16.10.16 - Native Foods are Incredible

 Photo by Josh Watson

Photo by Josh Watson

What I cooked:

Warrigal Green Pierogi
Bunya Nut Satay Tofu
Thai Salad with Native Pepper Crusted Kangaroo
Davidson Plum Sauce Chicken
Roasted Baby Vegetables
Lemon Myrtle Tart with Wattleseed

There’s been a lot written about how the way we eat now is so far removed from the process of farming and growing, and how disastrous this has been for the environment. How mass production and factory farming destroys the land and causes incredible suffering to other people. Slowly, steadily, among middle class people who can afford it, there’s been a push-back, a move towards locally grown, sustainable produce.

 Photo by Josh Watson

Photo by Josh Watson

But there’s one thing that’s been largely ignored: almost every single thing we eat in Australia is not meant to be here. Ever since Europeans invaded Australia we have wreaked havoc over lands that were once incredibly fertile with imported animals produce. Fertile lands being farmed by skilled agriculturalists in the indigenous population. The fact that when white people arrived in Australia the first people were already growing and farming grains, vegetables, berries, seafood and livestock, living in permanent dwellings, storing food – doing all the things that so called ‘civilized’ people do has been so largely, shamefully ignored, so European invaders could continue to subjugate a race they saw as less than themselves because of the colour of their skin.

 Photo by Josh Watson

Photo by Josh Watson

And it continues. I had no idea the advanced agricultural, governmental and engineering practices of the first Australians – and I did indigenous studies at high school. I graduated in 2010. I had no idea until I idly picked up a book called The Oldest Foods on Earth, because NOMA chef Rene Redzepi’s interest in native foods had sparked my interest. Reading this book blew my tiny mind. The foods Newton talked about were so fantastic, so interesting and unique and nutritious that I knew I had to investigate more about why they were practically unused.

 photo by Josh Watson

photo by Josh Watson

I turned to Bruce Pascoe’s Black Emu for more information, and found the answer was, as usual in this country, racial prejudice and white settlers refusal to recognise any of the agricultural work that the first Australians were doing, even as they themselves were dying of starvation, with crops shriveling and animals rotting all around them.

 Photo by Josh Watson

Photo by Josh Watson

As self-righteous as I often am, I do not think that reading two books and doing a bit of internet research makes me an expert on Aboriginal agriculture and native cooking. I do not think that someone writing about this topic for their 150 follower blog is going to change anything. However, in Black Emu Pascoe is adamant that if more people knew about the advanced, thoughtful, skillful ways that indigenous Australians were using the land, we might go some way to creating more understanding and respect in a culture where Aboriginal people are still marginalized, victimized, and brutalized every day. While I was reading Black Emu I sat outside my house and looked out at my surroundings and thought about how for tens of thousands of years, up until very recently, the people who lived on it were ingenious caretakers who looked after the land and made it the best it could possibly be. And how much damage we have done in such a short amount of time. I felt in incredible amount of shame, and respect and sadness for the first people who have lived on this land for so long.

 Photo by Josh Watson

Photo by Josh Watson

My emotions don’t matter, but actions do. If we start using more native ingredients, and, most importantly, ensure that the means of mass production are left in the hands of Indigenous people, we can go some way to restoring respect and dignity for the land and its first people. It will take a long time. It will take a lot of agricultural reform and changing the way we think about farming. But, with climate change drying out our country and making continued irrigation practices unfeasible, to my mind huge changes are the only thing that will enable the human race to survive. When we start growing things that are meant to be here, that can handle this climate, when we start farming animals that don’t make the soil unusable, and require huge amounts of grain to eat. When we finally stop enforcing colonial rule over the land and the people who were here so long before us. Maybe then there's some hope.

 Photo by Josh Watson

Photo by Josh Watson

Many of the native ingredients I used in the recipes in this blog came from a nursery called Wijuti Grub Bushfood Nursery in Obi Obi on the Sunshine Coast.We also visited Dreamtime Kullilla Art in Redcliffe to buy some things we couldn’t grow in the timeframe and they were selling Dale Chapman’s terrific cookbook Coo-ee Cuisine, which has so many great ideas for inventive, interesting, but approachable recipes using native ingredients. I recommend it to anyone even vaguely interested in native foods.

 Photo by Josh Watson

Photo by Josh Watson

We drove to the Sunshine coast in late winter, hot sun offset by cool wind and looming clouds that, of course, broke open as we were driving along the narrow dirt paths up the mountains into Witjuti nursery. We sat in the car in the rain in a field outside the lush green property, admiring the view but unsure what to do, for a while before I finally called owner Veronica, who came down with a giant multi colored umbrella to show us around.

 Photo by Josh Watson

Photo by Josh Watson

Veronica was so incredibly kind and knowledgeable in helping us work out what the best things to buy and grow in our time frame would be. I knew I wanted to do the dinner party before the end of October, so we bought warrigal greens, a kind of native spinach, saltbush, native violets, and mint. Veronica also kindly gave me some frozen Davidson plums, riberries and bunya nuts. I let the ingredients, and a heavy dose of sentimentality guide the menu.  For instance, I used the warrigal greens in pierogi, a kind of Polish dumpling, because I have a vaguely Polish background, though have never really cooked or eaten polish food.

 Photo by Dom O'Donnell

Photo by Dom O'Donnell

There are a lot of ways we try to manufacture cultural connections. When I cook with native foods I can try and convince myself that I am doing something to help the land that I love so much, to try and add my voice behind the chorus demanding respect for Aboriginal culture. When I cook pierogi, I am trying to connect to my own personal history – my great grandfather was a polish Jew, and came to Australia after WWII with his English wife. I never met him, my nana - his daughter - born and raised in Australia by an English mother, never cooked Polish food. But still I say my background is slightly Polish, trying to grasp at a more interesting cultural connection than just ‘British’ or ‘white’ or ‘mayo af’. This is a small vanity I have allowed myself – to cook a polish dish for my friends and feel lightly sentimental about it.  

 Photo by Dom O'Donnell

Photo by Dom O'Donnell

For dessert I made a lemon tart because going on the little road trip out the Obi Obi with Sam and Josh brought back a strong sense-memory of long car trips and stopping at country bakeries for a lemon meringue pie when I was a kid. We had one at the Obi Obi bakery on our way and it was INSANE. Josh had the shiniest raspberry tart I’ve ever seen and I had a super tasty, creamy chicken pie as well. Would recommend, worth the 90 minute drive.  Originally I was going to try and make the meringue for the top as well but as we were pushing 10pm by the time dinner was served something had to give. Also who the fuck owns a blowtorch?

 Photo by Dom O'Donnell

Photo by Dom O'Donnell

 Photo by Dom O'Donnell

Photo by Dom O'Donnell

I knew from the moment I heard about Davidson plums that I wanted to use them to make a plum sauce roasted chicken, and it turned out better than I could have hoped. The pleasant sourness of the Davidson plum, balanced out with, honestly, a lot of sugar, matched perfectly with clove, ginger and five spice Chinese flavours. I’ve been super interested in Chinese food recently – now that people are finally moving past perceptions of it just being cheap and easy to make, and recognizing the incredible skill of Chinese chefs, there’s more of a market and interest in traditional and authentic Chinese restaurants.

 Photo by Dom O'Donnell

Photo by Dom O'Donnell

I always knew kangaroo had to be cooked very rare, and initially I wanted to do something like a rare beef pho with it. Though I soon realized cooking soup to share would be dumb and difficult. But the flavours – mint, chili, fish sauce, sprouts, would all work great in a salad. Kind of a hybrid thai salad thing. Simple but really really tasty.

 Photo by Dom O'Donnell

Photo by Dom O'Donnell

The final, and probably tastiest, thing I made was bunya nut satay tofu. Originally this was going to be bunya nut satay crocodile, which would have been much more impressive. But ah, the butcher was closed on the day I tried to buy it. Stupidest reason to not follow through on something? Yup! But I am stupid. This sauce was incredible though, honestly. Mildly nutty flavor, crunchy and burnt caramel-y.

 Photo by Dom O'Donnell

Photo by Dom O'Donnell

I’ve always been a gigantic satay fan – one of my best friends as a kid was Indonesian and her mum not only used to make great satay (and spring rolls, and curry puffs and curries, and…. Everything), but often took us to Jakarta Indonesian restaurant, which makes the best satay sauce I’ve ever had in my life. One of my favourite restaurants, cheap and BYO. If you’re in Brisbane and you haven’t been yet, run don’t walk.

 Photo by Dom O'Donnell

Photo by Dom O'Donnell

As well as the native ingredients, the cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, and herbs also came from Sam George Allen’s garden. Since she started getting into gardening a bit over a year ago we’ve been cooking stuff from whatever comes out of her tough, wild garden out the back of that West End trash house and feeling pretty bloody pleased with ourselves for it. Using ingredients she grew was really special – also, kept costs down a bit.

 Photo by Dom O'Donnell

Photo by Dom O'Donnell

I make no promises about any of the recipes attached being accurate – I make a lot of this off the top of the dome. I’d use them just as inspiration and a rough guide rather than following them to the letter (just saying, if you do and it fucks up you can’t blame me).

 Photo by Josh Watson

Photo by Josh Watson

03.04.16 - Late Afternoon Brunch

Photo by Savannah van der Niet

What I cooked:
Fruit salad with lime and ginger syrup
Fruit toast crackers & Labne with pine nuts, fig and honey
Yemeni pancakes with savoury stuff and yoghurt sauce
Shakshuka with misc. leaves
Vine leaf pie with Chermoula

I’d be lying if I said I was always a big fan of breakfast or brunch. For most of my life these meals were just an inconvenience that meant that I had to get up more than 5 minutes before school started. Still, one of my favourite things to eat as a kid was my mum’s ‘Spanish omelette’, an omelette of caramelised onion, olives and chorizo baked in the oven with heaps of pasta sauce and cheese melted on top. Now I'm heaps an adult I goddamn love breakfast food. I’m rarely optimistic, but a big morning meal makes me slightly more so.

Photo by Savannah van der Niet

Whenever I have enough money I take myself out to brunch at Anouk in Paddington and try something off their always changing menu. I also love Shouk, the middle-eastern breakfast place in Paddington, and this whole event was really inspired by wanting to eat there every day but not being able to afford it. And because I just refuse to line up no matter how delicious everything is.

Photo by Savannah van der Niet

Turkish banquet-style breakfasts are often lots of small things - breads, cheeses, fruits, stewed vegetables and chutneys – all served together. I don’t really know how to do small things, so these are all large meals with heaps of ingredients. One day I’ll get there.

Photo by Savannah van der Niet

The traditional ‘Big Breakfast’ that we think of now (in terms of English culture anyway; middle-eastern countries were enjoying luxurious much earlier) came about in Victorian times as a sign of wealth. If you had guests staying you’d serve a long lazy breakfast to show that you had time and money and eggs and ham coming out your butt.

Photo by Savannah van der Niet

This meal wasn’t really like that. For one thing – it was at 4pm. This was for reasons logistics (fuck off if you think I’m gonna start cooking at 6am for any reason. Also Sav had to work in the morning) and because I’m not really interested in any ‘dinner party’ that you can’t drink at.

Photo by Savannah van der Niet

But it was still a celebration of abundance, of love and friendship and really really good food (I reckon – the vine leaf pie was surprisingly great). Earnestness makes me sick usually so you know I’m serious.

Photo by Savannah van der Niet

 It was so great to be able to use a house with a big dining room table. You’ll notice a distinct increase in charm and good taste in these photos and a distinct lack of ‘trash’ and that was cause my friends Dom, Lou and Liv let me invade their beautiful home and stomp around their kitchen sweating and swearing all afternoon to make this all look so goddamn good. Though Liv’s beautiful cat gave me the most horrific hay fever, so my face is all red and watery in all the photos, and I had to make a real effort to keep the food snot-free.

Photo by Savannah van der Niet

All these meals would make delicious shared breakfasts on their own, I just got really ambitious and decided I wanted to make literally everything I’ve ever wanted to eat for breakfast at once. Most of them were not that hard or time consuming to make (except for the pancakes. Don’t try and make slow-cooked pancakes one at a time for 12 people if you don’t wanna have a little cry).  

Photo by Savannah van der Niet

Beyond how the food tasted, I love trying to think differently about what kind of foods we can eat when, what goes with what, and what food traditions and rituals are unnecessary and what need to change, so this was one of my favourite meals I’ve done so far. 

Photo by Savannah van der Niet

29.12.15 - Christmas Come-Down

 Photo By Savannah van der Niet

Photo By Savannah van der Niet

What I Cooked:

Empanadas for idiots (pumkin and blackbean pastries with green ‘mole’)
Mini Chicken Bastillas
(Shoulda been) Soba Salad
Total Fluke Roast Chicken
‘Fuck Minimalism’ Salad
Cherry and Rosewater Ice Cream

I think (hope?) I can get away with posting this so long after Christmas cause none of this is 'Christmas food'. It's just like 'stuff that makes me feel kind of festive'.

In Australia it's hard to get excited about christmassy food cause no one wants to do a roast turkey in 40 degree heat. Sure, the seafood and white wine is good. But it never feels like the movies. And someone always puts FUCKING CELERY in a coleslaw and then everthing's ruined

 Photo By Savannah van der Niet

Photo By Savannah van der Niet

I've been cooking for Christmas for my family for years, but because of one thing or another we couldn't get together this year. I spent the day with my mum eating cheese, drinking gin and watching Brooklyn Nine Nine and it was absolutely perfect. But it was nice to have this friend party as well, with all the all the yelling and drink-spilling and overeating that you expect from an Australian Christmas.

 Photo By Savannah van der Niet

Photo By Savannah van der Niet

For this dinner I just made what I wanted to eat when it's summer and hot as fuck. As such it's a little haphazard, there's roast chicken with yoghurt and tahini, japanese salads  Little pastry things (very festive. Crumbs everywhere: festive) and ice cream with the ubiquitous cherries. 

Also - you'll notice that the house in these photos is markedly nicer than mine. I have not recently won the lottery or succeeded in my desperate attempts to sell out to corporate sponsorship (Seriously, I have 43 followers on Instagram and will totally pretend to do a juice cleanse, hmu).  

I was just house sitting at my mum and her housemates' beautiful house in New Farm so decided to have the Christmas dinner there, with an actual oven that works. It's still a sharehouse but! Just with a fuck-off nice view and like, real art, not just cartoons ripped out of Lucky Peach on the walls. But I'm sure everyone was sick of looking at the ugly outdoor furniture at my house anyway (if not, don't worry, it'll be back).

 Photo By Savannah van der Niet

Photo By Savannah van der Niet

I always wanted to have a movie-style 'orphan's Christmas' - where we've all been exiled from our families because we're TOO REAL and they don't understand our delicate artistic temperaments. But my family is actually, disappointingly, pretty cool, so I never realised my dream. 

 Photo by Savannah van der Niet

Photo by Savannah van der Niet

This dinner was close enough though. There were old friends and new friend hanging out, lots of compliments to me, a really great dog (Jack Murphy, king of pooches) and even a dance floor (no photos of that though - some things you gotta be there for). 

 Photo By Savannah van der Niet

Photo By Savannah van der Niet

In 2015 I had a surprisingly intense breakup, got a job that I always wanted, moved in with my best friend, discovered the highs and lows of spending too much money on clothes, and started this silly vanity project website so I could have a place for nice photos of my friends and the food that I cook. It wasn't too bad. Thanks for reading.

 Photo By Savannah van der Niet

Photo By Savannah van der Niet

08.11.15 - Cheese for dinner

 Photo By Savannah Van der Niet

Photo By Savannah Van der Niet

Yeah, I'm getting kind of sick of the weird cult-like love of cheese and constant lists like FORTY MAC AND CHEESE RECIPES THAT WILL MAKE YOU QUESTION GOD too. But fuck it - I love cheese boards. I love eating lots of little things for dinner cause it makes me feel refined (see also: bento boxes, antipasto, etc.)

 Photo By Savannah Van der Niet

Photo By Savannah Van der Niet

Also: this was one of the least stressful dinners I've ever done - the pickles and cured salmon and preserves could be done days before, so I had a nice week of prep and then just made the breads on the day while drinking a few beers. Recommend. 

 Photo By Savannah Van der Niet

Photo By Savannah Van der Niet

All the crispbread and ryebread recipes I made are from The New Nordic cookbook - cause I've finally realised I'm no natural baker and should stop trying to just make up my own recipes: they just turn out shit and I feel bad. 

 Photo By Savannah Van der Niet

Photo By Savannah Van der Niet

I didn't write them out here cause I'm sure the Swedish Copyright Police are as ruthless as they are sexy, but maybe you should buy it (I'm not getting paid for this stuff but if you've got money I'll hold as many fancy cookbooks as you want, Murdoch Press) 

 Photo By Savannah Van der Niet

Photo By Savannah Van der Niet

They turned out pretty good - especially the Knackerbord which was full of delicous fennel seeds. In the book they said to hang it up on strings to dry out - I'm sure this was just for aesthestic, but fuck it looked cool.

 Photo By Savannah Van der Niet

Photo By Savannah Van der Niet

This dinner was just a big messy pile of things that I love: salmon, kimchi, bread, cheese, dolmadesfancy beer nuts, pickles,  sweet buns and fruit preserves. I feel like most of the recipes here could be altered to suit your tastes so mess around with the ingredients if you want (I nailed it though you won't do better).

 Photo By Savannah Van der Niet

Photo By Savannah Van der Niet

I definitely recommend having a go at curing your own salmon at least once - if you've got a bunch of money that you hate and were just gonna burn for warmth otherwise. The salty-herby-ness of it went great with pretty much any cheese, and the dense savoury rye bread... I wish I had some now, rather than the jar of green olives (worst ones) and half a preserved lemon that are currently the only non-alcohol things thing the fridge.

 Photo By Savannah Van der Niet

Photo By Savannah Van der Niet

I had this big plan to lay butchers paper out on the outside table and just pile everything on artistically with rustic wildflowers everywhere. But then it decided to piss down with rain for a week prior, and storm on the night, so we had to sit inside on our dirty floor on shitty beanbags. This just made everything more lowkey and intimate though, so I only mildly freaked out for the first 20 minutes, then drank enough Pims punch to not care about anything much.

Coming up to the holiday season! What will be my hot take on Christmas Dinner that will through the whole tradition on it's head and send several major world religions into anarchy? Stay tuned to find out!!!** 

**If I live that far into Brisbane summer.  

30.08.15 - Big meals and bigger champs

 Photo by Savannah Van der Niet

Photo by Savannah Van der Niet

WHAT I COOKED:
Spiced Chicken and Rice
Stuffed Zucchinis and Mushrooms
Fatbreads with Olives, Tomato, and Yoghurt Sauce
Fattoush-ish Salad
Pistachio Trifle with Pomegranate Jelly and Rosewater Custard

Whenever I talk to people about 'entertaining', they generally mention how stressful it is to be a host, having to make sure everyone's happy and everything runs smoothly and all that. Generally I say to be chill, and know that not everything's going to go according to plan and know that it's gonna be a good time no matter what cause your friends are there and they're good people. 

 Photo by Savannah Van der Neit

Photo by Savannah Van der Neit

Taking your own advice is sometimes impossible though, and after the 6th person cancelled at the last minute on this dinner I started to freak out - Will anyone have a good time? Why do my friends hate me? What the fuck am I gonna do with the three kilos of chicken I just bought? - etc. Lucky my housemate/ best bud James was around though to tell me I was being insane, that there were still like 15 people coming, and to remind me that we own a freezer. 

 Photo by Savannah Van der Neit

Photo by Savannah Van der Neit

I wouldn't usually have dinners this close together (the last one was about a month and a half ago), because as much as I love it it's still a bit of stre$$$$$. And I think I put a lot of pressure on myself for this one because my beautiful friend Sian was visiting from Melbourne and might be moving to Canada soon, and I really wanted her to have a good time and everything to go smoothly - and mostly it did. I planned a lot better than the last dinner, cooking the rice and the dessert the day before,  and stopping myself from being too ambitious with the stuffed veges (recipe here), making only two different kinds instead of the original five. 

 Photo by Savannah Van der Neit

Photo by Savannah Van der Neit

Usually I don't let people help wash up or anything because I don't want them to feel like they've gotta do chores, but this time everyone really pitched in and wouldn't take no for an answer, which helped me stop stressing a lot too. And made me rethink my 'gotta do everything myself and not let anyone help' attitude towards cooking/life. 

 Photo by Savannah Van der Neit

Photo by Savannah Van der Neit

I think the most surprising success was the breads with tomatoes, olives and yoghurt sauce (recipe here) - I was just kind of wildly cutting stuff up and frying bread and then it all came together into something really tasty. 

 Photo by Savannah Van der Neit

Photo by Savannah Van der Neit

The least surprising things was that I bought way, way too much chicken (I rarely cook with meat and really have no idea how much a person eats) and also that the sponge in the trifle was way too dense and heavy (I was expecting the CWA to bust in any moment and butcher and bake me into a perfect shepherd's pie), but neither of these things are worth losing your shit over, so I remained chill. Very good advice from me. 

 Photo by Savannah Van der Neit

Photo by Savannah Van der Neit

12.07.15 - Dinner for 14 in the Arctic Blast

WHAT I COOKED:
Red Robin Ripoff Grilled Cheeses
Maple Mustard Sweet Potatoes
Confit Fennel and Leeks
Fish and Vege Pies
Crepes with Dulce de Leche  Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and Oranges

Right now it’s August and almost gone back to being thirty fuckin degrees already in Brisbane. But a month ago I had a dinner party with my friends in the middle of an 'arctic front/blast/nado'. I wanted to cook good, warming food. I wanted people to get drunk on the sugary mulled wine that my housemate James makes. I wanted my brilliant photographer friend Sav to take photos of it all for my vanity (you can check out her other beautiful work here).

But I also wanted to start this weird little 'food blog' project in case other people wanna do something similar and are as sick as I am of 'lifestyle' 'inspiration' that makes you feel like shit if you don't have all the right-looking homewares and always get everything exactly right. 

Originally I wanted to cook on a blazing open fire, cause I just watched a Neflix show called Chefs Table and got obsessed with Francis Mallmann, an Argentinian chef who cooks whole sides of lamb on huge wood fires and freshly-caught fish in clay pits and says stuff like 'cooking with fire is like making love'. But then I realised that, not being a slightly-creepy millionaire genius 60 year old chef with a 20 year old wife, I should probably lay off the theatrics. The dulche de leche and oranges in the dessert (Recipe) are a kind of half-hearted reference to him, but I'll cook something in a pit one day and it'll be sick.

Straight up - I invited too many people. Too many people to rationally cook a three course meal for by myself. It was gonna be ten but then I realised I hadn't factored in me or my other housemate Bri, and then invited my workmates Ned and Indy cause look at their goddamn faces:

But the weekend before I'd cooked Japanese for ten people, standing over the stove churning out plate after plate of tempura - so I thought I could do anything. This time I was a little more sensible and made fish and vege pies (recipe) - you can make the filling early, line the trays and stick it all in the fridge till it's ready to throw in the oven. 

Me and James are also obsessed with fennel so I knew I wanted to make a side-dish out of that, so I made a frankenstein version of a Lucky Peach confit fennel recipe, that also had leeks cause they rule too (recipe)

The grilled cheese sandwiches were a real triumph - a version of a Red Robin dish that's probably one of the best things I've ever eaten, that kind of came close to the original (recipe)

And I bloody did it. Sure, I cut a few corners; by using store-bought pastry for the pies and forgetting to churn the ice cream quite enough, but no one complained.

 And I had help, from my friend Andi bringing labne and crackers so I didn't have to start cooking straight away, and could have a drink and a sit down, and Sam George-Allen getting the sandwiches out, and James and Sarah making sure everyone had plenty of wine (god bless), and Sarah (a legend who somehow almost completely evaded getting in these photos) and Froz  cleaning up as we went and Ned and Indy and Chloe assembling the desserts, and Harlan letting me bum cigs at the end of the night when I ran out. And no one pointing out how unevenly the mustard maple sweet potatoes (recipe) were cooked, because I forgot how useless our oven is. Saints, every one. 

So this is the first of hopefully more posts - long and short - about food and recipes and ways to have an even better time while cooking and eating. For your mates and mine,