gravity, body against plush felt and eyes squeezed shut.  To relinquish control, if only for a minute, like kids do without a second thought.

What holds us back? Is it the a fear of scratched knees, bruised elbows and scraped egos?  Of nice clothes stained with chlorophyll and indignity? Of achy joints and stiff muscles that may groan a little the next day?  Or is it that our grown-up, weary eyes just see grassy slopes as a part of the scenery, their true potential buried under the clutter of finances, relationships and other sensibilities.

Childhood holidays to Canberra, the nation’s capital, included a mandatory visit to Parliament house.  It was an oblong white structure on top of a hill where the country’s politicians would discuss, defend and decide on how best to run this place.  As kids though, the drawing card was the immaculately manicured carpet of green lawn that sloped away from the building without a tree or even so much as a pebble to interrupt it.  It was the perfect grassy hill to roll down, gathering speed until we would land at the bottom in a pile of grass and giggles.

The sculptured lawns of Parliament house paled in comparison to the emerald slopes of Tuscany.  As we drove to Pienza, a tiny Tuscan town nestled in the Val D’Orca region, winding roads took us past the velveteen undulations of the Tuscan countryside .  There were patches of vineyards here, a punctuation of a farmhouse there but mostly, it was the vast expanse of many-shaded green.  The town itself was a tangle of intriguing, winding. streets and charming shops.  Of inconspicuous restaurants and dusky pink stone walls.  It’s cathedral was as lovely as any, the immense ceiling stretching away from its wooden pews, polished by hands for centuries.

But what drew my attention again and again was the view from the city walls.  From there one could see a circumferential expanse of the voluptuous green hills.  Those hills that the child in me wanted to roll down fearlessly, gathering speed and momentum.

Unhindered, without a second thought and never looking back.

Tuscan hills 6

Indian Tapas: Feta Pakodas (gluten-free, vegetarian)

Feta Pakora 2

This is it.  This is when we bring out the big guns.  I don’t do a lot of deep frying, partly because of the healthy eating angel on my shoulder, and partly because I’m secretly a little scared of the whole process.

I mean a vat of hot, spluttering oil that you drop cold, wet things into?  And once you drop each one in, you snatch your hand away from the hot popping droplets, only to go back for more?

It all seems a bit terrifying to me.  Like extreme sports for cooks.

As it happens, the bone-chilling, toe-freezing, stay-in-bed weather we’ve had in Sydney lately drove me towards the very thing I feared most in the kitchen.  When wrapping myself in a blanket and donning my fluffy slippers didn’t quite rectify the chill factor, I craved hot, spicy, deep-fried foods with a cup of tea to wash it all down.

Feta Pakora 3

Pakodas are a type of Indian fritter traditionally made with vegetables such as sliced potato or onion, or even pieces of chicken, coated in a spiced batter and deep-fried.  The pungent saltiness of feta cheese, and as it turns out, makes it an excellent pakoda filling.  For those of us turning into icicles, a plate of these with a hot drink is just the right medicine.  If you are up in the Northern Hemisphere and are lucky enough to be enjoying some warm weather, these pakodas work just as well alongside a cold bear or soft drink.  Use firm feta, like Greek or Australian varieties, as the softer Danish feta doesn’t seem to hold its own and makes the batter a little soggy.

They are best served a few minutes after cooking, so that they are still hot.  If you are anything like me though, the fun is in biting into them while they are still shiny with oil, cheesy innards scalding your tongue as you desperately blow at the burn on the roof of your mouth.  Spitting out the ball of fire would be the sensible thing to do.  You know it would be.  But the crisp, spicy batter embedded with sweet tender onions and filled with the salty-tang of the feta is somehow worth enduring the intense burn.  Honestly, just wait a couple of minutes, ok?

Feta Pakora 1

Feta Pakoda

Makes 20-25

 Get:

 150g firm feta cheese, cut into 1cm cubes
1 medium red onion
2cm ginger
1 green chilli
1/2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup chick pea flour (besan)
3 tbsp rice flour
Small handful coriander, finely chopped
2-3 cups vegetable, sunflower or canola oil

Special Equipment:

A deep, heavy-bottomed saucepan
A heat-proof slotted spoon
A food processor

Make:

Cut the onion in half.  Cut one half into rough pieces and place in the food processor with the ginger, green chilli and 3 tbsp water.  Blitz on high until you have a thin puree.  Do not wash the bowl of the food processor yet.

Finely chop the other half of the onion and the coriander.

In a bowl, stir the flours, onion puree, salt and chilli powder.  You should have quite a thick paste.  Place 2 tablespoons of water into the unwashed food processor bowl and blitz again.  Add half of this liquid into the flour mixture and stir.  You should have a fairly thick batter that it is easy to move your spoon through, but it shouldn’t be runny.  Add the chopped onions and coriander and stir through.

Set up another bowl or plate lined with paper towels next to the stove.

Place enough oil in a deep, heavy-bottomed saucepan so that it is at least 5-6 cm deep.  Heat on medium heat until the oil is hot but not smoking.  You could start this process before you mix the batter, however it should be watched closely.  You can test whether the oil is hot by dropping a little of the batter into it- if it is sufficiently heater, the batter will start to fry immediately and rise to the surface.  If the oil is too hot, the batter will cook and brown very quickly.  In this case, turn the heat down to really low for a few mins then test again.  If the oil is smoking, take it off the heat completely until it cools, then start again on low heat.

When the oil is at the right temperature, add a teaspoon of it to your batter and stir through.

Pat dry the feta cubes and drop 4 or 5 at a time into the batter.  With clean fingers, toss the feta cubes through the batter, making sure they are well coated.  If the batter is too thick for coating, add a little more water from the food processor.  Scoop up the feta cubes with surrounding batter and drop carefully, one by one, into the hot oil.  With the slotted spoon, turn over the pakodas every minute or so, until they are a darkish brown (but not black!).  If they are darkening very quickly, reduce the flame and wait a few minutes before trying again.  When the pakodas are done, use the slotted spoon to carefully lift them out of the oil.  Allow the excess oil to drip into the saucepan before lifting them out completely and placing them in the paper lined dish.

Continue to coat and fry the feta in batches of 4 or 5, adjusting the oil temperature as needed.

Serve hot plain, with tomato sauce or this mint yoghurt sauce.

Feta Pakora 4

 

Something for the Hungry

I know it’s been a while since I’ve had a recipe here, and I’m afraid I’m not here to remedy the situation.  Not today.  You see I have been shamelessly gallivanting around the Tuscan hills up until a week ago and I sincerely believe at least a third of me is still over there, feet tramping through poppy fields, skin refreshed by cool mountain air and gelato melting over my fingers faster than I can lick it.

OSP chopping veg 1

So call it a kind of post-holiday lethargy, a time shortage, or let’s just blame jet lag, that old scapegoat, but I have no dish for you today.  As the Italians say…..Is ok? Va bene!

What I do have for you are some images, a representation of what I got up to in the food styling and photography part of the Plated Stories workshop.  And what I can say was that there was something inspiring about styling and shooting that assortment of foods in that sunny Tuscan Villa.  Briana, Paola, Robin, Cathy and I jostled for space, cutlery and photography boards, claiming patches of sunlight like cats.  And after the used and abused vegetables were fed to the resident donkey Socrates, we took a look at our images and were a little bit proud of what we had produced.

So here are some of mine and I promise that next time there will be real food.  Or at least, a recipe.

OSP chopping veg 2

OSP bread tomatoes 1

OSP pears 1

OSP bread tomatoes 2

OSP Beans 1

OSP yoghurt spoon 1

OSP Socrates

Click the Month: May 2014

Florence Lucca 8

A Tuscan holiday is just what I needed, and frankly I can’t think of a time when I wouldn’t welcome one.  This holiday came with exceptional timing and I soaked in every minute.  It was the perfect balance of touristy activity in Florence and immersion into a hobby I hold close to my heart, in the beautiful Val D’Orcia region.  I realised I have so many photos from this trip that it makes best sense to share them in batches.  These photos were taken during the first leg of my trip, a few days spent in Florence and surrounding areas.

Florence Lucca 2

I can’t wait to share more with you, particularly those from the Plated Stories workshop on food writing, styling and photography that I attended with 5 other fabulously inspiring women.  The workshop  was taught by Jamie Schler and Ilva Beretta of Plated Stories, both very patient and highly knowledgeable teachers, and I urge you to go over and read their post for their impressions of the lovely experience.

For now, I leave you with these images while I once again battle the beast that is jetlag.

Florence Lucca 1

 

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Florence Lucca 3

Florence Lucca 4

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Garam Masala and Coconut

Brussel Sprouts Masala 5

An airport meal is a ritual of mine every time I embark on an international trip.  I look forward to that time, after all charms and pleas are unleashed on the person behind the check-in desk to let those extra three kilos through without charge.  After that, toiletries in plastic snap-lock bags are placed in trays, boots and belts are removed, then awkwardly pulled on again, carry-ons are hauled onto security belts and the whole juggling act is carried out whilst waving the passport and boarding card at officials every step of the way.  Finally, when documents are put away carefully and bags are reassembled, there is a simple pleasure in sitting down, catching one’s breath and either hashing out a plan for the trip to come or reflecting on the adventure that was.

I am aware that when it comes to culinary let-downs, airport food is a close second to that on the flying machines themselves.  Food in that in-between land is always overpriced, limited in variety and invariably disappointing.  Bread that is slightly stale after spending the day in an overly air-conditioned environment.  Muffins that are similarly cold and dry.  Slices of ham that are dehydrated around the edges.  Scrambled eggs that can be lifted en masse from the plate.  Sandwiches whose cost might feed a small African nation for a day.

Brussel Sprouts Masala 1

I know all this, yet I always try and make time, between that madness of the security gates and the departure gates, to sit, reflect and have a meal at the airport.  On the way to Florence, I sat at Sydney airport and nutted out that feeling I always have when I am starting on a trip.  That niggle, like a tiny stone in a shoe, that I have forgotten something.  So I sat, stared at the ascending planes, gathered my thoughts, and dissected the niggle.  I sipped my medicinal coffee and chewed on my grilled (plastic) cheese sandwich, remembered what I had forgotten and realised with relief that it was something I could live without.  Just like that, I tipped the stone out of my shoe.

Brussel Sprouts Masala 2

It’s been a few days of pizza and pasta now, and this at about the point when I begin to crave something of home.  To me, Italian food comes only second to Indian food.  I love its simplicity- a toothsome pizza base, a well simmered sauce and a handful of basil, and it is at its best.  But after a few days, I do crave a vegetable or two, preferably home-cooked in Indian spices.  Green beans, stir-fried the South-Indian way or in this simple curry would do just fine.  Or this ivy gourd and coconut stir fry.  Or these brussel sprouts, rubbed with garam masala and coconut oil, then roasted until they are slightly sweet.  Tender but still offering some resistance against eager teeth.  Interspersed with chewier coconut.  These sprouts would do very well against my current carb overload, but would also make an amazing side dish, or a main meal with a couple of poached eggs on top.

Brussel Sprouts Masala 4

Roasted Garam Masala Brussel Sprouts

Feeds 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side dish

Based on Ina Garten’s recipe in The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.

Get:

600g brussel sprouts
1/2 cup shaved coconut (use shredded if you can’t find this)
4 tbsp coconut oil, melted
3 tsp garam masala
1/4-1/2 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp cumin seeds
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 lime

Make:

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

Cut the stems off the brussel sprouts and cut them in half lengthwise.

In a large roasting pan, toss all the ingredients using your (clean) hands, rubbing the spices into the cut surfaces of the sprouts.

Roast for 35-45 minutes, tossing in the pan every 10 mins, until the sprouts are crisp-edged, tender inside, but still holding together and a little chewy.

Squeeze lime juice generously over it before serving.

Brussel Sprouts Masala 3