Gluten Free Mac n Cheese – Rick Stein stylin

In an attempt to involve our kidlets in the cooking and ‘not just eating process’, a decree has been passed in our household (royally of course) that ‘each child shall take turn-a-bout choosing and cooking Sunday’s dinner with their Mum’. We took a respite from this over the Christmas and school break but once those holiday shenanigans ended we began again. This mother of two boys is determined to ensure that our lads eventually leave home (albeit in their early thirties) with the ability to cook a decent repetoire of dishes.

Kid 1, on the cusp of turning 14, decided that after watching Rick Stein cook up a decadent version of Mac n Cheese (Macaroni and Cheese for those that may not know), that this would be the dish for him. We have since renamed it ‘Heart Attack on a Plate.’ But my, how very delicious it was. To save precious energy (I am old and he is, well, an adolescent), we decided that the dish had to be entirely gluten free and vegetarian. Frankly, we couldn’t be arsed bothered making two different versions. And guess what, none of us cared.

Well, The Yak actually cared a great deal as he truly loved this old school classic. I mean, really, dangerously, intimately loved it. Hence, we cannot make it again for a very long time. Our parental ageing bodies cannot take this amount of saturated fat too often, even if the youngsters can. However, if you are looking for a moreish, autumnal or winters, tasty, zingy, creamy, monstrously wonderful comfort dish, this is it. Don’t baulk at the amount of cheese, keep grating. Its a veritable mountain but it is required. (The next Mac n Cheese I make will be a healthier version, you will hear the complaints globally but that’s the way the cheese grates, or well, doesn’t.)

GLUTEN FREE MAC N CHEESE

WHAT YOU NEED
100g butter
100 g gluten free flour
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1.2 litres milk (I used low fat but the orignal recipe calls for full fat)
75 ml double cream
1 bay leaf
400g mature cheddar grated
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg (or dried if you don’t have fresh)
500g of your favourite gluten free dried macaroni
60g gluten free breadcrumbs
50g Parmesan
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat oven to 200C (or 180C fan-forced) and grease a 35x20cm ovenproof dish.
Melt the butter in a medium size saucepan then stir in the flour and cook for two to three minute until the mixture (roux) starts to bubble.
Add the mustard and remove the pan from the heat, add the milk, cream and bay leaf and quickly whisk together.
Return the pan to a medium heat and continue to stir constantly until the mixture starts to thicken and boil.
Remove the saucepan from the heat, remove the bay leaf and add the cheddar. Stir until the cheese has melted then season well with black pepper and nutmeg.
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the macaroni until al dente as per the packet instructions, usually around 8-10 minutes. Drain and add the pasta to the sauce.
Pour the mixture into the ovenproof dish. Mix the breadcrumbs and Parmesan together and sprinkle over the top.
Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown and bubbling and serve immediately.

Cooking Notes: Choosing a decent gluten free pasta is a veritable minefield, to avoid too many white starchy carbohydrates I will often use a buckwheat pasta for The Yak. For this recipe we used a generic supermarket brand corn and rice pasta which was actually OK but that was only because the people in my life cannot follow a simple shopping instruction. Thus far, the best ‘most like wheat based pasta’ gluten free pasta I have ever purchased, is the fairly new gluten free Barilla pasta range. I am not paid to say this, nobody pays me to say anything, although I wish they would. I would also happily be paid not to say anything at all. I am open to all offers.

A slight adaptation of a Rick Stein recipe. Go here for the original non-gluten free and non-vegetarian recipe for those of you who don’t have to care.

Rick Steins Mac n Cheese

I never usually comment on my photos but I had to state that this photo cracks me up. Our lad is standing in exactly the same way that I often do. It is also the same way that my physio has told me off for as it is not good for your spine alignment. It seems to be that very little in this post is actually ‘good for you’ but frankly, cest la vie!

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Leura and Holmcroft

Our brother-in-law had arrived from the UK and after a couple of days hanging in our usual surrounds, we thought it a grand idea to go and visit further afield. It didn’t take long to decide upon the charming village of Leura, set admidst the quintessential Australian bush environment of the Blue Mountains. After investigating accommodation options online until my eyeballs bled, I chose a charming wee cottage named Holmcroft. Staying in another home elsewhere is like trying on a pair of fine, expensive shoes. You get the feeling of another way of life in a place that is different to your own. Yet you are not required to commit to it.

The bones of Holmcroft wrapped themselves around us. Pressed metal walls and ceilings, wide knotted Kauri floorboards and panels of stained glass panels hark back to the early 1900’s. I stared at the ornate ceilings, imagining those who passed through and have long gone back to dust and dirt. So many unspoken stories embedded into the mitochondria of this building. The spoken and the unspoken, I like to think that we also left behind a tiny part of our own story.

Holmcroft definitely harkens back to a more gracious time. When clocks ticked their steady rhythm, fine bone china clinked and heavy fabricked skirts rustled. The house is plenty big enough, four bedrooms are dressed with good quality bed linen, there are two bathrooms, two comfortable decent sized living areas and a lovely verandah for cup-of-tea relaxing. Mod-cons such as central heating, a dishwasher and an updated kitchen are the icing on this vintage cake. The boys ran out their bottled-up energy in the rambling garden, when they weren’t exhausted from the daily walking.

I happily did very little cooking, unless you can call arranging a piggy-platter of tasty nibbles and opening a bottle of fizzy wine actual cooking? Leura was a pleasant ten minute stroll away and we delighted in the heavily blossom laden trees and beautifully maintained gardens we passed on the way into town.

We ate at a number of restaurants and cafes but my highlight was lunch at the Red Door Cafe. I ordered the same dish on two different occasions, it comprised of a wild rice sage and mushroom rosti, chilli and chive fried eggs, sweet roast pumpkin and all topped with a radish, almond, peach and pecorino salad. Whilst it sounds like a bit of a mish-mash, it was incredibly well balanced and completely delicious. Something to attempt replicating at home for sure.

Josophan’s Chocolates was another solid fist punch foodie moment. The boys scoffed decadent brownies, of which we got a tiny nibble. I also purchased a bag of their magnificent Belgian cocoa and may (or may not) have bought a small bag of their hand-crafted chocolates. (Shhh, don’t tell the children or The Yak.) We ate hearty pies in buttery pastry and very good sourdough at Wentworth Bakery. This sometimes grown-up also managed to sneak away for some lovely shopping moments in the lush boutiques that dot the main street.

We walked, talked and enjoyed the jaw-dropping mountain scenery. Whilst extreme heights has never been my favourite, I found myself panicking whenever the boys went too close to the vertigous edge. I tried not to pass on this new found anxiety to the lads. Judging from the way they happily trekked down the cliff face to the closest point of the Three Sisters rock formation, I seem to have succeeded. (Despite my small tantrum at not wanting them to go and storming back up the path so as not to witness their descent. Another chapter to add to my ‘Fine Parenting Moments 101.’)

We read by the fire, ate, drank good wine and made new memories. Although the absence of our Joanne weighed heavily at times we hope that it was a small salve to Rob’s soul to be elsewhere for a while, just as it was for us to spend time with him.

Speaking of leaving a part of us behind, we accidentally left one boys favourite soccer cap and two other items of my clothing at the house. So I guess the old adage of ‘be careful what you wish for’ sometimes does come true. If that is the case, I would like to throw another wish out there, that we come back to visit Holmcroft again and not before too long.

Holmcroft

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Vegetarian lentil shepherds pie

Our two lads will happily eat standard veggie fare such as corn, carrots, peas, broccoli and potatoes. If you asked them, they would vehemently deny eating (much less admit to enjoying) eggplant, zuchinni, mushrooms, fennel, onion and capsicum. However, they regularly eat these vegetables in curries, vegetarian Mexican bean dishes, veggie lentil pasta dishes, meat casseroles, burgers, bolognese and more.

Whilst eating, they sometimes ask ‘Mum, what’s in this ?’ When I tell them ‘eggplant’, they are not deterred from continuing the inhalation process. I am sure this has something to do with the leafy matter being ‘hidden in plain sight’ and not easily identifiable. On the flip side, they run screaming from the room when confronted with beetroot, brussel sprouts, parnsips or sweet potato.

This hearty winter dish is all about the fifth flavour of umami (or in other words ‘deep savouriness’), provided by the mushrooms, miso and soy sauce. These flavours and textures, combined with some slow cooking, are completely satisyfing. I cannot promise that it will convert the most adamant of carnivores but our lads love it and in fact, have said they prefer it to my meat version of the same dish. (A declaration at which many sheep breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing.)

Make, eat and enjoy; knowing that neither sheep nor shepherd was harmed in the making of this pie.

VEGETARIAN LENTIL SHEPHERDS PIE

WHAT YOU NEED
4 tbl olive oil
1 medium onion finely diced
1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
3 medium carrots, diced
2 sticks celery, diced
1 medium sized red pepper, diced
1 large eggplant, diced
1 large zuchinni, diced
2 cloves garlic
3 large flat mushrooms, diced
2 tins brown lentils, drained
1 tin crushed tomatoes
250 ml vegetable stock
1 tbl oregano
1tbl gluten free soy sauce
1 tbl miso paste
Salt and pepper to taste

Mashed potato topping
1.5 kilos potatoes, peeled and chopped
1/3 cup milk
50-100g Butter to taste (add as much as or as little as you like)
Salt and pepper
50-80g Parmesan for grating on top

HOW YOU DO IT

Lightly oil a large baking dish.
Sauté onion, chilli, carrot, celery and red pepper for five minutes. Add the eggplant and zuchinni and sauté for another five minutes, stirring regularly. Add the garlic and cook for one minute.
Add the mushrooms and cook for another five minutes. Add the lentils, tin of tomatoes, veggie stock, oregano, soy sauce, miso and another cup or so of cold water so the whole mixture is covered in liquid.
Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer, cook for up to one hour until all the liquid is evaporated and the veggies are tender. (This can take more like 1 hour 15 minutes.) Check for seasoning.
Whilst the vegetable mixture is simmering make the mashed potato topping. Cook the potatoes in boiling water until tender then drain them. Quickly pop them back into the saucepan and cook on a low heat for a minute or two. This will evaporate any remaining liquid and help to make a more fluffy mash. Remove them from the heat.
Warm the milk then add this and the butter to the potato mixture and mash until light and fluffy. Season with salt and pepper.
If cooking the shepherds pie straight away, preheat the oven to 180C.
To assemble the pie: Place the vegetable mixture into the prepared baking dish and smooth flat. Dollop even spoons of the potato mash over the top of the veggies. Flatten the mash with a spatula then drag a fork through the top. (This uneven texture helps the potato to brown.)
Sprinkle the Parmesan over the potato and bake in the oven for 40 minutes until golden brown. (If the top hasn’t browned enough, I often turn the grill on to medium for five minutes or so to help the browning process.)
If you are heating up the shepherds pie from the fridge, bring it out for half an hour before baking and it will take around an hour to heat up to piping hot.

Cooking Notes: Don’t feel compelled to follow my recipe for mashed potato if you have your own awesome recipe and technique. You can also make this recipe vegan by using a vegan margarine to mash the potatoes with and not using any milk. Top with a vegan cheese instead.
Another great thing about this dish is that due to its size, there are always leftovers for the next night. You little beauty.

A Cheergerm recipe


Sautéed cabbage

Cabbage is supposedly the latest ‘it’ vegetable, the suddenly fashionable ‘new kid on the block’. It’s in the zeitgeist and cauliflower has been kicked to the curb and replaced with the humble cabbage.

Dear Cabbage, please know that I have always loved you. When you were the wallflower, the last kid picked for handball and the lonely vegetable left sitting on the veggie stand. Eastern Europe stood by you when so many others shunned you. You are delicious whether eaten raw, cooked, pickled and fermented.

Cabbage, I am happy that you are having your day in the sun. Please know that those of us who have always been your stalwart supporters, will still be here when your fifteen minutes of fame finally ends.

SAUTÉED CABBAGE

WHAT YOU NEED
3 tbls olive oil
50g butter
400g red cabbage, finely sliced
400g white cabbage, finely sliced
1 medium onion, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup cold water
Salt and pepper
1/2 small lemon

HOW YOU DO IT
Heat a large frying pan on a medium heat then add the olive oil and butter.
Once the butter has melted, sauté the onion for a few minutes, then add the cabbage and stir until the cabbage is well coated with the butter and oil.
Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring continuously. Add 1/4 cup of water and bring to the boil then reduce the heat and cook, stirring occasionally for around 30 minutes until the cabbage is soft, tender and starts to caramelise. (If you want crunchier cabbage, just cook it for less time.)
Squeeze the half a lemon over the dish and season to taste with salt and pepper and serve alongside whatever your heart desires.

Cooking Notes:
I sometimes add 1/2 tsp caraway seeds with the garlic if I have them.
My hard taskmaster erstwhile editor (aka The Yak) wants me to explain the terminology ‘sauté’. Sauté means to cook quickly in a small amount of fat in a sauté pan or fry pan, over a medium to high heat for a short time.

A Cheergerm version of a dish that has been around a very long time


Turmeric, garlic and sumac potatoes

Our home is an eclectic mix of the old and the new. Vintage pieces have either been collected or handed down. Our artwork tells the story of where we have been, who we once were, where we came from and perhaps where we are headed. The sentimental and the functional work alongside a healthy mix of Lego, too many books to count and endless drawers stuffed full of ‘God Knows What.’ Furniture is chosen for both comfort and design and in some cases, passed down or handed over.

I am drawn towards textural fabrics that provide warmth and please my eye. Our abode is a continual work in progress and our list of ‘things to do’ grows bigger by the day. We are not the greatest of ‘handypeople’ and we work at a snails pace that would (and probably does) frustrate those faster moving people out there. Our home doesn’t suit everybody but then nobody should really ever have to justify ‘home’ to anyone. (Except maybe those of you still married to the 80’s grey and pink decor theme but then, who am I to judge?)

This winter, it feels as if my heartbeat and mind have slowed. I notice the small things. A new crack in a wall, a particularly lovely leaf on an indoor plant or the iridescent glaze on a piece of pottery. The way the light moves throughout the house during the day, alighting on a painting or a section of wooden flooring. I have found great peace and comfort in my surroundings.

Today’s recipe is more of a delicious idea than a recipe. Mum gave me a turmeric plant a little while ago and I excitedly harvested it the other day. I peeled and grated a bulb then threw it into the dinner potatoes alongside some olive oil, crushed garlic, sumac and sea salt then baked them until golden brown. Earthy, slightly tangy with a garlicky hit, the lads loved this little twist on a regular side dish.

strong>TURMERIC, GARLIC AND SUMAC POTATOES

WHAT YOU NEED
1 kilo Pontiac or Desiree potatoes, cut into 3-4 cm chunks
2-3 tbls olive oil
7-10cm fresh turmeric bulb, grated
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp sumac
1 tsp sea salt

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat the oven to 180C and line a baking tray with baking paper.
Toss the potatoes in the olive oil, turmeric, garlic, sumac and salt.
Place on the tray and bake until golden brown and tender.
Serve with whatever takes your fancy.

A Cheergerm creation


Roasted cauliflower, fennel and pumpkin soup

Mothers Day came and went in the place we live. For us, it was a low key day. My three sisters and I had recently returned from New Zealand where we farewelled our beautiful cousin Simon. He was a kind, funny, free-thinking, non-accepting of the status quo, shining beacon of a man. His battle with Fredreich’s Ataxia had worn him down and so, he took his leave of us. We are left heartsick and numb but I like to think he has shaken off the earthly chains of his embattled body and spirit and is perhaps dancing somewhere, to the Rolling Stones, on a warm tropical beach. He has a frangipani tucked behind his fine thatch of fiery, strawberry-blond hair and the requisite seaside cocktail in hand. Vale Simon.

So, as exhaustion overtook us, Mothers Day was gentle and unassuming. My boys were sweetly honest with heartfelt gifts, words and cards. In the spirit of honouring Mothers everywhere, I give a shoutout to my own Mum, whose patient, deep abiding love has been an invisible prop against my back in the hardest of times. I give a shoutout to my sisters who are mothers, how I admire their patience, far greater than mine. For another sister who is a step mum (a tough gig at times), I give her a shoutout as a steady and wise presence in the life her stepchild. For our Aunty Lyn, one of the strongest of women who has lost far more than any mother should ever have to but still loves, lives and not simply exists. For my friends who are Mums of all kinds, whether they have children, fur-babies or even plant-babies. These are women I admire, lean on, talk to and share this crazy life journey with in a real, unaffected, lack of bullshit kind of way. You know who you are.

Mum and her hubby did pop over for a simple Mothers Day lunch. We had bowls of this filling, thick and earthily spicy soup followed by a luscious gluten free custard-like apple cake that Mum had made. (Something I will certainly be baking and blogging soon.) Happy Mothers Day, yes it’s belated but no less heartfelt.

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER, FENNEL AND PUMPKIN SOUP

WHAT YOU NEED
1/2 cauliflower (600g)
1 large fennel bulb
300g pumpkin
1 1/2 tsps cumin seeds
1 1/2 tsps dried oregano
1/2 – 1 tsp dried chilli (depending on your tolerance for heat)
Salt
Olive oil or grapeseed oil
2 medium size potatoes
1 litre veggie stock
1 litre water
Pepper

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat oven to 180C and line two trays with baking paper .
Cut the cauliflower into florets, chop the fennel bulb into 2 cm chunks and the pumpkin also into 2 cm chunks.
Put the cauliflower on one tray and the fennel and pumpkin on the other, drizzle with oil and divide the oregano, chilli, cumin seeds and a tiny bit of salt between the two trays and stir to coat the veggies. (Go easy on the stock as it depends on how salty your veggie stock is.)
Roast for one hour until the vegetables are tender and slightly caramelised. Remove from the oven.
In the meantime, add the stock and water to a large saucepan, add the thinly sliced potatoes and cook until tender.
Add the roasted vegetables to the stock mixture and cook for a further 20 minutes .
Blend with a hand stick blender until creamy and smooth and add salt to taste and pepper if you so fancy it. Pour into a bowl of your choice and serve with good bread, toast, cracker or nowt.

A Cheergerm creation

https://fara.org.au


Thai green curry paste or, some like it hot

This curry paste is hot and spicy, no two ways about it. ‘Some Like It Hot’ is also the title of the 1959 gender-bending farcical movie starring the luminous Marilyn Monroe alongside the actors Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis masquerading as slightly less than easy-on-the-eye women.

Recently, I was attempting to explain to our twelve year old lad, how it would be great if males found words other than ‘hot’ or ‘sexy’ to describe the appearance of a woman. Intrinsically, I was stating that these words can objectify women. (He hadn’t actually used those words but we heard them on a television show and I couldn’t resist an opportunity to rant impart my wisdom to my offspring.)

He thought for a moment and asked ‘But why is it OK if a woman sees a man and calls him chunky?’ This stopped me in my tracks, I looked at him. ‘Do you think you might mean hunky’? ‘Well’ he replied, ‘I knew it was ‘unky’ with something at the start’.

Many eons ago, before I had children to amuse me, many happy hours were spent traversing through Melbourne’s Asian groceries and Indian spice shops. All in an effort to source the more exotic ingredients required for blending and making my own curry pastes and curry powders. My senses were overwhelmed with citrusy lemongrass, stinky shrimp paste, the vivid colours of green and red chillies, peppery galangal, earthy turmeric, too many dried spices to list and the floral polarising scent of fresh coriander.

Whilst searching through some of my cookbooks recently, I happened upon The Hot and Spicy Book by Charmaine Solomon. She has been dubbed the ‘queen of Asian cooking in Australia’. This book, alongside her iconic tome, The Complete Asian Cookbook first published in 1976, were wonderful guides as I embarked upon my adventure into Asian cookery.

With progeny in tow (who are far less amusing when you have to shop with them), we set off to source the bits and bobs needed to make Solomon’s Thai Green Curry Paste. Sadly, we couldn’t find fresh or dried galangal so I used fresh ginger. As The Yak is vegetarian, the best substitute I have found for shrimp paste is fermented bean paste. (This is sourced from most larger Asian grocery stores.) Blend the heck out of this until it is no longer chunky and you will have a very satisfying, bloody hot, spicy, punch in the face curry paste. No objectification intended.

THAI GREEN CURRY PASTE

WHAT YOU NEED
4 large or 8 small green chillies
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup fresh coriander, well washed including roots, stems and leaves
1/4 cup finely sliced lemon grass (or thinly peeled rind 1 lemon)
1 tbl chopped galangal fresh or bottled (I had to use fresh ginger as I couldn’t get my hands on any galangal, it’s not the same but it is an OK substitute)
2 tsps ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsps fermented bean paste (or 1 tsp dried shrimp paste if you don’t want it to be vegetarian)

HOW YOU DO IT
Wearing rubber gloves, remove stems and roughly chop the chillies.
Put the chillies into an electric blender with the remaining ingredients and purée.
Add a little water if necessary to help the blending process.
Store any paste that you don’t use in a clean, dry glass jar in the refrigerator or do what I do and divide into convenient portions and freeze. Ready to use in your next curry, soup, stir-fry or marinade.

Recipe from The Hot and Spicy Book by Charmaine Solomon, published 1995 by Mandarin a part of Reed Books Australia.

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Pecan pesto sauce

A traditional Italian pesto from Genoa contains pine nuts so in a way, this is a charlatans version of a much beloved Italian sauce. My recipe, through misadventure, contains pecans. The pecan derives from a species of the hickory tree, a deciduous tree native to Mexico and parts of southern USA. It is technically not a nut but a ‘drupe’ which is actually a fruit containing a single stone or pit and an outer husk. Pecans are high in monounsaturated fats and are buttery, rich and sweet.

It was another overtly hot Sydney day and we were on the verge of ‘hanger’. My kitchen possessed the majority of the requisite pesto ingredients. A massive bunch of basil that needed to be used, a wedge of Parmesan cheese, garlic, a bottle of olive oil but not a darned pine nut in sight. My kingdom for a pine nut! All that could be found were two big bags of pecans doing time in my pantry. (A pretty darned tough place to hang out, well, so all the other nuts out on parole tell me). In the past, walnuts, coriander and mint have been tossed into pesto sauces whereas pecans have been used for granolas and sweet baked goodies. Popping them into my pesto felt strangely wrong.

However, wilting and weakened and in the spirit of the Deep South from whence the pecan originated, I declared in my best southern accent, that I just didn’t give a damn. (In other words, there would be no running to the shops in a last minute manner.) Pecans were thrown in and all was well. We stirred the pesto through pasta and it was herbaceous, nutty, vibrant and just the ticket for a quick simple meal.

PECAN PESTO SAUCE

WHAT YOU NEED
1 big bunch basil (this was 3 cups of basil leaves, I know because I picked them, packed them and I measured them, so there.)
1/2 cup lightly toasted pecans
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt
Pepper

HOW YOU DO IT
Pick the basil leaves and wash and dry them.
Add the basil, pecans, Parmesan and garlic to a food processor and process until finely chopped.
Slowly add the oil whilst the blender is going until all the ingredients are well combined.
Taste then season with salt and pepper to your liking.
This sauce is delicious when stirred through pasta, liven up a veggie soup and dollop a blob on top or serve alongside grilled and roasted meats or tofu.
Leftover sauce can be stored in a jar in the fridge for a few days, cover the top with olive oil to stop it spoiling.

A Cheergerm Recipe


Tofu in BBQ sauce for hot, muggy days

One of the greatest delights of this blogging malarkey has been meeting (albeit virtually) many wonderful and interesting bloggers along the way. One of those peeps is foodisthebestshitever aka Graeme, aka Grazza, aka Mr Red Bearded Carnie Man. This witty blogger shares his fresh, vibrant recipes using his own unique turn of phrase and the odd spot of colourful language. (In others words, severe language warning to all of you who may be offended.) He resides in northern NSW with his missus Jen, who also knows her way around a kitchen and their two gorgeous lads. They opened their restaurant The Stockpot Kitchen in the Bangalow Bowling Club, about a year or so ago. I look forward to the the day that we find ourselves in the verdant NSW hinterland and we are able to chow down on some of the delicious sounding US-Southern style grub. Grazza lives and breathes food and surely could be named the Carnie King of Fiery Outdoor Cooking and Artisanal Condiments.

Around the end of November last year, Grazza sent me a muchly appreciated gift of four precious bottles of liquid gold. You see, he makes his own Big Red Brand condiments that they sell from the restaurant. The sauces are not just a sucker punch but have a subtlety in their blending and a deft balance of sweetness, tanginess and heat. Sadly, they are not yet for sale in these here parts but who knows what the future will bring?

Lately, the weather in Sydney has been very, very hot and extremely muggy. The humidity is a killer. The easiest meal I could think of for my annoying coeliac vegetarian beautiful husband was marinated tofu to accompany leftovers of potato salad and Lebanese green beans .

This is not really a recipe. Simply chop up a block of firm tofu (in this case 350g), throw it in a bowl and dollop a generous few slugs of Big Red Brand Smoky BBQ sauce over the tofu, stirring to coat it. (Of course, most of you will not have a bottle of this on hand so you can either make yourself a batch of one of Grazza’s barbecue sauce recipes which is surely the next best thing or purchase a top quality sauce from a deli or food purveyor.) Let the tofu marinate in the fridge for a few hours, overnight would be even better. Heat up a frypan, splash in a few glugs of olive oil and pan-fry the tofu on every side until a deep golden brown. This can also be grilled on a BBQ of course. Once the tofu is cooked, heat up the reserved marinade and dribble it over the top. Smoky, spicily sweet with a vinegar sharpness. This is the good stuff. (Annoyingly, I now have to hide this good stuff from Kid 1 who has discovered a penchant for quality sauces. Bugger.)

The Stockpot Kitchen Facebook Page


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