With the lead up to the release of my book, I’m preparing my brain for a world that is a bit of stranger to me – the media. Amongst the anxiety of it all, I found myself having to answer interview questions for an upcoming magazine article (cute!). True to my nature I put a fair bit of thought and time into the interview, for the fear of being misunderstood is quite the motivator for me.
Anyway, the questions were great, and fairly easy to answer, but one in particular had me stumped – “what are some of your favourite moments sharing and preparing food for your friends?”. It should have been easy, cooking for my family and friends has been a major part of my life for a really long time. But every memory that filled my brain was when others had cooked for me! It got me thinking, how powerful food can be. How the simple gesture of preparing food for somebody can have a lasting impact. Sure, it’s delicious, but beyond that it really demonstrates that you care for someone, that they are in your thoughts. Little things like inviting friends over for dinner, dropping a cake around to cheer someone up, or a batch of veggie lasagne when a mate is feeling snowed under. I have done this numerous times, but luckily for me have been on receiving end too. And believe me, these are the memories that stay.
Mini Strawberry Galettes
for the dough
1 ⅓cups plain flour
1 Tbsp sugar
½teaspoon sea salt
120g butter, cut into big pieces
2teaspoons lemon juice
for the filling
500g fresh strawberries
½cup caster sugar
pinch of salt
3 Tbsp cornstarch
double cream, to serve
Place all the dough ingredients except for the egg into a food processor with a steel blade. Pulse until the mixture resembles very coarse wet sand. Add the egg and pulse again, just until the mixture binds together. You might need to add a tablespoon of water if the mixture is looking a bit dry. Remove, flatten into a disk shape and wrap in cling film. Leave in the fridge to rest for 2 hours (or up to 3 days).
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C.
Hull strawberries and cut into halves or quarters if large. Place them into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar, salt, and cornstarch and toss together with your hands.
Remove pastry from fridge and divide into 6 balls. Roll each of these balls into a flat disk and place on 2 baking trays lined with baking paper.
Divide strawberry mixture into 6 piles in the centre of each party round. Fold the pastry up and crimp together to hold. These are supposed to be pretty rustic so no need to be a perfectionist about it.
Place in the oven to bake for 25 minutes, or until pastry is golden.
Remove and cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature with giant dollops of double cream.
Well, I had another birthday. And because I am luckiest kid on the planet with a plethora of excellent humans in my life, it turned into a whole week of celebrations. At one point I was made to do 37 laps of my friend’s house, one for each year, and announce to the guests where I was and what I was doing for each year of my life. It was crazy, but this exercise of self reflection really highlighted just how intense the last couple of years have been for me. In particular, 36. It was full of extremes – the highest highs and in contrast the lowest of all lows. I got a publishing deal and finished a book, I bought a skateboard and learnt how to fill my days doing something that makes me very smiley. I changed my career, which also changed how I felt about everyday life. Unfortunately however, my dad passed away. It was the complete undoing of my very being, but in turn forced me to face a heap of shit. Shit that I didn’t realise had wrapped itself around the foundations of my character. I said goodbye to it for good.
Whilst my dad’s death is still the most difficult thing I have ever experienced, I could never have imagined that something positive could come from something so painful. Sounds like a stupid and tired cliche but I guess cliches are a thing for a reason, they are common. Through all this turbulence and elation I also met many wonderful people. I forged new friendships and strengthened existing bonds with my family and close friends. One of said new lovely friends came over to my house for dinner, and I made ricotta gnocchi (gnudi). It is my go-to dish when I am trying to impress somebody.
It may have even worked.
Serves 4 – 6
1kg fresh ricotta (not the pre packaged one it’s too wet)
220 g plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for rolling
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup parmesan, finely grated, plus extra to serve
Add all the ingredients to a large bowl and mix gently with your hands until properly combined. Divide the dough into 8 portions, then lightly flour your hands and your work surface (the less flour, the better!).
Roll each portion into a sausage, about 1½–2 cm thick, and line them up together.
Cut the sausages into 2 cm (¾ in) rounds with a nice sharp knife. Set aside.
Put a large pot of water on the stovetop and bring to the boil. To cook the gnocchi, drop the little pillows into the boiling water. When they are ready they will float to the surface – this will only take a minute, or even less. Remove with a slotted spoon once they are ready and set aside.
Toss the gnocchi through your favourite sauce. As mentioned above I made a simple tomato + basil sauce but pesto is also really good. Remember, simple is best!
It is the weirdest thing, going from out of control insane-in-the-membrane busy, to one day just completing all your projects at once. I have had so much going on over the last few years that I suppose I just got used to the mayhem. And perhaps it went it bit beyond just getting used to it, I actually think I may have liked it. I realise now that my brain thrives under pressure, and has gotten quite good at prioritising. Suddenly I have JUST FINISHED WRITING A COOKBOOK (holy moly!) and seem to have all this spare time on my hands. It’s as if my brain is a house, and now it kinda feels like I’ve had 3 housemates move out of my brain and now I have all these spare rooms and not much furniture left. And whilst the housemates may have been annoying at times, and I may have complained about them and constantly yearned to live alone, now that they have gone I realise how great the house actually was. Even though it was busy, loud, and messy, there was always something happening. When the sun is shining I’m out on my skateboard trying to land new tricks, whilst trying not to die. So the backyard in my brain-house is my favourite place. But what about night time? And wet weather? Maybe I need to embark on some new crazy all consuming project, as all these empty rooms are really starting to freak me out. Basically my brain is advertising for new housemates.
Polenta Chips + Sriracha mayo
Serves 4 – 6 as a side
1 cup polenta
1 litre vegetable stock
1/2 grated parmesan
2 Tbs butter
olive oil for shallow frying
2 Tbsp Sriracha (or to taste)
1/3 cup mayo
Prepare the polenta by placing vegetable stock in a saucepan and bring to the boil over medium heat. Gradually pour in the polenta meal with one hand, and whisking steadily with the other. Turn the heat down to low and simmer the polenta for 12 – 15 minutes or until cooked, stirring consistently.
Stir through the butter and the parmesan, and a pinch of salt.
Line a square cake tin or roasting dish (mine is 26 X 26cm) with baking paper and pour in the polenta. Spread evenly using the back of the spoon and place in fridge to set for at least 4 hours.
Once set, cut the polenta into chips, about 1cm X 6cm. Heat a good splash of olive oil in a large sturdy frying pan and add some polenta chips – I cooked mine in batches. Fry on each side over a medium heat until golden, add a sprinkle of salt as you go. Remove and drain on paper towel and repeat until all are cooked.
Make the sriracha mayo by stirring the sriracha into the mayo until combined.
It is quite surreal to be typing up the announcement that accompanies this recipe. Eat This My Friend is soon to be in print. A hold-it-in-your-hands type of actual real life book. And whilst I am incredibly excited, it kinda also seems too good to be true. So much so that sometimes I am wonder when I am going to wake up from this awesome dream? Besides, I was always under the impression that cool amazing things like this didn’t happen to me. They only happen to other people. Lucky people. But now I have learnt that indeed I had it all wrong. All of those who I considered to be lucky, not only worked incredibly hard, but also took an enormous risk. They made themselves completely vulnerable to rejection. They had enough resilience and passion to keep persevering despite the setbacks they might encounter along the way. And somehow, through all of the peaks and troughs I became one of those people. It didn’t matter to me what other people thought of my book because I really loved it. Publishing deal or not.
I embarked on this project eight years ago, and never could have imagined that it would evolve into what it is today. I love flicking through the pages, through all the recipes and illustrations, as it is so much like a visual journal for me. I remember where I was and what I was doing for each and every drawing. And I can really see my style develop and become more refined over the years. It is kind of a reflection of how much I have grown as a person I guess, slowly but steadily improving at this whole life business.
The book is due for release in February through Hardie Grant. Tonight I am working on the front cover. Stay tuned for details (:
Carrot Cake Pancakes with Whipped Maple Butter
2 large carrots
1 cup plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup raw caster sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger powder
1 cup buttermilk
2 Tbsp oil
1/4 cup sultanas
1/4 cup chopped pecans
butter, for frying
whipped maple butter
125g salted butter, chopped
40ml maple syrup
1/2 tsp cinnamon
To make your pancake batter start by grating your carrots, but not too coarsely, you don’t want the pancakes to be crunchy. Set aside.
Next add your dry ingredients to a large mixing bowl and whisk them gently until combined. Add the egg, buttermilk and oil, and beat them well with an electric mixer or handheld beaters for a minute or two, until the batter is smooth.
Add the carrots, sultanas, and pecans and beat again for a minute or until mixture is thoroughly combined.
Heat a large pan over medium heat and add a decent knob of butter. Once melted, add a few spoonfuls of batter – i made mine about 8cm in diameter. Fry on one size until you notice little bubble form on the top. Flip over with a spatula and fry on other size until golden and cooked through. Set cooked pancakes aside on a wire rack and repeat process until the batter is finished.
Make the whipped maple butter by beating the butter with an electric mixer until pale. Add cinnamon and maple and beat again until combined.
Serve the pancakes warm or room temp with a generous smearing of the whipped maple butter.
I have only recently come to terms with the notion of ‘less is more’. This was no easy change for me. I have always been a person disposed to the overuse of exclamation marks, hoarding possessions, saying too much, and generally overdoing everything. To address this inclination, I try to remind myself of the beauty of simplicity, with food. Exceptional food need not be complex. In fact the most memorable meals for me are almost always the humble ones. And somehow it is the simplicity that makes it exceptional. Lately I have been relating this kind of understanding to the other areas in my life. Like a little mantra – Make it beautiful, make it simple. Just like this tart.
Caramelised Onion & Cheddar Tart with a Polenta Crust
For the pastry
115g (4 oz) plain flour
115g (4 oz) polenta
115g (4 oz) butter, plus extra butter for greasing
pinch of salt
1 Tbsp iced water
For the filling
5 brown onions
¼ cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
¼ cup natural yoghurt
1/3 cup cheddar cheese (cut into little cubes)
Start by making the pastry. Place all the pastry ingredients, except the egg and water, into a food processor. Pulse until the butter is combined. Add egg and iced water and pulse again until the mix comes together. Turn out onto a lightly floured bench and knead for a minute. Form the dough into a ball and cover with cling film. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Next caramelise the onions. Peel and cut them in half, then slice them into half moons, about 4mm (1/6 inch) thick. Place them into a large heavy based pan with the olive oil and salt. Make sure the heat is low – I mean as low as you can possibly get without the gas going out. Give them a stir and let them go for an hour or so. Keep your eye on them and stir every now and then. You don’t want them crispy. When they are dark golden brown, remove from the heat and leave to cool.
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C (390 degrees F).
After the pastry has rested, remove from the fridge and roll out both sides till you have a circular shape about 4mm (1/6th inch) thick, and wide enough to fit in a large flan tin. Grease a flan tin very well with butter, and lay the pastry over the top. Press the sides in with your fingers, then run the rolling pin over the top of the tin to trim off any excess – keep the left over pastry in case you need to patch up any holes. Blind bake by placing a sheet of baking paper over the top and filling it with dried beans. Place in the oven to bake for about 20 minutes.
Fill the empty tart shell with the caramelised onion.
Whisk together the eggs, yoghurt, and a big pinch of salt. Carefully pour this mixture over the onions, and use a wooden spoon to spread the onion and egg mix evenly. Scatter the cheese over the top and return this to the oven.
Bake for about 15 minutes or until set in the center. Cool on a wire rack and serve hot, warm, or cold.
* This post was first published over on the Lunch Lady website as I am sometimes lucky enough to be a contributor. You can check that out here
I now realise, after all this time, that there seems to be a trend in my life. That being a set of opposite extremes that run parallel with each other. In other words, for every horrendous loss there seems to be an exciting new gain. For each tear I shed in distress there is another one that cried for joy. It makes me feel quite scatty. It makes me feel a little bit cray. One minute I am smiling so wide that feel like my face might actually explode, and the next I have my head buried on my mother’s shoulder.But today I was thinking, perhaps these really exciting things in my life are like gifts from the universe, so I don’t completely lose my shizzle when the bad times hit? You know, so it doesn’t feel like absolutely everything is terrible. Just some things. And that thought alone might actually be enough to scrape through.
Anyway if you were wondering why I had gone AWOL, that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been winning and losing at the same time. Crying and laughing. And skating.
Sarah’s Basic Hummus
This recipe is from my dear friend Sarah who is often there through all the laughing and crying. I realise that there are a million and one ways to make hummus but this one, in my opinion, is perfect. Sarah’s advice is to source good quality dried chickpeas, blend while the ingredients are all still warm, and to use way more tahini than usual. She also recommends using a fair amount of hot water to lighten the mixture. The end result is lightest fluffiest hummus that is also ridiculously flavoursome. It is worth the ‘hassle’ of having to soak chickpeas over night. This makes enough hummus to feed the whole neighbourhood. Halve the amounts if you want to make a smaller batch.
250g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
3/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup olive oil
juice from 1 lemon
few big pinches of salt
hot water for desired consistency (I think I ended up using about 1 cup)
Place the rinsed drained chickpeas in a pot with plenty of fresh water.
Bring to the boil and lower heat. Simmer for about 40 mins or until chickpeas are cooked through completely. This will vary batch to batch.
Drain the chickpeas and place in mixing bowl with the rest of the ingredients, minus the hot water.
Using an immersion blender blend the mixture until smooth. Gradually add the water and blend until you have a light fluffy texture.
This happiness can’t be pinned on a single event, or more importantly, on another person. It’s more an amalgamation of lots of little things. The things that, when you add them together, make up my life. And I guess in a way the expression is true – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. But this joy didn’t just fall out of the sky. It took lots of hard work, some dark times, and loads of support. And while it may sound ridiculous, I believe that changing those seeming insignificant things, such as concentrating on making my home a sanctuary, has had a greater impact than I could have anticipated. Not only did I create a space that made me happy to be in, but it might also be true that the very act of making changes also enkindled a more positive way of thinking. I suppose what I am trying to say is that taking responsibility for your own wellbeing is a very powerful thing.
I have mentioned a few times before, you know, how when things are going wrong in your life and it seems to spread to every other area of your life too. Well, I also believe that the reverse is true. When good things are happening, lots of good things start to happen in succession. Maybe it all started when I cleaned out the house. Or maybe it’s just because I have been spending everyday at the skate park. However it happened it is very good, and I think I have learnt something important. I am also thinking of buying a skateboard, just in case.
Baby Potatoes with Green Beans and Olives
1 kg baby potatoes
Big glug of olive oil
250g green beans
100g Ligurian olives, pitted
juice from 1 lemon
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C.
Cut potatoes in half and place in baking tray with a big pinch of salt and a big glug of olive oil. Toss to coat and roast in oven until cooked through, about 20 mins.
Meanwhile, top and tail the beans and blanch in boiling salted water for 3 mins. Drain and run with cold water to prevent them from cooking further.
When the potatoes are ready, remove from oven. Add the beans, olives, chives and lemon juice to the tray with another big pinch of salt and toss together.
Serve warm for lunch or dinner or as a side to your meal. Other herbs are a welcome addition, as are capers, or rocket. Or both.
Christmas in my family was always a bit of a non-event. They were never the type to make a big deal of it. No Christmas tree to decorate, or twinkling of pretty Christmas lights in the lounge room. No carols either. There wasn’t the anticipation of a midnight visit from Santa and his reindeers, thus there was no cookies and milk ritual. We also didn’t have your typical family gathering, or do the typical Christmas ham for lunch.
That’s not to say we didn’t celebrate. Mum bought me lots of little presents, and I would often con her into giving them to me early. And we did have a special lunch, it was just small. Although there was no ham, turkey, or prawns on the barbie, we did have our own special tradition. It was delicious, and was made all the more special because it only occurred on Christmas. It was zupetta, which is a chicken, cheese and stale bread kind of soup/bake thing, as well as my nonna’s homemade pizza. The pizza was super simple, and looking back now I guess it is more like a focaccia than a pizza. It was a thick bready base with only tomato. And that is all. I don’t know how, being so simple, but it was sublime. As the years rolled by and my grandparents grew rather old, these traditions have slowly disappeared, much like the annual passata day and the making of homemade vino. My mum attempted to carry on the Christmas zupetta tradition, however a few years later discovered she couldn’t eat gluten. Alas nobody makes it anymore, and hundreds of years worth of family tradition has stopped with us.
There is a part of me that feels a bit sad for the erosion of our family traditions. But I suppose I am as responsible as anybody else for keeping them alive. When my son was born I took a new interest in Christmas. Instead of being a day that seemed to only highlight how dysfunctional my family is, it became a day that I looked forward to more than any other. I began to build my own traditions. We bought a tree to drag out of storage on the 1st December each year. We decorate it and I take the annual photo of Clancy standing in front of it. We leave a carrot out for Rudolf and a beer for Santa. And there are piles of presents that get ripped open every Christmas morning while I still wipe sleep from my eyes. I also make a couple of raspberry + almond meringue roulades. It only happens once a year, and is extremely special. Whilst I may not be keeping alive the only real Christmas traditions from my family, I instead have created our own. One day my son will look back and have a bundle of reasons why Christmas is special. This roulade will be one of them.
Raspberry + Almond Meringue Roulade
Recipe adapted from Nigel Slater in Tender II
Serves 6 – 8
6 egg whites
280g caster sugar
1 Tbsp cornflour
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 large handful flaked almonds
300ml double cream
400g raspberries (I use a mix of fresh and frozen)
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C and line a shallow baking dish with baking paper and little bit of oil.
Whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. With the electric mixer still running, gradually add the sugar, whisking well between each addition. The trick is to make sure there are no sugar granules left before adding in the next addition.
Once completed, fold in the cornflour and vinegar.
Using a spatula, spread the meringue mix evenly onto the baking paper.
Sprinkle flaked almonds over the meringue then bake for 10 minutes. Decrease oven temperature to 180 degrees C and continue to bake for a further 10 minutes, or until lovely and golden.
Remove from oven and turn out on a fresh sheet of baking paper, almond side down. Leave to cool.
Once cool, use a spatula to spread double cream over the meringue. Evenly sprinkle the raspberries on top then begin to roll into a roulade. Turn meringue so the longest edge is at the bottom. Carefully roll, from the bottom up. Grab a small handful of sugar and sprinkle on top.
Serve straight away, or refrigerate overnight (covered) and serve the next day.
Some of you may remember the time we went on an amazing desert adventure. I made a double batch of peanut butter and choc-chip cookies to keep us occupied during the long driving stints, and my friend Marty made his incredible gingerbread cake. I remember eating this cake, straight from a tupperware container that was resting on the bonnet of the car. We were in the middle of bloody nowhere. I treasure this memory. I am pretty sure that the cake was quite a few days old by this stage, but it was still amazing. You know those cakes that improve with age somehow? I still don’t understand how that works, but this one is one of them.
Tommy, who is Marty’s son, promised me this recipe, in exchange for my cookie recipe. Well, a little more than one year later, here it is. The recipe originally comes from an old newspaper clipping, so old now that the source is unknown. But to me it is just Marty’s recipe. I have made this 3 times in the last 10 days. It is the kind of cake that is rather understated yet will simultaneously blow you away. I took it to a picnic, a birthday, and for morning tea. Marty makes it for Tommy’s lunch box (luckiest kid in town) and also for long drives into the desert. He often leaves out the icing because it can be messy. It is still awesome without the icing, but I reckon that sticky sugary fingerprints are worth it. It is a coincidence that this a very Chrisytmas-y cake. A happy coincidence nonetheless. And as I am the worst present buyer ever yet seem to know the intimate details of everyone’s taste buds, most people only receive edible gifts from me. Now that I have Marty’s recipe, everyone will be getting gingerbread cake, forever. But I can guarantee there will be no complaints.
Gingerbread Cake with Lemon Icing
This recipe makes heaps.
for the cake
200g golden syrup
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp bicarb soda
300g plain flour
1 cup icing sugar
2 – 3 Tbsp lemon juice (about 1 small lemon)
Preheat oven to 180 degrees C.
Line a large rectangular baking tray with baking paper. Mine is 23cm x 25cm
Place a large saucepan on kitchen scales, and weigh in your butter, sugar, treacle, golden syrup and the spices. Place the pot on the stovetop and heat gently, whisking regularly.
Place your milk in a measuring jug and crack your eggs in. Whisk until combined.
One the stovetop mixture has melted and is smooth, whisk in the bicarb, followed by the milk/egg mixture, then lastly the flour. Whisk the flour well, until there are no more lumps, which may take some time.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 35 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
Cool on a wire rack while you make the icing.
Whist together icing ingredients with a fork, adding the lemon juice gradually until you reach a nice but not too runny consistency. Wait until cake is cool and pour onto cake. Spread to the edges and wait until it dries before attempting to slice.
This week I was faced with, what could only be described as, one of my absolute worst nightmare type situations. I had been invited to a party – a pot-luck Thanksgiving party – and had nominated myself to be the person in charge of Pecan Pie. I was pretty excited about this. There would be delicious food, and whilst I would not know anyone other than my best mate, it would be heaps of fun. So what could possibly go wrong? Well I suppose my pie could turn out be really crap, which would be very embarrassing, especially considering my affiliation with food. That would be really awful, but certainly not a worst nightmare type situation. No, it was something far worse than terrible pie. The day before I received the news that my friend was no longer able to attend the party. Which meant, other than my vague connection with the host, I would not know anybody. And this, my friends, is my version of hell.
My immediate reaction was to cancel. There was no way I could walk into a room full of people I don’t know and possibly have a good time. My level of social anxiety was far too great for that. Even the thought of it made me feel sick to the stomach. I would contact the host and explain that I couldn’t come. He would definitely understand. I can’t go because my friend isn’t going.
But it just sounded so pathetic.
What was my alternative anyway? Sit at home, telling myself how pathetic I was because I am not capable of going to a party alone? And then cry and eat the whole pie to myself? That would only drive another nail into the social anxiety coffin. And I refused to do that. Needless to say, that did not make it any easier. I was shaking, sweating, and spent the entire drive there fighting back the urge to vomit and cry. But I went anyway. And lo and behold I had an excellent time. I even made some new friends. And the pie was not only good, it was ridiculously good. In fact it could be put into ‘world’s best’ category. And ‘world’s best’ pie is an excellent way to win friends and influence people. So here is the recipe, and here I am, hoping to get invited to more parties.