Sunday, May 29, 2011

Chocolate feijoa cake

I had about 8 remaining feijoas after my friand experiment, so did I went where any self respecting foodie with a curiousity about obscure ingredients goes: Google.

I went out on a limb and tried "chocolate+feijoa"and found a blog with a section dedicated to feijoas.  The chocolate feijoa cake took my fancy.  I didn't quite have the required 1.5 cups of chopped feijoas, but substituted with about half a cup of milk to give it some more moisture.

It sunk a little in the middle, but who cares?  The top was lovely and crunchy, and the centre seems very moist.  I can't comment on the flavour yet; I'll let you know after I slice it up tomorrow at work.

Ham hock soup

This was my first weekend in something like two months, where I didn't have any plans.  It was an exhausting week on many levels and I was looking forward having some kitchen 'time out', to potter about reading recipe books & foodie blogs, baking, blogging, and generally resting.

I got up early Saturday to do some much needed grocery shopping.  It's actually my favourite time to shop - the supermarkets are usually devoid of people at that time and often the shelves are freshly stocked ready for the weekend.  It's nice to take time, casually strolling aisle to aisle, dreaming up the weekend's menu.  

It's perfect soup weather.  Having a big pot of soup cooking on the stove-top always reminds me of Mum - who is a massive fan of soup and forever dreaming up new recipes to use up the many vegetables in her garden.  I can't remember the last time I visited and there wasn't fresh soup at the ready.  So I'm sure at some point I've seen her use a great big ham hock to flavour the broth.

Ham hock soup is very easy, and uber-practical because you can use up bits and pieces in your cupboard and fridge.  Get out your biggest pot, put the hock in and put just enough water in to cover the meat.  Then, add some finely diced onion, a bay leaf, and a cup of (rinsed) green lentils - or any other type of pulse you happen to have in the pantry.  "Soup mix" is good for obvious reasons.  The rest is up to you: I like to throw in a couple of chopped potatoes and carrots - but celery, peas, beans, turnip and parsnip also works well.  You also might like to put in some extra flavour - like a stock cube or two, or a teaspoon of vegemite.  

Put the lid on and bring to a gentle simmer, cook for two hours or until the meat just starts coming away from the hock.  Take off the heat and remove the hock, then strip away the meat with a couple of forks, or some kitchen scissors.  Discard any fat or skin.  Put meat back in to the soup and stir well.

Adjust the seasoning of the broth to taste, I just use a little salt and pepper.  If you cool and put it in the fridge, the flavours develop overnight and it becomes even more flavourful.  Remember, once it's cooled the fat will rise to the top, so you can skim it off for a healthier version.

Feijoa heaven

A very sweet colleague and fellow foodie P, recently left generous bag of freshly picked feijoas on my desk.  She had recently been introduced to a friend's "feijoa crumble" and hasn't stopped raving about it.

I'd never eaten a feijoa.  When I opened the bag and emptied them into a bowl, immediately an incredibly pungent and delicious smell arose - not fundamentally dissimilar to quince.

Ok so they don't look appealing.  Almost like an unripened fig.  Cutting them open, they don't look terribly appetising either.

Not to be disheartened, I pondered for a while on what to do with them.  I thought about P's crumble fixation, and entertained the idea of doing an apple/feijoa combo crumble.  But I need to do some baking to take into work tomorrow to celebrate some birthdays, and a crumble isn't really convenient for that purpose.  I decided on adapting my tried and tested friand recipe.  I sliced about 6 feijoas in half and scraped out the insides with a teaspoon, then mashing roughly in a bowl with the back of a fork.  I also decided to keep the raspberries and lemons in the recipe, adding some sliced almond to the top just before putting them in the oven.

Sen-SATIONAL.  I've said it before, I'll say it again:  I wish I could somehow record smell in this blog.  The aroma that wafted out of my oven when I took them out, was completely out-of-this-world-good.   I couldn't resist biting into a warm one - let me promise you, it was very, very good.  The feijoa made the friands super moist and the flavour was a bit like passionfruit in nature.  The raspberries and lemon were definitely worthwhile too - sweet feijoa against tartness works really well.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A quick Autumn lunch

Recently a friend made me a lovley entree of roasted mushrooms atop sourdough bread, topped off with with lovely garlic and goats cheese.

My husband loves mushrooms, and because he's working hard both in the garden and painting the house (without any of my help), today I whipped him up a quick lunch.  I tried to replicate the dish we'd eaten, but somehow it wasn't quite as good.

I toasted some thick slices of sourdough under the griller, then topped some big mushrooms with Meredith goat's fetta, drizzling the garlicky/tarragon oil over the top.  This went into a hot oven for 15 minutes.


A cheeky lunch at Cumulus Inc ...

I'd wanted to pop in to Cumulus Inc since reading their wonderful review in the Age Good Food Guide.  Also I'd pressed my nose up to the glass many times; the unassuming, casual interior, bare floors and a kitchen that you can observe from your table all get a big tick in my book.

How fortuitous then, to be attending a work function yesterday nearby.  How even more fortuitous for my friend and colleague G to have a coughing fit in the middle of someone else's presentation, causing her to hastily leave the venue and find a quiet spot to grab some water, check email, and wait for me to emerge from Spring Street.

Neither of us had eaten; and being Friday after a difficult and exhausting week at work, we decided to treat ourselves to a light, late lunch.

I was initially dismayed to see that over half the options on the menu were immediately out for me; smoked fish featured highly, along with a whole section dedicated solely to cured assorted meats, another for oysters.  Damn - I almost cracked, it all looked so delicious.  But instead we asked our very friendly and accommodating waiter for help.  We decided to share three entrees, and nibble on some of their amazing sourdough breads.

While we waited, we talked 'shop' and went over the weeks events over a lemon soda and soda, lime and bitters.  Both delicious.

We started with slow cooked octopus with aioli and "dehydrated olive".  It came out thinly sliced and sitting on some wonderful olive oil and balsamic.  The presentation was incredible.  There was also a tiny thin slice of green chilli and shred of basil atop each one, and the flavour combo, almost indescribable.  Clean-tasting, a bit like sushi, the chilli giving off just a little heat but definitely not overpowering.  How pretty!

Next, was some of the most delicious, out of this world, soft shell mud crab I have ever eaten.  I always order this if it's on the menu, but I think my palate has now been well and truly spoiled.  It came with a golden coloured sauce - if I had to guess, I'd say some sort of roasted capsicum aioli.  It was truly amazing, the crab had a lovely crispy crunch, but inside it was juicy and soft.  I think there was some sort of salt and pepper seasoning on the outside.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

Lastly - on the waiter's assurance that we'd love it - we had the smoked corn and mussel chowder.  Happy to accommodate our "sharing" preference, the kitchen split it between two glasses.  It was sweet/salty, the mussels were thinly sliced so they weren't overpowering, and it looked like there was maybe a tiny bit of truffle oil sprinkled over the top.

My i-Phone pictures don't exactly do the experience justice, but it was truly lovely.  And at less than $25 each including drinks (okay they were soft drinks but still), it was an absolute steal as far as fine dining goes.

The slow-cooked whole lamb shoulder begged me to come back for dinner sometime soon.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bun ... in the oven

It's about time I started blogging again.  Since starting this little project, this is the longest break I'd taken from both cooking and writing about it.  And it's been killing me; not just being unable to spend the time and energy it takes to sit down and write, but also feeling so physically unwell that I couldn't even open a recipe book, let alone step foot in a kitchen.  But I cannot, will not, complain because ...

I'm finally pregnant.

Our infertility (and subsequent IVF) journey - thankfully - turned out to be relatively short-lived.  And I feel so very - unbelievably - blessed and fortunate.  I made 14 weeks (end to the first trimester) yesterday.

Anyone who has suffered from infertility and subjected themselves to assisted reproductive therapies will tell you: it's a bloody difficult ride.  For me, the emotional roller-coaster (sorry, that's a cliche but there's no other way to describe it) by far surpassed any physical discomfort I felt from the many procedures, incisions, tests, needles, medications, hormones, poking and prodding that formed part of my existence over the last few years.  And let's not forget the expense - thousands of dollars only to be told there was 'no reason' - then several thousand more for each 'treatment'.  The "unknowns" were the hardest part: will we ever have a child?  What's wrong with me?  Will our marriage survive?   Will I?  And then of course the parade of couples all making their happy announcements in the midst of our own suffering.  How strange to feel so happy for someone else, but so sad for myself, simultaneously.

But there's another difficult part of infertility that only those who've experienced it can relate to: the "advice" and "well-wishes" from no doubt well meaning friends, family and (some) alternative health care practitioners.  What NOT to say to someone you know who is having difficulty conceiving:

-  "just relax and it will happen" (this is like a kick in the stomach for the fertility-challenged, who often already blame themselves for the problem.  One in 6 couples will have trouble conceiving, and of those over 90% will have an actual, physical reason for it.  Of the remaining 10%, it is thought there could also be a medical reason that simply can't be diagnosed with current medical tests available.  THERE IS NO RELIABLE RESEARCH WHICH SUPPORT THE STRESS = INFERTILITY URBAN MYTH).  So no, going on holiday, getting a massage, or "forgetting" about trying to get pregnant won't work.
-  "you should try standing on your head after sex"  (aside from feeling even more desperate and ridiculous than you already do, it's also bad for your back.  As above: totally unsubstantiated)
-  "we had the opposite problem to you - we got pregnant straight away!"  Ouch.
-  "you should sit on the Receiptionist's chair - all the girls who use it, fell pregnant!"  Are you fucking retarded?
-  "you should try bowen therapy/acupuncture/reflexology/chinese herbs/yoga/meditation/reiki."  Ok, so the jury's out on most of these things except for acupuncture, which has been shown to slightly improve one's chances of conception.  I myself actually went to a wonderful reflexologist who didn't actually help with getting pregnant per se, but because she saw lots of infertile women who were going through IVF, was a great sounding board for my experiences and had some good practical advice on how to get through the process relatively unscathed.  I am a huge fan of complementary therapies and if nothing else, it's lovely to just relax and have a bit of time out.  But this stuff is expensive, dude.  Along with my hospital excess, medication, health insurance, reflex treatments, chiropractor, fertility specialist, a dozen blood tests and about 10 ultrasounds (none bulk-billed), I think in one month I shelled out over $10,000 just on health care.  So to hear about yet another "miracle cure" at that point just made me want to scream.  Then cry.  For a good few days.

I don't want this post to be all about pain and suffering; I do want to celebrate my good fortune.  But during my time in fertility-pergatory I developed some amazing connections with women all over the world - bloggers, mostly - who were going through the exact same thing.  So it's natural that I immediately think of them and wish the same happiness and relief that I feel right now - whether that means they eventually realise their motherhood dream, or simply end their journey and find peace.  As the Dresden Dolls wrote "I consider them my sisters..."