Thursday, June 26, 2008

Baba Ghanoush - or how to best use the heat from your oven when you bake something

There are some things that you inherently learn from your mother. In days long past I think this was even more true, where mothers passed on their knowledge to their daughters, in preparation for adulthood, and being a mother themselves. This was the route by which many recipes were handed down from generation to generation.

My mother is a great cook, though now that all her children have left home, I don’t think she goes to much effort anymore. Growing up, she never made an effort to really teach me to cook, she was more concerned with us getting a good education and grounding. And I, a child of a migrant, desperately wished we didn’t eat such strange Arabic food, and could just eat what my friends were eating, things like tuna mornay and lamb chops (I’m serious!). Now that I cook for myself, I cannot believe I didn’t want these food experiences, and wish I had paid more attention when I was still at home. Trying to get recipes out of her is a little like pulling teeth, as she doesn’t HAVE recipes and bases quantities on sight and taste. I have however gotten used to this and have also started to cook this way, in fact, I am not sure I can even follow a recipe the whole way through!

Having said all that though, it is amazing how much I have picked up from my mother, without even really knowing it. Telling my husband to ‘finish his salad’ the other night, I had to stop and groan! And whenever we have guests, I cook enough for an army, in the very Arabic tradition of never ever ever not having enough food, in fact, needing enough food to make everyone feel so full they are sick. Guests at my place rarely need dessert (though they are getting it anyway).

I also have picked up a need to cook many vegetables and to utilise what I have in the fridge to my advantage and preferably never throw food away because I didn’t use it on time.

With this in mind on the weekend, as I put a roast and some potatoes in my oven for a Saturday night winter warmer meal, I glanced an eggplant in the crisper I had forgotten about and didn't have that much life left. Mmmm, eggplant dip (or Baba Ghanoush) it is then. After dinner I also decided to use the heat from the oven to bake some very naughty chocolate brownies but that is another story and not so healthy!

Growing up, we had baba ghanoush with pretty much every barbeque and every lamb roast. Eggplant and lamb are the best of friends and this dip is SO easy to make. I have read in some places that they BBQ the whole eggplant to get that really smoky flavour but I don’t think it needs it, and that the smokiness can sometimes get too intense. The oven is the easiest way to go anyway…

Baba Ghanoush

1 large eggplant (or more, just scale everything accordingly)
1 tablespoon Tahini (sesame paste)
1 Lemon
Handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
Black pepper and salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1 clove garlic, mashed or bashed in a mortar and pestle

Pierce eggplant several times with a fork. Stick in a hot oven directly on the racks (with a tray underneath to catch any drips) and leave for 20 minutes before turning and leaving for another 20 minutes. It is ready when you can smell it and it has wrinkled up.

Take out of the oven and let cool for 10 minutes or until you can handle it. cut of the top, and then using a fork, remove all the inside bits, discarding the skin. Put in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients and mash with a fork (or food processor), until smooth. Plate up and garnish with olive oil and paprika. Easy!

This is great with flat bread, lamb, kebabs, chicken, the list goes on and on…

Monday, June 23, 2008

I miss...

Italian wine bars. Italian wine. Brushcetta with in-season tomatoes.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

My perfect Paris night out

L'Os à Moelle
3, Rue Vasco de Gama - 75015
ParisMétro: LourmelTel : 01 45 57 27 27
This was on my list of ‘to go to’ restaurants after reading the lovely Chez Pim’s account of her experiences there. She describes it thus ‘The cooking here is always reliable, with a focus firmly on using pristine ingredients and letting them shine’

Sounds good to me. I was also sold on it being described as friendly and not too pretentious, very important to us.

I had been to Paris once before, many years ago, and had, as many Australians, Americans and Brits have found, some rather poor experiences with the locals, particularly in restaurants and cafes. This time, we were determined to try to get as much out of the experience as we could and so purchased some language cds which we played in the car to try to learn at the very least, the basics.

What a difference this made!

We were able to introduce ourselves and ask for what we wanted in French. Usually our pronunciation was so bad that they replied to us in English (or Spanish a few times, I guess I look Spanish?), but I found them to be MUCH more friendly and helpful. The exception is possibly just a couple of bistros were the invariably male waiters seemed to think we were lesser people as tourists. This was definitely in the minority though and waiters of this sort were usually found in less impressive eateries.

L’Os á Moulle was possibly one of the friendliest places in France we dined at. When I called up to make a reservation, I had consulted my language book and hesitantly said

‘Je voudrais réserver une table pour 2 pour ce soir s'il vous plaît’

The lovely lady on the other side said something in French, which I hesitated at for a while, trying to quickly translate, and she then replied in English! Oh well, at least I tried.

On arriving at the restaurant that night I tried to continue this pretence of knowing French, by replying to our dining neighbour’s ‘bonsoir’ and trying to speak as much French as we could to the waiter. We didn’t fool anyone though. And though they offered us an English menu, we just tried to work it out ourselves. Stubborn? Or just going with it, as I like to think. Plus, we ended up with some interesting things using this technique all through Europe, things we wouldn’t necessarily have ordered…

The menu is a 5 course menu including dessert and a cheese course, for 38 Euros. Each course has a choice of at least 2 or 3 dishes. This was the menu. If anyone can translate it for me and tell me what we ate, I would appreciate it ;) I guess it is a bit small though…

We started with what was described as mussel broth and foam, served in a little shot glass. It had few peas in it and was warm, salty, fishy without being overpowering, and a great way to whet the appetite…

Nathan came up with a theory that you can tell how good a place is to eat by their bread…

They had two different types of bread and both were textured and chewy and crusty. All things the French know how to do to bread. mmmm

The next course was the soup course. The bowls were brought to the table with croutons and herbs, and the waiter poured in as much soup as we wanted. A nice touch.

Cream of asparagus soup

Entrées – oyster with basil dressing

Quail with a cabbage salad that was really good

For mains we had a lovely prime cut of beef, served with mashed Jerusalem artichoke and beetroot ‘chips’.

Unfortunately I was not taking notes and now forget what this cheese was, but it was lovely.

And desserts. The first was a chocolate mouse which was so rich I only needed a few bites. But then again, I finished it so maybe I didn’t.

And poached rhubarb with a fresh raspberry sorbet. Nathan is the rhubarb king and couldn’t stop eating this.

We had a reasonably priced bottle of red from Bordeaux (I cannot remember the details) which went perfectly with the meal.

The service was friendly and there were a lot of locals and cute old couples having their special meal out. It felt a lot less touristy than many of the places in the Latin Quarter were we were staying, and we left full, tipsy and happy. Happy enough to brave going to the Eiffel tower at night to try our chances. It was still busy and so we didn’t go up it (and never got the chance but after the rest of europe, climbing up another tower was not that exciting), but it was beautiful all the same. This was followed by a walk along the Seine and a metro ride home. You cannot really ask for more than that from a night out in Paris…

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Cal Pep, Barcelona

Now, I went to Europe for my honeymoon and to spend time with my husband, not just to eat. No really, I did.

Who am I kidding?

Before I left Oz, I compiled a list with restaurants, cheeses and other things I HAD to eat while in Europe. I didn’t quite get to everything, as eating rich food every day can get a bit too much for this vegetable loving girl. But one thing I knew after reading a few blogs and magazine articles was that I really wanted to go to Cal Pep’s. And I am glad that I did.

There were quite a few tourists so the word really has got out there, but there were a few locals too, which was reassuring. It was a small bar, full when we got there at 715pm (too late to get there on opening as planned, as ‘someone’ had an afternoon nap), which meant we had to wait. Now, I am not one to wait for food, particularly when hungry, but I really wanted to eat there. So we waited. Patience is good for the soul.

Finally we got a table, ordered some wine and got to business

This is how my ordering to Mr Cal Pep went.

Me ‘Hablo un poco espanol’

Cal Pep ‘No hablo inglese. Tapas Mixtas Cal pep’

Me ‘Si, gracie’

Ordering out of the way, we waited as each dish surprised us. Some dishes were prepared in front if us, and others were brought in from the small kitchen to the right. Watching the cutting, slicing, frying and finishing touches was the entertainment for the meal, as was talking to the very friendly Cal pep.

I just love the Spanish style of bread, toasted bread rubbed with a cut tomato, oil, garlic and sometimes parsley or basil. So good!

Clam and Ham. Fabulous. We had been overdoing somewhat on the shellfish but these just blew us away

An egg and potato tortilla with a very garlicy aioli smeared on top

Chickpeas and mussels

Tender calamari

The best whitebait I have ever had

And to finish, a crema catalana. I have a new obsession. I have sourced a recipe and can’t wait to make it and see if I can replicate this version.

This was Tapas dining at its best. Fresh ingredients, a real buzz to the place, no smoking (which in Barcelona is not a given). When we go back in 2020 to see the completed la Sagrada Familia, I hope there are still places like this around!

And I just worked out that it cost as much as our meal last week at Bar Lourhina and we didn’t have any seafood there. Though that might have been the wine mark ups.
I miss Spain