Christmas 2016

Christmas was spent somewhere different this year. Mr Bagpipes was housesitting a lovely large property in White Rock, outside of Bathurst in country NSW. This once working vineyard is perched on a hill in a charming bucolic setting. The Yak, myself and sproglets had visited there before and we were excited to celebrate Chrissy with all of our extended family. Our special guest was ‘Christmas Alf’, harking all the way from Manchester in the UK. (Not a real elf of course but the funny, kind and gentle man who happens to be Manchurian Bro-in-laws Dad.)

It was good to be together somewhere different and somewhere so very beautiful. In this freefall Christmas, I think we all felt a smidge unencumbered and a dash unrestricted by tradition. We kept that which suited us and gently nudged aside that which didnt seem necessary in this new setting.

Christmas Eve morn and our gaggle met at The Hub. Good coffee as always and darned good nosh. My poached eggs, asparagus, spinach and mushrooms on black rye arrived topped with hollandaise sauce and crispy sage. Be still my beating heart. (As long as my heart still ticks after that rich and creamy sauce.)

We stuck to our Christmas evening meal and more relaxed Boxing Day brunch. Two ethically sourced hams (yes, it does matter to us), were expertly glazed by Mum and devoured over the 4 day period. There was a delicious vegan gluten-free lasagna (the handiwork of Sister 2) for Christmas dinner, as well as a more traditional turkey, some much discussed ‘pigs-in-blankets’ that the Mancurian bro-in-law threw together, crispy stuffing balls and of course, a motza of side veggies. Desserts this year consisted of Sister 4’s fabulous pistachio ice-cream cake draped in a berry sauce and crowned with fresh berries as well as a batch of mini gluten-free, vegan sticky date puddings that I conjured up. We sat out on the vine draped patio, talking, laughing at ridiculous Chrissy cracker jokes, eating and drinking. The cicadas buzzed their Chinese operatic cadences and the sun set.

For Boxing Day brunch, the Yak made his now famous (well, within our circle) Boxing Day Fried Potatoes . They were as good as ever, and ‘it was said’ that they were the best thus far. When faced with a bag of heat affected ‘just past their best’ peaches, Sister 2 was inspired to throw together a peach puree. We added this fragrant mixture to some fizzy wine for delicious brunch bellinis and to soda water for a non-alcoholic tipple. (Nothing goes to waste when we roll.) There were fruit platters galore, fried eggs, croissants, homemade pickles, chutneys and jam.

The children ran and played endlessly; soccer, cricket, sword fights, Harry Potter incantations and movie making being the order of the day.

Naturally, there were some sad moments and those who died this year were remembered both aloud and quietly. Every one of us left our family get together with at least one precious memory, tucked safely away, to take out and savour in the year that is to come.

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Potato, parsnip and fennel bake

Kudos to the maitre d’ at a local restaurant. Upon being seated, we noticed our water glasses were dirty and had red lipstick marks upon them. After politely asking him for clean vessels he picked them up, examined them closely and as he walked away loudly announced, ‘Sure, well Holy Rats Arse!’

My friend and I looked at each other. ‘Did he really say that?’ I asked. ‘Yes’, said my friend, ‘Yes, he did.’ We are open minded people yet this unwaiterly proclamation managed to surprise, horrify and strangely, delight us. Hilarity ensued and we continued to repeat this phrase (quietly) throughout the surprisingly delicious meal.

Upon finishing, we walked to the front to ask if we could split our bill. He did, albeit begrudgingly and his farewell response to us was, ‘Rock on ladies.’ This bloke is taking customer service to another level. Not necessarily towards the lofty echelons of fine dining but to a very special and individual level nonetheless.

This is surely The Year of the Gratin. I am a woman obsessed. As this dish was baking; giant cheesy, thyme-scented metaphorical arms reached out from the oven and hugged me close. Whispering in bubbling, soothing tones, ‘There, there, everything will be allright.’

Aniseed fennel, slightly spicy parsnip, creamy potato and herbaceous, sweet grassy cheese. This is a wondrous combination. It’s a dish that may even cause you to utter a colloquialism that involves the sacred posterior of a rodent. If one was so inclined.

POTATO, PARSNIP AND FENNEL BAKE

WHAT YOU NEED
4 potatoes, peeled and finely sliced (600g)
4 medium size parsnip, peeled and finely sliced (500g)
1 medium size fennel bulb, finely sliced
300 ml cream (you can use 250ml of cream and 50ml of sour cream for extra tang)
1/4 cup milk
2 garlic cloves, crushed very finely
1 tbl fresh thyme, picked
A dash of nutmeg
150g Gruyere cheese, grated (I used the wonderful Heidi Gruyere from Tasmania for a bit of a treat)
Salt and pepper to season
Extra thyme

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat the oven to 180C and use butter or oil to grease a large baking dish.
Layer the potato, parsnip, fennel and season with salt and pepper then sprinkle on half of the cheese. (Leaving enough cheese to sprinkle on the top.)
Place another layer of potato, parsnip and fennel and season with salt and pepper again.
Warm the cream, milk, garlic, thyme and nutmeg in a small saucepan over a low heat for five to ten minutes until the flavours are infused and the cream has thinned a little. Seasons lightly and gently pour this mixture over the vegetables.
Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top of the gratin and chuck a few extra thyme leaves over the top.
Cover with foil loosely (making sure the cheese doesn’t touch the foil) and bake for 50 minutes.
Remove the foil carefully (watch that precious cheese) and bake for another 40 minutes or until the vegetables pierce easily with a knife and the top is golden brown and bubbly.
Remove from the oven and let it sit for ten minutes to allow the gratin to settle before devouring.

A Cheergerm recipe based on a few hundred million different gratin recipes


Cauliflower and zucchini gratin

Is it wrong to love someone simply because you return home at midnight from a girls night out, on a cold winters eve, to discover that your other half has thoughtfully left your side of the electric blanket switched on? You can keep your Tiffany’s, Cartier and Harry Winston. It’s the small thoughtful actions that float my boat and whilst diamonds may be a girls best friend, they can’t keep you warm on a chilly evening. (Not like an electric blanket does. Oh, and a Yak of course.)

My way of showing The Yak love, is to cook hearty vegetable dishes that involve cheese. This little recipe is a take on a dish from the excellent ‘The Wholesome Cook’ by Martyna Angeles. It is a smidgen lighter than a heavier cream-based gratin. The sharp cheese, nutty cauliflower and golden crust has ensured that this gratin will be on steady rotation for the remainder of winter.

CAULIFLOWER AND ZUCCHINI GRATIN

WHAT YOU NEED
2 tbl oil (I used grapeseed oil)
300g cauliflower, cut into small florets
3 small zucchini (300g), sliced into 1 cm chunks
Black pepper
Sea salt
1/2 cup milk
100g Comte, Gruyere or Taleggio cheese, diced
1/3 cup breadcrumbs of your choice, I used gluten free sourdough buckwheat crumbs). The original recipe uses almond meal.

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat oven to 180C and grease a 20 cm gratin dish.
Heat the oil in a medium size frying pan and saute the cauliflower and zucchini over a medium heat for about ten minutes, until they start to colour and soften. Season generously with black pepper and add a big pinch of sea salt.
Add the milk and cheese and stir for one minute until the cheese starts to melt. Check the seasoning then pour into the gratin dish.
Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs or almond meal and bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown.
Serves 2-4 people.

Cooking Notes: I have added a few pinches of nutmeg before which adds a bit of something nice, also the original recipe uses 3 yellow squash instead of zucchini; Taleggio instead of Comte and states to sprinkle 2 tbl of chopped parsley over the gratin with the breadcrumbs before baking.

Recipe only slightly adapted from The Wholesome Cook by Martyna Angeles, published by Harlequin, October 2015.

Go here for a Cheergerm post about The Wholesome Cook book and a millet and rice puff square


Quick pickled baby cucumbers, Japanese style

Kid 1 and I were watching the lovely Rachel Khoo on her BBC cooking show when I asked him, ‘Rachel is your type, isn’t she?’ Kid 1 replied, ‘I don’t have a type, all girls are my type.’

Ummm. Think we are in trouble.

Back to food. I am on a pickling rampage. Well, that is a slight exaggeration but quick refrigerator pickles are somewhat of a revelation. If it ain’t tied down, I will pickle it.

QUICK PICKLED BABY CUCUMBERS JAPANESE STYLE

WHAT YOU NEED
350g baby cucumbers
3/4 cup Rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup water
2 tbl granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp Sea salt
1 tsp fresh ginger, finely grated
1 tsp gluten free soy sauce
1/2 tsp Sesame oil

HOW YOU DO IT
Trim any stalks off the baby cucumbers and wash and dry them.
Pack them into a medium sized jar that holds about 500ml liquid.
Combine the rest of the ingredients in a small saucepan and cook over a medium heat.
Bring to the boil, stirring occasionally until the sugar has dissolved.
Remove from the hear and let it cool down for 10 to 15 minutes.
Pour the brining liquid into the jar, covering the cucumbers.
Let the pickles cool down to room temperature then cover the jar and shake or rotate the jar gently to distribute the ginger throughout the jar.
Refrigerate the pickles for at least one day before serving, they can last up to five days in the refrigerator.
These teeny pickled cucumbers are magnificent with a cheese platter and go really well with my Miso Glazed Eggplant and Tofu Agedashi. Add to burgers, sandwiches and they are super nice when sliced and added to the top of a taco. Failing that, there is nothing wrong with eating them straight from the jar.

A Cheergerm creation


Cauliflower fritters and the stink of learning

A conversation had with the eldest of our progeny went like this.

Me: You smell of school.
Kid 1: I hate the smell of school too. It’s the stink of learning.

It is true that our boys emanate a certain odour upon their return from school which is, well, rather unpleasant. However, I always thought it had more to do with the running, jumping, sweating, wearing enclosed shoes, stinky socks, and being cooped up in classrooms with twenty five or so other human beans along with their bodily emissions.

In my imagination, the smell (or stink) of learning would consist of the earthy scent of knowledge filled books and the exciting aroma of information. You would be enveloped by the bouquet of well washed teachers who are thrilled to impart knowledge and to empower our children to be independent and critical thinkers.

But then, what do I know? All that is required is a shedding of uniforms and some serious bathing to ablute the young ‘uns of the heady aroma of school. These fritters are packed full of cauliflower (the totally hip vegetable of the hour.) They smell only of good things, the tingly exotic spices of India and the promise of something tasty to eat. We usually serve them with an Indian style tomato relish or yoghurt and mint sauce.

I would rather walk into a house that was perfumed by the fragrance of delicious fritters than the odiferous miasma of stinky, day old school socks. Like, any day.

INDIAN STYLE CAULIFLOWER FRITTERS, GLUTEN FREE

WHAT YOU NEED
Olive oil/grapeseed oil for frying
1/2 cauliflower, trimmed and chopped into small 1.5 cm pieces
1 medium red onion, (half it then finely slice each half)
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tsps sea salt
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp chilli powder (or 1/2 fresh red chilli finely diced)
Black pepper, a few healthy grinds
Handful of fresh coriander, stalks and leaves roughly chopped
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup millet flour (or sorghum flour or brown rice flour)
1/2 cup plain gluten free flour
1 1/2 tsps gf baking powder
3/4 to 1 cup water

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat oven to 170C and line two large baking trays with baking paper.
Place the cauliflower, onion, garlic, spices and coriander into a large bowl.
Sift the flours and baking powder into the large bowl. (I am big on saving on washing up.)
Add the egg and half a cup of the water, mix well. If the batter is too dry, continue to add the rest of the water until you have a loose batter.
Heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil in a large non stick frying pan.
To make the fritters, add 2 – 3 large spoonfuls of the batter for each fritter into the pan. The mixture will be chunky and look like it won’t hold together but it will. Once they are golden brown on the bottom, flip them carefully and cook until golden brown on the other side. Remove to the tray and repeat the process until the batter is used up.
Place the fritters in the oven and cook for fifteen to twenty minutes until they are puffy and golden brown.
Makes ten very big fritters or if you wish to make smaller ones, just use 1 – 2 tablespoons of batter when making them.

A Cheergerm recipe creation


Crackers about gluten free Parmesan crackers

Personally, this Cheergerm has always thought you must be crackers to make your own crackers. No, not really, it’s just that writing that sentence was too good an opportunity to pass up. Upon reading the savoury biscuit blog posts of far less lazy cooks than myself, my admiration and envy has only grown. Many is the time I have murmured in a soft and sibilant whisper, ‘one day I will get off my behind and attempt to scale the lofty heights of cracker cooking.’ (The family no longer looks askance at such utterings, they are used to it by now.)

Just because I enjoy a challenge, it had to be a crisp biscuit that provided a punch of flavour and was also free of gluten. These are made with almond meal so sorry to say, out of the question for those with nut allergies.

Fortuitously, in attempting to dip my toe into these treacherous waters, I perchanced upon an easy (highly important) recipe from the marvellous SBS food website. Get Ye Splendid Selves Over to Thee Magnificent SBS Foodie Website and Ye Shall Be Richly Rewarded. (But if you don’t mind, please finish reading this blog post first, thanks, thanks kindly.)

These lightly bronzed tidbits were sharply piquant, nutty and went wonderfully with a gin and tonic. A few days later, I reheated the remainder in a low oven and they crisped up beautifully. I may have come late to the foray of savoury bikky baking but I am here to stay.

GLUTEN FREE PARMESAN CRACKERS

WHAT YOU NEED
200g (2 cups) almond meal
150g (1 1/4 cup) Parmesan cheese finely grated, do use the good stuff and you will be highly rewarded in the flavour stakes plus extra finely shredded to sprinkle
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (I used 1/8 tsp of super hot chilli powder)
1 egg
2 tbsp olive oil and extra to brush on the biscuits

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat oven to 200C (180C fan forced) and line two trays with baking paper.
Combine the almond meal, Parmesan and cayenne pepper in a medium size bowl.
Whisk the egg and olive oil together then add to the almond meal mixture, use your hands to mix into a soft dough.
Divide the mixture in half, place one portion in between two sheets of non-stick baking paper and roll to a 5mm thickness. Use a sharp knife or pizza cutter (I used a pizza cutter) to cut into 5cm squares (mine were not exact) and place on the baking paper. I used a nonstick spatula to do this.
Repeat with the remaining portion of the dough and re-roll the cut offs. (If you so desire, I did and you get a lot more bikkies.)
Lightly brush the biscuits with a little extra olive oil and sprinkle with a little finely shredded Parmesan.
Bake for 10-15 minutes swapping the trays halfway through or until the biscuits are crisp and golden. Cool on the trays.
Store in an airtight container. I made about 40 crackers, by using all of the scraps.

Cooking Notes:
The crispier and golden they are, the better they are. After a few days, they do soften just a tad so I like to crisp them up in the oven for five minutes or so on 160C. Let them cool and they willmbe super nice and crunchy again.

Find the original recipe here:
http://www.sbs.com.au/food/recipes/gluten-free-parmesan-crackers

https://stonepinedistillery.com.au


Where did the words go green bean curry

Sometimes adjectives run towards my outstretched hands like small greedy children to a fairground stall laden with fairy floss. Other days, I reach desperately into the hollow of a darkened cave where all the worthy words in the world are wedged into tiny crevices. Begging for them to come forward into the light, they refuse and cling mollusc-like to their safe rocky comfort. Leaving me berefit and wordless.

Ornery little buggers.

That is why I give you a brief description. Aromatic, spicy, zingy, beany. This curry was bloody good and adds a vegetable freshness to an Indian banquet.

GREEN BEAN CURRY

WHAT YOU NEED

1 tbl vegetable oil
1 small onion, diced
1 garlic clove, crushed
15 small dried curry leaves or 5 fresh
1 tbl curry powder (use a good quality one, I used a Herbies Spices blend)
1/2 tsp brown mustard seeds
1/4 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp salt
500g green beans, topped and tailed
1/2 cup coconut milk (I used low fat)
2 tbl lime juice

WHAT YOU DO

Heat the oil in a medium size frypan over a medium heat then fry the onions until they start to turn golden brown.
Add the garlic and curry leaves and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
Add all the spices and salt and cook for one to two minutes.
Add the green beans, stir to coat in the spices then turn to a low to medium heat and cook until the beans are just al dente. (Meaning they have a bit of resistance when you bite into them.)
Add the coconut milk and cook for five minutes. Check the seasoning.
Remove from the heat and stir in the lime juice.
Serve as part of an Indian banquet.

A Cheergerm adaptation of the recipe listed below.


http://allrecipes.com/recipe/green-bean-curry/


King of the vegetables and a potato and Comte galette

The Yak was crapping on orating upon the delight of the humble potato, his favourite vegetable over all others. We could say in fact, that in his view, it is The King of the Vegetables. As he plainly stated, there isn’t much that you cannot do with the tatie. Bake it, boil it, steam it, mash it, grate it, fry it, smash it, dumpling it. Perhaps The Yak has a point? What he was really trying to say was, could we please have potatoes for dinner?

The pantry was laden with potatoes, I also had some delicious looking Comte cheese that I had purchased at the cheese shop. I suffer from an insidious illness that I would not wish upon anyone, it is called ‘Cheeseyearningitis’. It entails standing in front of a cheese counter, looking longingly at cheeses that one wishes to try but one also knows, that one is of an age where one can no longer eat every cheese that ones hankers after. This is due to a waistline thickening on a daily basis and a propensity towards high cholesterol. ‘Cheeseyearningitis’. Look it up, it really exists.

Comte is a semi-hard French cheese made from unpasteurised milk obtained from cows that have only been freshly and naturally fed. It is very similar to Gruyere but a Comte cheese can only be called thus if it adheres to a whole bunch of strict Frenchy regulations. God Bless the French.

I was thinking of a good old potato bake but a googlebumble led me to this delightful concoction, a Comte and potato galette. (Galette meaning a flat pancake and this dish is intrinsically that, a pancake like concoction of cheese and potato.)

The smell of this simple dish baking caused dribble to surreptitiously slide out of the corners of my mouth. Luckily, no one was watching. How best to explain the odour of this cheese baking? I imagine that it is the smell of the meadows in the French alps, of the sweet grass and alpine flowers that blissfully happy European cows chow down upon.

This cheese and potato dish was nutty, sharp, crunchy and almost caramelised around the edges. Unfortunately, all the children present loved it so there were barely any leftovers. Which really sucked. As a French cow would say, ‘Le Moo, Le Sucky.’

POTATO AND COMTE GALETTE

2 tbl unsalted butter (30g)
1 kilo potatoes, peeled and coarsely shredded. I used Desiree because it’s all I had, the recipe called for Yukon Gold. I shredded them in my food processor, oh yeah. Squeeze the potatoes well to get rid of as much liquid as you can.
200g Comte cheese, grated
1 1/2 tsps sea salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
Black pepper

Preheat oven to 180C.
Preheat a medium size frypan, add half the butter and melt it.
Place 1/3 of the shredded potatoes into the frypan, sprinkle half a teaspoon of salt, some grinds of black pepper and sprinkle some nutmeg evenly across.
Sprinkle 1/3 of the cheese over the potato.
Place another 1/3 of the potatoes on top, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and add another 1/3 of the cheese.
Add the last 1/3 of potatoes, drizzle the remaining butter on top then press the mixture down with the back of a spatula. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg then sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.
Over a medium heat, cook the potatoes for about 10-15 minutes until the potato on the bottom starts to sizzle.
Transfer the frying pan into the oven and cook for about 25-35 minutes until golden brown and the potatoes pierce easily with a knife. (Meaning they are cooked.)
Eat it down quickly before the children do.

Recipe knicked from the website listed below, only a minor change was made to it.

http://www.oliversmarket.com/index.php/413

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comté_cheese


Roasted baby carrots with cumin for Easter

Upon smelling a new perfume I was given for my birthday, Kid 1 made the following comment.

Kid 1: It smells like melted Easter eggs.

I am not sure whether to be displeased or not. I envisage myself swanning around attracting small chocolate-loving children and perhaps even the E.B. (Easter Bunny) himself. Not sure if that’s what the perfumier was aiming for when creating this parfum. ‘Eau de Chocolate Easter Egg.’ Give it a whirl, it’s all the rage in the Easter circles.

If you are looking for side dishes to accompany your Easter feast this coming weekend, please consider this wee recipe idea. Calling anything ‘baby’ that you are about to devour and consume has always creeped me out a bit. However, there is no escaping the fact that young veggies are usually the most tender and sweet. Let alone, super cute. Just like a real life human baby! Rest assured, only vegetable babies were harmed in the making of this dish. (That’s OK, right? Told you the whole thing is just, well, odd.)

These carrots were sweet with lovely undertones of the earthy cumin. Tender and juicy, I am positive that all, including the Easter Bunny, will love them.

ROASTED BABY CARROTS WITH CUMIN

WHAT YOU NEED
1 bunch baby carrots
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbl butter, unsalted
Salt
Pepper
2 tbl white wine

WHAT YOU DO
Preheat oven to 180C.
Scrub or lightly peel the carrots.
Place in a foil package, add the cumin, salt and pepper to taste. Dob the butter over the carrots, add the wine and close the foil package.
Roast in the oven for 30 minutes or until tender.
Try it with https://cheergerm.com/2015/03/08/a-cheergerm-gluten-free-roasted-vegetable-lasagna/ or https://cheergerm.com/2015/01/02/millefeuilles-aux-tomates-et-lentilles-and-a-lady-crush/ or https://cheergerm.com/2014/11/09/a-side-of-herb-polenta-bake-and-an-aside/

A Cheergerm Creation


Roasted sumac asparagus and rap

Macklemore, aka Ben Haggerty, is part of a rap duo called Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. These modern day musical poets produced an album the lads and I love, named The Heist. Imagine tuneful rap with a social conscience. Naturally, half of the album is full of ‘swear’ words, hence, the boys do NOT listen to those songs.

Kid 2 was recently singing this song he made up. I wrote it down verbatim.

Macklemore swears a lot
In his songs
But he’s an awesome singer and rapper
I never heard him say a rude word
But I know that he does
He sings them quietly
It is the ‘S’ word
But I wouldn’t know it if I heard it
My maniac mum loves Macklemore even if he swears a lot
Which is weird cause she doesn’t like swearing
Even though she says the ‘S’ word

Just to be clear.

I never did.

Well, I may have but I am NOT a maniac.

This is more of an idea than a recipe, albeit a delicious idea. The lemony sumac was the bomb when paired with the sweet roasted asparagus.

If only McDonalds sold these little darlings in french fry boxes. ‘Will you have asparagus with that?’

ROASTED SUMAC ASPARAGUS

WHAT YOU NEED
2 or 3 bunches asparagus
Olive oil to drizzle
1 tsp sumac
Salt and pepper

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat oven to 180C and line a baking tray with baking paper.
Wash and trim the asparagus, place on the tray.
Drizzle the asparagus in olive oil, add the sumac and season with salt and pepper to your taste. Mix well to ensure the asparagus is well coated in the seasoning.
Cook the asparagus for ten to 15 minutes until tender.
Remove from oven and et voila! As easy as that. A great accompaniment to a vast array of whatever takes your fancy. That evening we ate it with roasted carrots and pork fillet steaks that had been marinated in mustard seeds, honey, oil and vinegar.

A Cheergerm creation