Thursday, June 24, 2010

Julia Gillard and polenta chips

As I watched the ABC News on the dumping of  Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for Julia Gillard last night, I was madly stirring polenta in a saucepan on the stove. As we were out of potatoes to accompany the steak, I had a brainwave to make polenta chips. Well, it was a good idea but the thing about polenta is that the cooking of it takes serious commitment. As Stephanie Alexander says on page 347 of her wonderful book, The Cook's Companion: "To make polenta the traditional way you will need a large, heavy saucepan - and patience. Not only patience to stir the mixture, but patience to clean the saucepan."

So while I listened to Julia's impressive speech and shed a tear with Kevin over his sudden dumping, I stirred and stirred my one cup of yellow polenta into the four cups of boiling water. The idea is to keep stirring until the wooden spoon stands up on its own accord in the mix. After 20 minutes my wooden spoon was still a bit like the leaning tower of Pisa, but I decided that was enough. I added more than a half a cup of grated parmesan cheese, chopped fresh rosemary and two large dollops of margarine (it was meant to be butter) and called it a day with the stirring.

By this stage the news had left Julia and Kevin and was on to the World Cup. I spooned the polenta mix out onto a tray to cool. After about 10 minutes or so I cut it into strips with a wet knife (as Stephanie Alexander advised) and basted with olive oil and laid in a baking dish. I popped the dish in the oven for about 20 minutes at about 200 degrees C. Towards the end I turned the oven on to grill to crisp things up. While they ended up looking more like Fish Fingers than chips, or wedges rather than fries - my parmesan, rosemary polenta chips were a nice change to potatoes or rice on the day Australia had its first woman Prime Minister.

For everything you need to know about cooking polenta - a gluten-free Northern Italian speciality - go to page 347 of Stephanie Alexander's book, The Cook's Companion, the complete book of ingredients and recipes for the Australian kitchen.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Delicious dining in Darlinghurst

On Saturday we continued on our art trail of Sydney's galleries in search of a "wedding present" to buy. While we'd love to find something, we are enjoying discovering bohemian parts of Sydney, viewing the diverse range of work, and finding coeliac-friendly cafes like the Forbes and Burton in Darlinghurst.

Our first stop on Saturday was inner-city Chippendale where we saw some very interesting artwork including pieces by Lizzie Buckmaster Dove at the NG Art Gallery and contemporary Chinese art at the White Rabbit Gallery. From there we moved on to Surry Hills/Darlinghurst viewing Caz Haswell's work on wood and tapestry at the Flinders Street Gallery and Matt Bromhead's drawings, sculptures and wall assemblages at the next-door Rex- Livingston Art Dealer. Our final two art-stops were the Robin Gibson Gallery in Liverpool Street and the National Art School Gallery in Forbes Street. 

By this stage we were a bit hungry so we we dropped into the Forbes and Burton, opposite the National Art School.  To my delight there were a number of items marked with GF including a potato cake under poached eggs with oak-smoked salmon and a pash of onion jam, which I chose. This cool but very relaxed cafe is a mixture of old, new and exotic with splashes of bright pink glass and a large New Guinean (I think) wall hanging contrasting with the building's old, sandstone walls. The sounds of Roy Orbison added to the easy-going, mellow ambience and to the delicious food.

Other gluten-free options included grilled chicken nicoise, kipflers, red onions, beans, tomatoes, olives and boiled eggs, salad of roasted baby beetroot, tomato, basil and buffalo mozzarella topped with hazelnuts, and bubble and squeak with grilled bacon, fried eggs, homemade brown sauce. Open in the evenings as well, on Sundays diners can enjoy a range of roasts. We'll be back.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A gluten-free 12th birthday cake

At my niece's 12th birthday barbeque on Sunday I was able to eat the birthday cake as it was gluten-free. The  flourless chocolate fondant cake with rich ganache cream icing came from Croquembouche Patisserrie at Banksmeadow next door to Botany. As Eimear announced when the cake was being cut up, it may look small but it's very rich so you don't need big slices. I enjoyed a piece of the cake with Sara Lee's gluten-free French vanilla ice cream. The only other gluten-free cake made at Croquembouche is an orange and almond cake.

We had a delicious dinner prepared by my brother and sister-in-law to celebrate their eldest daughter's birthday. As well as salad, steak and potatoes, other gluten-free options included Lenard's gluten-free sausages and gluten-free tandoori chicken. My nieces also introduced me to a new brand of gluten-free chips called Piranha Potato Grills. Happy birthday Eimear.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Art and about in Danks Street

A number of our friends gave us some money to buy an artwork for a wedding present so yesterday we headed out to a few galleries. First port of call was the Danks Street precinct in Sydney's Waterloo where there are a number of galleries mostly in the same building.

We saw some very interesting and varied work from artists such as Wendy Teakel, whose paintings and sculptures are inspired by farming and the land. There were works on paper by Gary Shinfield, moody skyscapes from Anita Hochman, indigenous art from Western Australia, South Australia and NT, and intense, dot-like paintings in fluorescent colours from the recently deceased Kuno Gonschior

The Danks Street area is pretty cool with lots of groovy housey shops, cafes and galleries. It's also a very eclectic area of Housing Commission tower blocks, renovated warehouses, a branch of the Hillsong "happy clappy" church, long-time working class residents, students, gays and hip young couples, some with beautiful babies. After an hour or so of observing the artwork it was time for coffee, and if I was lucky some gluten-free cake. 

As most of the cafes in Danks Street were overflowing with people we decided to go to Patisse, which is in the GO1 pyd building where all the galleries are on the corner of Young and Phillip Streets. Patisse was created to bring the baking style and traditions of Paris to Sydney. After having a quick scan of their cakes I nearly left as nothing was labelled gluten-free. But then a friendly staff member called Mike intervened. "What can I get for you,"' he said. "Oh nothing for me I'm gluten-free," I replied. "We have lots of gluten-free things," said Mike. "Strawberry success cake, pistachio and olive cake, all our meringues (which looked pretty spectacular) and our macaroons."

After making our selections we found a sunny spot by one of the cafe's large open bi-fold windows. Bruce had the strawberry succcess cake, which was to die for. It was very moist, full of fresh strawberries and coconuty. "Mine's better than your's," said Bruce. And he was right but my pistachio and olive cake was also delicious. The coffee was good with our only complaint it could have been a bit hotter. My Dad always used to specify, "make it hot"' when he ordered his coffee.

Our experience at Patisse didn't end there as Mike said if we felt like more we were most welcome to take a macaroon from the tree of macaroons. So we finished off with a sweet, melt-in-your mouth macaroon. If you are wanting more than cake, Patisse has lots of other options including all-day breakfasts with omelettes and fruit salads gluten-free. They also have a variety of salads including English spinach and goats cheese with pear and walnut, ocean trout nicoise, warm kifler potatoes with chorizo (you would have to check if gluten-free) and poached eggs and the soup of the day was potato, leek and parsnip. For those non-gluten-free people there's lots of other delicious pastry options too.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Wet weather dining at home

With the weather in Sydney very wet, we didn't head out to any gluten-free restaurants this week. Instead we tried a few new recipes and some old favourites at home. The chapter I was up to in Michelle Maisto's book The Gastronomy of Marriage coincided with the food we ate.  In Chapter 14 'Risotto, Frittata, Fried Rice', Michelle says she turns to these dishes when she has to create something from nearly nothing. Risotto and fried rice were on our menu these past few days with the fried rice made from whatever was in the fridge.  I have to acknowledge Bruce's influence in making the fried rice. He hates wasting food and suggested using all the leftover vegies and herbs for fried rice. Before Bruce, I probably would have made a frittata with the ingredients in the fridge but would have steered clear of fried rice due to the lack of a few key items such as red or green pepper. So here's what was in it: chopped shallots, zucchini and coriander, baby spinach leaves, 3 eggs whisked, cooked and chopped, bacon, lots of ground pepper, Tamari soy sauce and unsalted peanuts.

The finished product was very tasty and with the addition of the coriander at the end was very aromatic.  Bacon can be problematic for coeliacs with dextrose from wheat in some brands. As a consequence I often spend quite a lot of time reading the ingredients on the brands at the supermarket. But recently I discovered KR Castlemaine Bacon, which is thin and crispy, has no artificial colours or flavours and has a big gluten-free sign on the packet. So it's become my brand of choice and was one of the ingredients in the delicious fried rice.
Lemon and leek risotto
Earlier in the week I made Phil Vickery's lemon and leek risotto from his book, Seriously Good! Gluten-free Cooking. Probably not a good one for the waistline but it was very tasty and flavoursome, if a bit rich. It didn't take long to make although as with all risottos you have to spend a bit of time at the stove stirring the rice. We had enough left over for the next night and it tasted just as good. Phil Vickery says the secret to risotto is not to overcook the rice, and to keep it nice and soupy. Here is his recipe:

Ingredients: 6 tablespoons olive oil, 1 small onion (finely chopped), 2 garlic cloves (finely chopped), 1 small leek, (very finely shredded - I nearly shredded my thumb doing this - so not having a good shredder I just chopped it up and it was still nice in the dish), 300g arborio rice, 100ml white wine, 1x10g gluten-free vegetable stock cube (Massell is good and gluten-free), 600ml boiling water, 150g Parmesan cheese (grated), 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, zest of 1 lemon, shredded into long pieces, 25g unsalted butter (I left this out), salt and freshly ground black pepper, grated Parmesan cheese to serve.

Method: Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a small, shallow pan, add the onion and garlic and cook for 10 minutes to soften. (Note here - Phil says to use a small, shallow pan but as later on all the ingredients have to be added, you need a pan big enough to fit everything and to cook the rice. So I ditched Phil's advice here and used our new medium- large scanpan). Heat the remaining oil in a separate medium-sized plan (I used a smallish one for this), and add the leek. Season well with salt and pepper (I only used pepper). Cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring all the time, until cooked, but not overcooked. Then pop into a colander to drain well. Add the rice to the shallow pan and coat well in the oil, then add the white wine and reduce until almost evaporated. Crumble the stock cube over the rice, and then gradually add the boiling water a little at a time (I accidently added it all at once but it was okay), stirring constantly. Add enough water until the rice is cooked (12-15 minutes), not overcooked, nice and soupy. Taste the rice and season well. Once you are happy with the base, add the cheese, cooked leek, lemon zest, basil and butter. Cover and leave for 5 minutes. Add a little boiling water if the consistency is too thick. Serve in deep bowls with extra Parmesan cheese. Delicious!

Potato soup with sausage and spinach

The other choice for the week was a recipe I have been making for a number of years. I am a big fan of soup especially in winter and as I work from home it's great having something ready to warm up for lunch. From The Australian Women Weekly 1994 Potato Cookbook, Potato Soup with Sausage and Spinach is a very hearty dish for the colder months. When I first started making this soup I used to substitute bacon for the sausage as gluten-free chorizo was hard to find. It's not anymore with a number of butchers and companies making gluten-free chorizo and other sausages including AC Butchery in Leichhardt. This time I used The Peppercorn Food Company's Extra Lean beef chipolata with fresh Asian herbs and spices, which were very tasty. The best gluten-free stock is the Massel brand. Here is the recipe:

Ingredients: 200g chorizo sausage, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 large (200g) red Spanish onion (chopped), 2 cloves of garlic (crushed), 5 medium potatoes (peeled and cut into 2cm cubes), 1.5 litres of chicken stock, 1 bunch (650g) English spinach (shredded - I just chopped up).
Method: Cut sausages into 5cm strips, cook in dry pan until browned, drain on absorbent paper. Heat oil in plan, add onion and garlic, cook, stirring until onion is soft. Cut potatoes into 2cm cubes, add potatoes and stock to onion mixture, simmer, uncovered, until potatoes are tender. Add spinach, stir over heat until spinach is wilted. Add sausage, stir until hot. Serves 6.