6 – 12 November 2010

It can’t be true. the moment that I have been dreading for weeks now is finally just about upon us. The final episode of Season Two of Mad Men is only 90 minutes away from being over. hell, I know I could just go out any buy the series, watch it online, or get Foxtel (or just Google it and read the synopsis on Wikipedia). However, like making a promise with myself not to read the last page of a book before I’ve even finished the first chapter (though, We Are All Made of Glue is sorely tempting me at the moment), I’ve decided to just stick it out til SBS decides to grace us with Season Three,  even though I’ve been waiting an eternity for Big Love to return to our screens – will I make it to July 2011?

There’s been a favourite TV show for every decade. In the 70s it started with Sesame Street and ended with Charlie’s Angels. In the 80s I had This Life and Northern Exposure to keep me company, and in the 90s it was  (dare I admit it) Melrose Place and then the infinitely more respectable Six Feet Under, with an onoing love affair with Survivor ever since (except this season, which I simply can’t stand – casting has strayed too obviously into the caricature territory for me). And, now it’s Mad Men. Besides it’s nuanced take on the gender wars of the time, intimately drawn female characters, fabulous clothes and even more fabulous interior design, I don’t know why it has captivated me so. Hell, yes I do; it’s all of the above, plus the fact that I thank every feminist whose come before me that life now doesn’t have to be about being either ‘a Marilyn (Monore) or a Jackie (Kennedy)’, or even a Betty, Joan or Peggy for that matter either.

So what does this have to do with meal planning anyway? Nothing really, other than that it’s been a meat-and-three-veg kind of a night so I’m feeling right at home in the 60s, and I’ve broken my ‘no-dessert-unless-there’s-company’ rule and made Nigella Lawson’s take on chocolate fondants (it involves  melting the chocolate and butter in the microwave – I lIke!) to get me through the night.

With the planning of a birthday party on the agenda this week, I’m envisaging something like this:

Saturday – leftover pumpkin, sage, fontina and penne bake. Got to clear out some room in the freezer to make room for the pastizzis, ice cream and other party supplies.

Sunday – rosemary, hazlenut oil and verjuice roast chicken, kipflers and sweet potato with sauteed asparagus and broccoli. Had planned to make chermoula chicken tagine with couscous, but what with my son being rushed to hospital with a mystery allergic reaction (a bee sting, perhaps?), spring cleaning and lots of chatting at the opening of the new local water park, then a surpsrise call from my bff in Prague, good old roast chook it was.

Monday – Thai-style chicken fried rice, using the leftover chicken and vegetables I dind’t finish up last week as we had pizza and gelato with S & N at their (very patient) local on Friday night and it was a freezer job on Saturday after a mammoth 4-hour shopping expedition, that was as fruitful as it was exhausting.

Tuesday – Bulgogi beef with steamed rice and stir-fried Asian greens. (This will become chap chae, the Korean beef and sweet potato noodle dish I love, if I manage to get hold of the right noodles between now and then.)

Wednesday – Barbecued steak with field mushrooms, mustard creme-fraiche, corn on the cob and a big green salad. Better check the weatehr forecast for that one!

Thursday – Panko-crumbed fish with Japanese-style coleslaw and potato salad.

Friday – Pasta with semi-dried cherry tomato pesto, cherry tomatoes and bocconcini.

Until next week’s dinner…


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30 October – 5 November 2010

I hate Halloween. There, I said it. Is it just me, or does anyone else out there think it’s  strange to embrace this recent phenomenon to hit the suburbs of Australia when it essentially involves encouraging children to solicit sweets from strangers? And, what I’d also like to know is, since when did the ‘treat’ part of ‘trick or treat?’ become mandatory. Personally, I’d like to see a few tricks myself. Our Norwegian neighbour thought that the kids’ had to do a trick, and then the householder should decide whether they were worthy of a treat. I like the way that man thinks.  This was in the midst of the screaming hordes of 30 + children ranging from 18 months to teens marauding up and down our street en masse in a frenzy of sugar/food colouring-induced boisterousness (well, that’s the polite word for it). It did become quite Lord-of-the Flies-esque, so when the thunderstorm hit it was my cue to bid a hasty retreat and throw together something for dinner. Seeing as I’d accompanied my daughter to a birthday party at a ‘play’ centre the previous afternoon, followed byher going to a Halloween party with her school chums (and her dad) and there was a severe bout of man flu afoot in the house, not much had been done in the way of shopping, to put it mildly. So that’s how I found myself doing my Old Mother Hubbard impersonation while my son was freaking out during the obligatory sugar-low part of the evening. Luckily, some eggs form the neighbours’ chooks appeared and there was the makings of a salad in the fridge and the lats of the container of Dijon mustard waiting to be used up, so a sor-of nicoise salad it was.

Saturday – Barbecued lamb marinated with paprika, rigan, lemon juice and olive oil, served with zucchini and haloumi fritters, cauliflower and pecorino fritters, hummus, Lebanese bread and a green salad. As mentioned earlier, between the parties filling my daughter’s dance card for the day, there was no time to try something new, other than the moreish cauliflower fritters from Rosa Mitchell’s lovely Sicilian tome, My Cousin Rosa. Try them; you’ll see what I mean.

Sunday – the aforementioned nicoise salad, along with the lefftover fritters. My son G also got stuck into the hummus and remaining Lebanese bread. I know that there are 7 loaves in a packet, one for each day of the week, but in my house, we’ve never tested that one out.

Monday – At last, some shopping was done, so it was stir-fried sticky beef with snow peas, bok choy and Shanghai noodles.

Tuesday – I feel like potatoes, so it will be gremolata-crumbed chicken with lemony roast potatoes and sweet potato,  corn on the cob and asparagus.

Wednesday – I’m flying to Melbourne for work for the day, so they’ll be having penne with the rest of last week’s pesto, with some super sweet Romatherapy baby roma tomatoes and feta tossed through (so I say, at least).

Thursday –Cauliflower, cumin and almond soup with poppadums. Simple and soothing, after what will have been a long day on Wednesday.

Friday – Chili con carne with homemade cornbread. Tonight, at any rate, it still feels like it will be cold enough for this.

Until next week’s dinner…

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Saturday 23 – Friday 29 October 2010

I had a free pass on Saturday night, well, not quite but as good as – our dear friends S and N invited us to attend a Greek dinner dance to raise funds for the grandson of S’s mother’s friend (still with me?). All of which meant that we feasted on pickled octopus, taramasalata, tzatziki, Greek salad, fried calamari, roast lamb (or, strangely, chicken with a creamy mushroom sauce?)  and unknown sweets (I’m imagining baklava, but at 10:30pm, when the sweets had yet to appear, we decided to pull the plug as our collective three-year-olds were losing the plot (which meant  that we were too). The added bonus was that none of it was cooked by me (hurrah!). Thankfully, the super-sized bread rolls that greeted us upon arrival were huge enough to keep said three-year-olds occuped for the better part of forty-five minutes, or we may have had to have left before the roast lamb made its appearance.

Sunday – Luckily, Sunday was a drizzly, cold, stay-at-home-and-bake kind of day so we could recover from the late night (for us) with the help of ABC2, without feeling like we were ‘missing out’ on a great day. It was also perfect comfort food weather, which, for me, meant a comfort food, Chinese-style, banquet of crisp skin soy sauce chicken (my mother’s recipe and mighty fine), crisp stir-fried asparagus and snow peas, gingery daikon soup (okay, I may have lost some of you with that one, but it really is the only thing I want when my throat is scratchy, preferably cooked by my mum), all with loads of steamed rice. Followed by a just-warm sour cherry, almond and lemon cake that I had been wanting to make forever and had the jar of morello cherries collecting dust in my cupboard to prove it. I must have been on a roll as I also managed to make an olive oil fruit tea bread, oh, and of course, chicken stock from the carcass.

So that was Sunday.

Monday – I picked up a beautiful piece of organic rump beef for roasting at an absolute steal, so it is currently in the oven, first having been rubbed with thyme and wholegrain mustard, with some dutch cream potatoes and baby carrots alongside. Will saute the rest of the asparagus and some broccoli with garlic and pop in a muffin tin full of yorkies to go with. Guess I’m still in the mood for comfort food.

Tuesday – Chinese spag bol ie Shanghai noodles with beef in brown bean sauce. Will have stir-fried bok choy and snow peas to take the total vegie count up to five.

Wednesday – barbecued (if it’s not raining) lamb with sumac, allspice and paprika, with hummus and a cos, spring onion, roma tomato and cucumber salad.

Thursday – I’m off to play with my lovely colleagues at the Australian Food Media Awards. My foodlover’s guide to pregnancy, Eating for Two, has been nominated for an award so fingers crossed people! I’ll still have time to whip up a quick pasta featuring mascarpone before I put on my glad rags on and jump in a cab.

Friday – my son’s childcare centre is having a felafel night fundraiser, and the very lovely cook Aida makes the best felafels (up there with Hijazi and Jasmin 1), so there’s no excuse not to order up big. Aida slips slices of smoky eggplant into the mix and how I thank her for it.

Until next week’s dinner…

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9-22 October 2010

Behind the old eighball again – I blame the SIFF (sounds like something much more unpleasant than it was – the Sydney International Food Festival) last Saturday, which I spent rubbing shoulders with the local foodie hoi polloi. Luckily I was in the Middle Eastern/Mediterranean session, and was inspired by such icons as Mary Taylor Simetti, whose book on Sicilian food, Pomp and Sustenance, is utterly fascinating and epitomises a style off anthropological food writing that is sadly not the flavour of the month in these celebrity-obsessed times. In a programme filled with recipes containing ‘ingredients’ such as isomalt and 2 grams of sun-dried cocconut husks, roasted, it was refreshing to hear speakers from countries such as Turkey and Lebanon talk about the pleasures of simple food.

Consequently, without even realising it, my menu planning has had a decidely Middle Eastern flavour over the past week.

Saturday 9/10 – having grazed on an all-day yum cha courtesy of Dai Tin Fung, and eating samples of all manner of delciousness, from Yotam Ottalenghi’s three-grain salad with wild lime to Abla Amad’s perfect rendition of baklava, I basically could only mange a poached egg on toast after the wee ones were fast asleep. Luckily they had been hyped up on goof balls at a kid’s party that afternoon, and I arrived home to my husband and his mate feeding the various kids his specialty, pastizzis (he also makes a fine Cornish pasty, must be the Adelaide in him). That was as exciting as it got in the kitchen that night.

Sunday 10/10 – My dear friend C returned from her travels across the ‘stans via the Fat Duck and dropped by with a deliver of spices all the way from Redfern, not the Silk Road where she had just been, and to regale us with her travel tales. Despite her great dislike of the local Central Asian signature dish plov, starring carrots and rice, I cooked her a meal featuring both ingredients (I realsied as I was peeling the carrots), but with distinctly un-Central Asian ingredients such as lemongrass, five spice and beef. I generally thicken this with a steamed carrot puree, a tip from watching Guillaume Brahimi make boeuf borguignon on SBS which I now apply to many stews and casseroles. Not only does it add a sweet note, but it thickens the sauce in a much more pleasant way than flour (uggh) and is infinitely faster than reducing the sauce over low heat for 30 minutes (hell, I usually only have 30 or so minutes to cook, so I’m not going to spend that amount of time reducing a sauce, especially not after having spent the morning at a kid’s party where my son took his turn at being the freak child at the party on that particular day. I justified it’s fitting the theme, given the French colonial influence on Vietnamese cuisine – it worked for me!)   Eaten with said rice and stir-fried garlicky snowpeas and broccolini, another definitively non Central-Asian touch. Made double the amount to ensure there was lots for Monday night’s dinner, which I was most grateful for the next day.

Monday 11/10 – leftover Beef, Carrot and Paprika Stew with rice and stir-fried broccoli.

Tuesday 12/10 – Stir-fried  ramen with rump steak, bok choy and snow peas. Marinated the beef with shoyu and mushroom oyster sauce the night before, then added a bit of grated ginger to the wok.

Wednesday 13/10 – For a complete change of pace we had chicken schnitzel with hazelnut oil-roasted potato and sweet potato, corn on the cob and an avocado and cos salad. Simple but good.

Thursday 14/10 – Feeling a bit poorly so it was Lebanese-style pumpkin and red lentil soup with pan-fried haloumi, Lebanese bread and hummus.

Friday 15/10 – Bucatini with puttanesca sauce, including some of my favourite olives – the luscious, verdant-green, fleshy Sicilian ones. Gabriel calls them ‘lollies’ and attacks them with as much gusto as the ubiquitous party lolly bag.

Saturday – Now that some shopping has actually been done, here’s where the Middle Eastern influence kicks in. Tonight was Roast chicken with coriander seeds and lemon. Tossed the roast potatoes Lebanese-style, with loads of chopped coriander and lemon juice, then sauteed some sugar snap peas and broccoli with garlic.

Sunday – my lovely galpal, cookbook cover girl and colleague V and her gorgeous family are coming over for lunch tomorrow. Planning to make Turkish-style lamb koftas in a spiced tomato and coriander sauce, to go with a burgul pilaf (with a little of the capsicum paste ajvar stirred in for good measure). Dinner will no doubt be simple – leftover pumpkin soup and bread of some kind.

Monday – If there’s any leftover koftas we’ll have that with couscous. If not, I’ll take refuge from my freezer.

Tuesday – Chicken, chorizo and baby green bean paella, made with the stock currently simmering away on my stove right now and some smoky Rodrigues Brothers chorizo I snafued from Hudson Meats.

Wednesday – picked up some butterflied lamb leg today and plan to get going with a Greg Malouf recipe for a lamb and couscous soup as the starting point for a kind of tagine. Probably more couscous.

Thursday – Zucchini and feta eggah (omelette) with flatbread and lemony broad bean dip.

Friday – Might be time for pesto with cherry tomatoes…

Until next week’s dinner…


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2 – 8 October 2010

We just got back from a relaxing extra long weekend of sand, surf, sun (well, I’m being a tad positive there) and sleep glorious sleep in Jervis Bay yesterday where, to be honest, cooking was not at the forefront of my mind. We actually managed to beat the traffic on our way down on Friday, then again, on the way back yesterday and I intended to maximise every minute of having nothing to do and nowhere to be. Despite having access to a gas stove, sharp knives and Le Creuset pans in the holiday house of our dreams, they were only used to make old faithfuls, as the lure of the national park directly behind us, and beach two streets in front of us, as well as an excessively comfortable bed 9and excellent fish and chips), where too great to be denied. And so it was that we ate:

Saturday – spaghetti and meatballs. Not much to say really, other than that they were comforting and good when the rain howled down around us.

Sunday (cook once, eat twice) – roast Greek-style leg of lamb with oregano and lemony potatoes, roast sweet potato and sauteed snow peas .

Monday (take two) – a kind of shepherd’s pie, made with the leftover lamb, painstakingly cut by hand (okay, so I opened the drawer with a food processor and found a note to say not to use it as it could dismember me, not what I had in mind as part of a relaxing weekend).  Thank god for the sharp knives and wooden chopping board. Served with that super-fresh and sweet corn and some peas. Followed by rhubarb pie bought for a steal from the Culburra Beach markets, along with some fresh local garlic (hoorah – I was starting to despair that I was gping to have to make do without garlic until next year’s local crop is ready) an impossibly sweet blood oranges, buttery avocadoes and that squeaky corn.

Tuesday (Asian/ rice/noodles) – a quick stir-fry of beef with fish sauce, basil, the remainder of the organic snow peas and (decidedly non-organic) baby corn. We had no sooner arived home at 1 than I took my daughter off for a play date with her best buddy in the newly finished local park and didn’t end up getting home til 5: 30 – aah the joys of daylight savings.

Wednesday (protein plus) – Butterflied pork loin steaks with rosemary, garlic and verjuice to degalze the pan, resulting in a sticky sour-sweet sauce, with rosemary roast potatoes and sweet potato (cut into 1.5 cm cubes to crispen in 45 minutes – it’s N’s soccer night so it had to be fast)  and a rocket, cherry tomato and avocado salad.

Thursday (veg/egg/pulse) – have loads of milk leftover as N picked up this week’s delivery of Over the Moon milk today and we hadn’t finished last week’s as we were away, so it will be some kind of vegetable gratin, I think.

Friday (pasta) – penne with pesto, feta and cherry tomatoes. Big deadline day at work, so nothing too taxing on the agenda here.

Until next week’s dinner…

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25 September – 1 October 2010

So it’s been another busy week, involving a flying visit by my MIL, S, an AFL Grand Final result akin to that of the election, a surprise visit by N’s friend H, who lives in the UK, and sick kids. All of which has meant that menu planning has been a bit of a daily proposition.

Saturday (try something new) – well, with great intentions to try a recipe for South-western pulled beef with homemade barbecue sauce and flour tortillas, this ended up becoming rosemary and thyme pot-roasted beef with dutch cream potatoes, baby carrots and shallots – blame it on Mad Men, but I’ve really been wanting to trial a pot-roast for awhile, to go with our retro table. The barbecue sauce started in the morning while I made the caesar salad for our next-door neighbour’s annual AFL Grand Final bbq was WAY too sweet, even after halving the brown sugar and molasses in the recipe, which meant that it gate-crashed the party. I also didn’t get started till 4, after two solid hours of watching 14 kids in the pool and too much excellent hummus and smoky baba gannouj. And now we have to go through the Grand Final again with my two least favourite teams in contention.

Sunday (cook once, eat twice) – that was blwon out the wondow. My MIL arrived first thing and no sooner had she landed than N and I rushed off to Leichhardt to see The Father of my Children. We had grand plans for a date night (hell, it was even our wedding anniversary that weekend), but we went out for the afternoon instead (okay, I just didn’t want to miss Mad Men) and left S with the kids and to cook.  So we had her upside down pie (a pie with a savoury cobbler-like topping that the kids adore), mash, roasted sweet potato and steamed beans.

Monday (take two of Sunday) – givent that there was not a skerrick left form Sunday night, and we had the Anne of Green Gables picket fence of my dreams built that day (too bad about the house, oh yeah, and Gilbert) and had to rush off to Bunnings after work to confirm the paint choice (an epic in itself), this meant that Tuesday night’s stir-fry was bumped up a night: Miso chicken, snowpea and asparugus with udon noodles.

Tuesday – We ate Tuesday night’s planned dinner the night before, plus N’s friend H called that afternoon, then came over for an impromptu bbq of steak, field mushrooms, Cypriot-style sausages, roasted kipflers and a mustardy-vinaigreet caressed green salad. Hell, it was only planned about an hour before his intended arrival and I only just beat him home.

Wednesday (protein plus) – it was S’s last night so she cooked us her specialty, meatloaf with mashed potato, roasted sweet potato and steamed greens. Another menu that would have fit on Don and Betty Draper’s table.

Thursday (pasta) – after a crazt day of dealing with stressed out phone calls at work from panicking stylists (plus N, working out the invitations to our daughter’s party), and a huge typesetter deadline, I bumped pasta up a spot. I used the last of the pancetta and organic pecorino bought for the Grand Final caesar salad, plus our neighbour’s eggs and made spaghetti carbonara.

Friday – I feel like felafels tonight, so we’ll see.Until next week’s dinner…

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Next week’s dinner 18 – 24 September 2010

A few days late, but what a busy few days it has been. Saturday night we hosted my umpteen cousins for our regular potluck dinner, this time with a Moroccan twist (minus a few of the usual suspects as the younger ones are now old enough to have social lives). For my contribution, I made a lamb kefta tagine in a spiced tomato and coriander sauce with poached eggs, tomato burgul pilaf and Claudia Roden’s recipe for roasted vine-ripened tomatoes stuffed with tuna, preserved lemon, Sicilian olives, roasted capsicum and capers. My cousin B brought her fantatsic ‘curry’ puffs with Mid-Eastern flavours and marinated chicken, my cousin L made a refreshing orange, radish, olive and sumac salad, plus we had two dozen of Hijazi’s fantastic felafels with tahini sauce, garlic dip (toum) and Lebanese bread. l also brought a fantastic homemade Greek filo custard slice, served with a more-ish strawberry and pomegranate salad and rosewater Persian fairy floss. The leftovers of the pastry have been enjoyed toasted in the panini press with coffee for breakfast ever since. With all that cooking and the beautiful ballerina party that I took my daughter to on Sunday (plus making banana cupcakes for a school fundraiser on Monday), there hasn’t been a whole lot of time for shopping/planning this week (bring on the school holidays!). Consequently, the menu for this week (which we are almost halfway through, admittedly), was/is:

Saturday (try something new) – the kefta tagine and burgul pilaf are time-tested favourites (no time for a completely new menu when hosting dinner for 16), but the stuffed tomatoes were new (for me, at any rate) and I must say, delicious.

Sunday (cook once, eat twice) – Leftover tuna filling that didn’t make it into the tomatoes made into filo triangles, with pumpkin and feta filling for the rest of the filo packet. I knew that there would be plenty of leftovers (no felafel, though, as my son singlehandedly ate about a dozen on Saturday), so it was actually take two of Saturday’s dinner.

Monday (Sunday take two) – well, this was in fact Saturday take three as we had oregano and lemon marinated lamb fillets with the last of the hummus, tahini sauce and garlic dip, Lebanese bread and burgul pilaf, rounded off with a quick salad.

Tuesday (stir-fry/rice/noodles – Thai-style chicken and vegetable fried rice. Once again, Cityrail was running late despite the service update’ section of the website claiming ‘good service’ on my line, so it was marinated chicken breast fillets tossed through steamed rice with broccoli, zucchini, mushrooms, spring onions and snow peas, and a splash of mushroom oyster sauce, shoyu and fish sauce.

Wednesday (protein-plus) – Steaks with mushroomy ‘Stroganof-style’ sauce, garlicky mash, steamed greens.

Thursday (veg/egg/pulses) – Zucchini quiche, salad and bread.

Friday (pasta) – Penne with Italian sausage ragu (I think).

Until next week’s dinner…

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