Singing in the kitchen

Close up shot of garlic, ginger, coriander, lime ... some of the ingredients in Sarah Tiong's Asian Vinaigrette. Image: Su Leslie, 2017

Garlic, ginger, coriander, lime … some of the ingredients in Sarah Tiong’s Asian Vinaigrette. Image: Su Leslie, 2017

“Cooking is a language that express harmony, creativity, happiness, beauty, poetry, complexity, magic, humor, provocation.” Ferran Adrià  — head chef of the elBulli restaurant

Harmony is all about combination. About striking the right notes to create something pleasing. This is just as true in cooking as music. Flavours, textures, colours, even temperature must be balanced.

As a cook, I definitely fall into the enthusiastic amateur category, but with practice (lots more hours than I ever put into learning guitar), I am beginning to create food that is closer to “well-crafted pop song” than “open-mic night at the local folk club.”

For which my boys are ever so grateful.

Lens Artists Photo Challenge | harmony

 

The Changing Seasons, November 2018

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New growth, grapevine. Image: Su Leslie 2018

Time’s a strange thing. It is defined by its measurement, objective and increasingly precise. Yet even as we observe the system, we experience time in our own unique and subjective ways.

I think about this every month as I begin to write my Changing Seasons post, aware that I experience the passing of different months in very different ways. Indeed I would say I’ve experienced November as almost outside of time, anchored by neither nature nor culture.

In my garden, plants seem to be flourishing, but not in dramatic ways. Blossom has given way to fruit but none of it is ripe. About the only thing that’s noticeably grown is the grape vine.

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It never bears fruit, but in the words of 10cc “it hides an ugly stain (alright, fence) that’s lying there”. Image: Su Leslie 2018

In all the years we’ve lived here, the vine has never produced grapes. Its utility lies instead in covering — at least for a few months a year — a particularly ugly fence.

I am a utility gardener, and while I appreciate the masking properties of the vine, I want more from it. In one of those moments which, in a movie would carry ominous soundtrack warnings, I thought it might be fun to try cooking with the vine leaves.

Fondly imagining some tasty little herby halloumi parcels, I set off across the lawn with my secateurs.

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Fresh vine leaves. Image: Su Leslie 2018

Online, I found lots of advice on blanching the leaves for preserving, and lots of recipes using preserved leaves — but not a lot on using blanched leaves more or less straight away.

With our little vine I can’t really harvest enough leaves to be worth preserving — and besides I wanted to cook NOW.

“NOW” has proved to be a very fluid term. It took me the better part of a day to figure out a combination of blanching, soaking and simmering that would render fibrous leaves edible, turning a quick snack into an edible marathon medal.

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Blanched, soaked, simmered; topped with a slice of halloumi and fresh herbs. Good to go. Image: Su Leslie 2018

The parcels themselves are pretty quick to make. I added my new favourite herb combination of oregano and lemon thyme, and cooked them in a lightly oiled skillet for a few minutes on each side.

 

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Halloumi-stuffed vine leaves with quick-pickled red onion and pomegranate seeds. Image: Su Leslie 2018

The verdict: the dish worked quite well. The pickled onions and pomegranate seeds balanced the salty cheese and I liked the background taste of the herbs. The leaves were ok; still a bit chewy and fibrous, and I wouldn’t serve them to guests.

The idea of garden to table living is incredibly appealing to me, and is indeed what I am aiming for eventually. In that context, the time spent fiddling about cooking leaves doesn’t feel wasted, and I’m not disappointed in the final outcome. I have discovered reserves of patience and tenacity I don’t always think I have, and learned quite a lot about a food I’ve only ever eaten in restaurants and as a take-away.

When I look back on my November, I realise I have spent a great deal of it on projects like this; learning and practicing skills that haven’t necessarily produced the kind of results I would want to photograph, but have changed me for the better.

About The Changing Seasons

The Changing Seasons is a monthly challenge where bloggers around the world share what’s been happening in their month.

If you would like to join in, here are the guidelines:

The Changing Seasons Version One (photographic):

  • Each month, post 5-20 photos in a gallery that you feel represent your month
  • Don’t use photos from your archive. Only new shots.
  • Tag your posts with #MonthlyPhotoChallenge and #TheChangingSeasons so that others can find them

The Changing Seasons Version Two (you choose the format):

  • Each month, post a photo, recipe, painting, drawing, video, whatever that you feel says something about your month
  • Don’t use archive stuff. Only new material!
  • Tag your posts with #MonthlyPhotoChallenge and #TheChangingSeasons so others can find them.

If you do a ping-back to this post, I can update it with links to all of yours.

Update

Little Pieces of MeChanging of the Season — November 2018 and Changing of the Season — November 2018 (Riding Edition)

Pauline at Living in Paradise

Tracy at Reflections of an Untidy Mind

Marilyn at Serendipity — Seeking intelligent life on Earth

Lee at Ladyleemanila

Ju Lyn at All Things Bright and Beautiful

Joanne at My Life Lived Full

Tish at Writer on the Edge

Deb at The Widow Badass Blog

Jude at Under a Cornish Sky

Mick at Mick’s Cogs

 

Regular Random: five minutes with a prawn & soba noodle salad

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Lunch bowl. Prawn and soba noodle salad with yuzu, avocado and mint. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

Last week I posted a shot of some ingredients I was planning to use for a lunch recipe.

I was looking for ways to use some of our citrus, especially the yuzu, and an online search gave me this recipe from a site called Great British Chefs.

I omitted the tablespoon of brown sugar in the dressing, and the cucumber because they aren’t in season and at $5 each, didn’t seem essential. I also forgot to sprinkle sesame seeds on top, but apart from losing that little bit of crunch, I don’t think it really mattered.

This is the result. I have to say, it was really easy to make and really yummy.

I had planned to add grapefruit segments, but chickened out and put a few in a bowl on the side to “taste test.” I like the avocado-grapefruit combination and it was ok with the prawns, but overall, I think it would be better as a separate recipe.

Regular Random is a photo challenge hosted by Desley Jane at Musings of a Frequently Flying Scientist. Please pop over and take a look;  and if you’d like to join in:

  • choose a subject or a scene
  • spend five minutes photographing it – no more!
  • try to not interfere with the subject, instead see it from many angles, look through something at it, change the light that’s hitting it
  • have fun!
  • tag your post #regularrandom and ping back to Desley’s post

The Changing Seasons: July 2018

Early morning light behind the Tor at Waiake Beach, Auckland. Su Leslie 2018 Morning. The Tor, Waiake Beach, Auckland, NZ. Su Leslie, 2018

July is proving to be a very inward-looking month. From my photos, it would seem that pretty much all I’ve done is sew, eat and walk on beaches and in gardens.

The sewing started in June, with the “Art Matters” tote I made (supposedly just to hold paints and brushes). It got such a positive reaction from people I seriously considered the economics of making some commercially (not viable). But since I had a stash of fabric and image-transfer paper, I made a few more for friends, and then thought I could do more for going plastic-free if I had a bunch of other totes. The library bag followed, and then some simple calico bags that scrunch up small enough to carry around, and after that a holdall for all the stuff (notebook, pens, glasses, iPad, phone, etc) I carry from office to living room so I can work in either. My journal is filling up with more ideas and designs and I think I am officially obsessed.

I’ve already shared so many food photos this month, I’ll leave you with this shot and the question: what did I make with these ingredients?

img_2870 “mystery box challenge” (ok, I’m watching MasterChef Australia on TV). Su Leslie 2018

About The Changing Seasons

The Changing Seasons is a monthly challenge where bloggers around the world share what’s been happening in their month.

If you would like to join in, here are the guidelines:

The Changing Seasons Version One (photographic):

  • Each month, post 5-20 photos in a gallery that you feel represent your month
  • Don’t use photos from your archive. Only new shots.
  • Tag your posts with #MonthlyPhotoChallenge and #TheChangingSeasons so that others can find them

The Changing Seasons Version Two (you choose the format):

  • Each month, post a photo, recipe, painting, drawing, video, whatever that you feel says something about your month
  • Don’t use archive stuff. Only new material!
  • Tag your posts with #MonthlyPhotoChallenge and #TheChangingSeasons so others can find them.

If you do a ping-back to this post, I can update it with links to all of yours.

UPDATE

Be sure to check out how these other bloggers have experienced July

Max at Cardinal Guzman: Version #1 and Version #2

Deb at The Widow Badass Blog

Marilyn at Serendipity, Seeking intelligent life on Earth

Joanne at My Life Lived Full

Tracy at Reflections of an Untidy Mind

Sarah at Art Expedition

Ladyleemanila

Tish at Writer on the Edge

Pauline at Living in Paradise

Klara

Mick at Mick’s Cogs

Ruth at Ruth’s Arc

Jude at Under a Cornish Sky

Yvette at Priorhouse Blog

Ju-Lyn at All Things Bright and Beautiful

Three day quote challenge, day two

My kitchen; part studio, part laboratory, part drop-in centre. My favourite part of the house and my happy place. Image: Su Leslie, 2018. Aged shot of modern kitchen with chrome appliances and red mixing bowl in foreground.

My kitchen; part studio, part laboratory, part drop-in centre. My favourite part of the house and my all-time happy place. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

“Cooking is all about people. Food is maybe the only universal thing that really has the power to bring everyone together. No matter what culture, everywhere around the world, people get together to eat.” — Guy Fieri

I love food.

I love eating certainly, but even more, I love thinking about, planning and making food. To cook for you is to say “I care; you matter to me.”

Close-up shot of chocolate cookies, baked to deliver to the City Mission at Christmas. Image: Su Leslie, 2017

Chocolate cookies baked with the boy-child, for delivery to the City Mission. Image: Su Leslie, 2017

It seems particularly appropriate to share quotes about food for this challenge as I was invited to take part by Ju-Lyn at Sunrise, Sunset, who says of herself:

It is no surprise that I find myself obsessed with food – after all, I am a Singaporean. We are a people who hold animated conversations about food while we are eating, who would comb the island far & wide chasing the promise of great food!

Thank you Ju-Lyn.

In the few days since I wrote a post for the DP Photo Challenge about My Place in the World is has occurred to me that, no matter where I am, the kitchen is my place. I love my own kitchen — the part of our house renovation I am most proud of — and I happily commandeer friends’ and family members’ kitchens when I visit. Even on holiday, I crave the chance to cook at least one meal — using whatever is to hand.

So I guess there is need for a second quote today:

“The kitchen is a sacred space.” — Marc Forgione

The Three Day Quote Challenge works like this:

1) Thank the person who nominated you
2) Post a quote for 3 consecutive days ( 1 post each day )
3) Nominate 3 bloggers each day

If you haven’t already been invited to join this,  and would like to — please do.

I for one am happy to read all the extra words of wisdom (or fun) that are sent my way.

DP Photo Challenge: growth, take 2

Flour, water, salt and time, plus a bit more time and heat. Close up shot of wholemeal sourdough loaf, still in baking pan. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

Flour, water, salt, time and heat. Just-baked loaf of wholemeal sourdough bread. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

The Daily Post asked this week for photos that evoke growth.

For me, sourdough bread is perhaps one of the purest examples of how natural growth processes can be utilised to create something sustaining and delicious.

Flour and water are combined, and left as a food offering to the yeasts and bacteria that exist all around us. Over time, and with extra food, this mixture grows sufficiently in bulk and strength that with the addition of yet more flour and water, the resultant dough can be kneaded and proved and ultimately baked.

Flour, water, salt and time: the beginnings of a sourdough loaf. Bowl containing ball of proving sourdough. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

Flour, water, salt and time: the beginnings of a sourdough loaf. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

Learning to bake sourdough bread has been one of my projects for the last couple of years. With every completed loaf, my knowledge and confidence also grows.

 

 

Rosemary and feta scones (a recipe)

Close up shot of rosemary and feta scones. Image: Su Leslie, 2107

Rosemary and feta scones. Image: Su Leslie, 2017

Ingredients (makes six large scones)

300g self-raising flour*

Good pinch sea-salt

50g very cold butter

220-260ml cold milk

100g crumbled feta cheese

Good handful (or about two tablespoons) roughly chopped fresh rosemary. If you’re using dried herbs, about 1-2 teaspoons.

* You can use plain flour and add 1.5 teaspoons of baking powder. Make sure it’s not bread flour, which has more gluten and the scones won’t rise as well.

Process

Pre-heat oven to 220°C.

Sift flour into a bowl; add salt. Cut in the butter until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir through rosemary and feta.  Add enough milk to form a soft dough. Don’t over-mix.

Tip onto lightly floured baking tray and knead gently a couple of times. Roll or press dough until it is about 2cm thick.

I kept the dough in a round, and cut into 6 wedges, but you could use a cookie cutter for more traditional round scones.

The dough doesn’t spread much so you can bake them close together on the tray.

Bake for about 10 minutes, or until golden. Remove from oven and cool on a wire tray (just long enough that they’re not too hot to handle).

Some additional thoughts

The basic scone recipe I used comes from the Edmonds Cookery Book. It’s a kind of bible of traditional Kiwi food, and I’d wager that most of the home-baked scones consumed here have their origin in an Edmonds’ recipe.

When I looked for alternative recipes, I found some that add extra baking powder to self-raising flour and some that use  baking soda and cream of tartar as separate ingredients. I found recipes that use buttermilk or yogurt, some with a mix of butter and lard as shortening, and even some that included eggs.

I’m intrigued by these variations and will probably experiment — with different leavening agents at least. I don’t think I’ll try adding lard though, and as for eggs? Doesn’t that just turn the mixture into muffins?

Do you have a favourite scone recipe? Baking powder, or baking soda and buttermilk? Butter or lard? Do you add eggs?

I’d love to know how these variations work. And of course, what extra ingredients do you add?

Delish of the day

Close-up shot of roasted golden beetroot and feta salad on duck-egg blue plate. Image: Su Leslie, 2017

Roasted golden beetroot and feta salad. Image: Su Leslie, 2017

Following last week’s #regularrandom post (Five Minutes with Three Good Things), here’s a shot of the finished dish.

Because the golden beetroot don’t bleed like the red variety, I was able to peel and chop these for roasting. That meant they got a little bit caramelised; and picked up the flavours of garlic and rosemary which I’d added to the roasting dish.

With quite a lot going on taste-wise in the beetroot themselves, I kept the dish simple with just a few salad leaves, some crumbled feta and a bit of balsamic dressing.

The verdict: pretty tasty. But given how long the beetroot took to roast (about 35 minutes — and they were small pieces), I’d probably only do this again in a vastly scaled-up form — for a summer lunch party maybe.