One thing I miss about Australia is easy access to fresh, aromatic and cheap Southeast Asian food. I have cravings for a steaming bowl of rare beef Pho topped with fragrant Vietnamese mint, a squeeze of lemon and a squirt of chilli sauce that’s so hot it makes my nose run. Or a big mound of Pad Thai noodles piled with crushed peanuts, spring onions, fresh bean sprouts and herbs.
Although I miss my local Thai take-away, you will not find me complaining about the plethora of fantastic and cheap Mexican restaurants nearby in Brooklyn (that deliver!). I have happily swapped Southeast Asia for Mexico when in need of a I-can’t-be-bothered-cooking Thursday night meal. But this week I wanted a simple taste of Asia. And I had a picnic to cater, so a noodle salad was made. Continue reading →
Every family has a salad that is trotted out at all gatherings. It may be a favourite, or maybe someone thought it was a favourite and it’s been on the menu ever since, even though no one really likes it that much. It’s a dish that has become such a stalwart of the family table that it feels like a relative is missing if it’s not served.
The family I married into loves a good BBQ and will serve, without fail, a pyrex bowl (the same bowl, always) of sliced tomato and onion in a pool of brown vinegar. At my grandparents’ house you could rely on a simple plate of tinned, sliced beetroot. Grandma would decant the tin of crimson brine and rounds of beets into a jar with a pink lid, and it would sit in the fridge, ready for any meal that required a “salad”.
It wasn’t until I was well into my 20s that I ate beetroot any other way. Cooking it can be intimidating, as it has a habit of bleeding over everything. But roasting beetroot is simple, practically mess-free, and leaves you with a bunch of dense, sweet, earthy goodness to work with. If you’re roasting or baking something else, throw some beetroots in the oven too, and you’ll have something interesting to base meals around for a few days.
On a late-summer evening many years ago, I followed my Lonely Planet guidebook down a tiny street in Nice, France to find somewhere to eat socca, a traditional chickpea pizza served on the shores of the Mediterranean. The street was lit by the warm light of a restaurant that vibrated with the happy noises of people enjoying excellent food. I joined them, and was promptly served a chilled glass of rosé and a large plate holding a pancake-like base topped with glossy tomatoes and olives.
It was my first taste of the earthy, peppery socca, and it was not my last. I returned to that restaurant the next night and on other trips and have since started making socca at home. I can’t replicate the soft mediterranean sun or the atmosphere of the old town, but this recipe is almost fool-proof and definitely brings a little bit of Nice into my kitchen. Continue reading →
The deli counter is my favourite part of a market. The pungent smell of cured meats and cheeses lures me in so that my eyes, and inevitably my belly, can feast on the array of briny, salty treats behind the glass. The thick cured sausages hanging overhead next to strings of menacing looking chillies beckon to me, inviting me to order more than I need as I reach for a taste of cheese on the counter. Tins of things dressed in bright Italian labels line the shelves next to more types of mustard than I thought possible. Buying a large wheel of parmesan or a whole leg of prosciutto seems like a perfectly reasonable option as I stand there, trying to decide what cured goodness I will take home with me.
Whatever I bring home doesn’t last long. As those parcels are unwrapped their contents usually go straight on a board, surrounded by jars of pickled things, fruits and whatever takes my fancy from the pantry. It’s Saturday lunch. The best kind. It’s the sort of lunch that encourages lingering, flicking through the weekend papers and drinking a cheeky glass of cold beer. There are no rules to a Saturday lunch, but a good charcuterie plate does have some variation. So here’s a rough guide to a well-balanced plate of meat that is also a simple, no-fuss dinner party appetiser.
I aspire to country-style hospitality, where there’s always a cake cooling on the table and a pot of tea on the boil for visitors who “pop in”.
But modern, city life doesn’t seem conducive to the well-catered pop-in. It’s more likely that I’ll have rubbery carrots lingering in the crisper and a half-eaten bag of corn chips on-hand for visitors instead of a freshly-baked cake. And who’s stopping by unexpectedly anyway? Life is so busy in this city I have to schedule time with friends two weeks in advance. So even if I did make a cake, I’d be waiting hopefully for the door to buzz as I picked at the edges of the crust, finally giving in to a generous slice, or three, because no friends “happened to be in the neighbourhood”.
In an effort to hold on to my romantic notion of warm cakes and fresh tea, I baked for an unexpected afternoon treat. Last weekend I had family in town and they spent their days crossing the sights of NYC off their to-see list, which can be exhausting work. I thought a little afternoon tea would soothe their weary tourist bodies.
A well worn cookbook is a map of taste. Flip through the pages and you’ll find the spine naturally giving way at favourite dishes, the recipes marked with notes or greasy fingers. It reveals the cooking history of it’s owner and holds memories in those oil splattered pages of shared meals and good times.
One of my most worn cookbooks is Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros. It is a rich and colourful memoir that traverses the globe from Finland to South Africa via the Mediterranean to capture Kiros’ family recipes. If you let the pages of my copy fall open, they will land at Greece, and you’ll find the recipe for a chickpea salad.
This is a most satisfying salad. The chickpeas make it almost a meal in itself and the feta coats everything to make a salty, creamy dressing that comes to life with the citrus and herbs.
Last week I asked what you put on toast when you’re feeling a bit homesick and in need of a taste of home. I was a bit nervous asking, feeling like I may be throwing a party that no one turns up to. But the idea of Homesick Toast resonated and I was very excited to receive toast stories from all over the world!
Seeing these submissions reminded me of how evocative food can be. A simple piece of toast can bring forth memories of childhood, friends and family. It can conjure up a sense of place and belonging, or transport you back to a particular time.
If you put a slice of fresh bread slathered in butter and honey in front of me, I can recall, in great detail, the familiar chaos of family gatherings at my Grandparents’ house when I was a kid. I remember leaning against the cool laminate of the bench, feeling wet bathers against my skin as I watched Grandma slice up a baguette, preparing a quick post-swim snack for my cousins and I. Curiously these details are fresher than the memory of a subway ride I took yesterday.
The Homesick Toasts below trigger similarly vivid memories for their creators. Read on and be transported vicariously.
Last week I escaped the sticky, dirty heat of New York City for a few days and reintroduced myself to fresh air, stars and the ocean in Montauk.
Life slows down at the beach. The fussy details of living seem less important. I read more, sleep more and spend less time worrying. I also eat more. Especially when there’s a buffet breakfast on offer. A simple buffet of high-quality ingredients prepared and presented with thought is a lovely way to start a day. And that’s what I had in Montauk.
When I wandered in to the dining room on my first morning at the beach I found a large table spread with local produce. Hard-boiled eggs nestled next to a basket of freshly-made croissants. Home-made jam and marmalade were on offer as well as freshly pressed coffee and juice. All delightful. But the centerpiece of the spread was an elegant granola. Breakfast cereal is rarely described as elegant, but this mix of lightly toasted oats, shreds of white coconut and toasted black sesame seeds was eye-catching in it’s simplicity. And it was delicious.
Now I’m back in the city, staring out the window at bricks and steel instead of lapping waves. To retain some of my holiday glow, I’ve recreated the granola from Montauk. Each morning it reminds me to have a little moment of slower, beach-style living.
The first ears of corn appeared in the green market last weekend, nudging strawberries and peas out of their starring roles and sending them back to the chorus. Corn at the market heralds the arrival of Summer, which means the city is gearing up for Fourth of July celebrations.
Fireworks will rise and explode over the Hudson, basking New York City in a red, white and blue glow. We’ll all stand around a grill, hot dog in hand, celebrating America, and the bar-be-que season (or ‘barbie’, if you’re speaking Australian).
Every grilling feast requires side dishes to provide levity to the charcoaled meat. When I saw corn in the market this week, I immediately craved a cob lathered in mayonnaise and cheese with a squeeze of fresh lime and a dusting of chili. But this can be rather difficult to eat while juggling a paper plate and glass of wine at a party. So here’s a spin on Elote, Mexican corn on the cob, ready for elegant consumption at July 4th celebrations.
This recipe uses roasted corn kernels. Although nature packaged corn perfectly for eating with our hands, taking the kernels off the cob and roasting them is worthwhile. It brings out the natural sweetness of the corn by removing excess moisture during cooking, which results in beautifully caramelized, golden and flavorful kernels with a bit of crunch.