The two basil bushes I planted in the Spring have been very generous to us over the summer. Basil has been torn into Asian-style herby salads, topped simple home-made pizzas, been sandwiched between mozzarella cheese and thick slices of tomato for a Caprese salad and chopped into pasta sauces. I’ve also made batches of pesto and frozen it in single-serve portions for the “cooler” weather when the basil isn’t in such a giving mood. It’s perfect to toss through pasta for a quick lunch or to stir into tomato or vegetable soup to add some interest.

My favourite thing to make with pesto, though, is the pesto rice salad in Delia Smith’s Summer Collection that I’ve been making for family barbecues since (I’m going to say this really quickly) the late-90s. What do you do though when you want the taste of pesto but one of your dinner guests is allergic to nuts and pesto is therefore off-limits? You substitute the pesto for Nigella’s Basil Oil of course.

All you need for this is a large bunch of basil (leaves roughly picked or torn off) and about 8-10 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. You blanch the basil quickly by pouring boiling water over the leaves and letting them sit for about 30 seconds. Immediately plunge them into icy water. This way you’ll keep that fabulous green. Squeeze out as much of the moisture as you can and pop them in a small processor with the olive oil – I used the Nutri-bullet. Grate in a clove of garlic and whizz it until you have a thick-ish green puree. That’s it.

To turn it into a pesto, simply reduce the olive oil by a couple of tablespoons and add 1 tablespoon of pine nuts and about 25g grated pecorino romano, parmesan or something similar before blitzing.

This oil is also great drizzled over a Caprese Salad or brushed over zucchini/ courgette slices before barbecuing, but I used most of it in the rice salad. Speaking of which, here is the recipe. Naturally, you can also make this salad with traditional pesto – simply omit the grated cheese and use pesto in place of herb oil.

What you need…

  • 1 quantity basil oil
  • 25g grated pecorino romano, Parmigiano Reggiano or parmesan
  • 450ml boiling chicken or vegetable stock – if you don’t have any stock, water is fine
  • Arborio rice measured to the 220ml mark in a measuring jug
  • 2 spring onions, chopped
  • Extra cheese shaved with a vegetable peeler for the top
  • Some fresh basil leaves to serve

What you do with it…

  • Measure out the rice into a measuring jug and add about 1/4 of the basil oil to it. Stir until all the grains are coated with the oil.
  • Tip the herby rice into a wide, shallow saucepan or frying pan with a lid and pour the stock over it.
  • Turn on the heat, add a teaspoon of salt and stir well.
  • When it comes to the boil put the lid on, turn the heat down to as low as it goes and let it cook for 20 minutes.
  • As soon as it’s ready, tip it into a serving bowl with most of the remaining basil oil. Stir it through – adding more if necessary – and then add the grated cheese and chopped spring onions, again stirring well.
  • Serve with the shaved cheese and fresh basil leaves.

I’ve taken on the challenge to cook my way through Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat. You can find other episodes here.

 

Ok, I was going to do another Nigella Diaries update today – tell you all about basil oil and pesto rice salad, but my daughter, Sarah, is in Queenstown at the moment having a fabulous time and I’m just a wee bit jelly…but only a wee bit because I’m thrilled she’s having a fabulous time. Mostly I’m missing her.

Because she’s in Queenstown and I’m missing her and wishing more than a little bit that I was there too (and yes, I realise that it’s not all about me) I’m cheating a tad with today’s post and sharing some Queenstown favourites. For those of you who have seen these in previous posts I offer no apology.

Sarah and I have visited Queenstown a few times together, in fact, it was in Queenstown that we took our very first helicopter ride. That’s us in the pic below – back in ummmm 2011 I think. Or maybe 2012? It’s hard to believe that she’s nearly 21! I’ve also been a number of times without her – in every season other than the middle of winter (note to self – I really must book a trip in winter some time). Queenstown is, with all apologies to Wellington, my favourite place in New Zealand. I love it so much I’ve already set 2 novels here and have more in the planning stage.

Anyways, Queenstown in photos. Regular readers might have seen these before, but you know what? I say “so what” to that…

Lake Wakatipu

Of course. Framed by The Remarkables – the mountain range that runs due north, Lake Wakatipu is so amazingly beautiful. In fact, it’s so beautiful that it takes me by surprise. Every time I see the lake and mountains it’s as if I’ve never seen them before.

Not only does the colour seem to change every second, but the lake rises and falls by up to 20cm every half hour or so, yet it isn’t tidal. It’s as if the lake is breathing.

And that’s all part of the Maori legend of the lake.

Apparently, a local ogre named Matau (they had local ogres in those days) was burned to death for taking advantage of the daughter of an important chief.  The resultant fire melted the snow and ice of the surrounding mountains and it all ran into the deep hole where Matau fell- creating Lake Wakatipu. Yet the ogre was so strong that his pulse survives in the daily rise and fall of the water.

I love stories like this. There’s also one that I could tell you about the eels in the lake and Tonga…but we don’t really have time for that.

The Road to Glenorchy

Check that view. Is that inspiring, or is that inspiring? #nofilter

Glenorchy

There’s a pub here, a general store and trading post, a photogenic wharf and it’s also the jumping off place for the Dart River adventures (absolutely recommended) and a few tramping tracks. They also hold a horse race each on teh first Saturday in January each year that anyone can enter – and wear a cowboy hat.

Just down the road is Paradise – the scene of many ads, movies and TV shows…plus a rather spicy love scene in Wish You Were Here

Arrowtown

A charming gold-rush town at its absolute picturesque best in the autumn…also featuring in Happy Ever After.

What else?

So much. I could talk about wineries – Otago pinot needs to be tasted to be believed; food – of course, I could tell you about the food; activities – Queenstown really is the capital of jumping off things that work perfectly well. Aside from the helicopter, over the years I’ve jet-boated in Queenstown, zip-lined in Queenstown and hiked in Queenstown. You’ll never get me bungy jumping there though! Sarah did, however, do the canyon swing today – involving a 3-second freefall into a canyon before being swung across it. Yeah…and nah.

What about you? Are you a Queenstown fan? What about bungy – yeah or nah?

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.

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The week in pictures

Okay, I’m ridiculously late in getting this out, but then it’s been a ridiculously busy week in the day job. Anyways, without further ado, here’s the week that was…

Who I met in real life…

One of the highlights in this manic week was a completely unplanned catch-up and drink with The Annoyed Thyroid. That’s us in the pics above. We didn’t have nearly enough time to talk about everything we had to talk about. Next time there will be dumplings as well.

We went to this little bar in York Street called Stitch. You enter through a faux dressmaker’s shop and head down a staircase into the bar – which feels as though it’s in the belly of a ship. All very cool.

Being back in Sydney…

I make no bones about the fact that I find it exhausting to be back in Sydney. This is partly because it always coincides with a particularly hectic time in the day job and partly because I’m doing the daily bus commute and partly because I also try to catch up with friends after work – and going out on a school night is something I don’t normally tend to do.

I do, however, stay with my parents and it’s good to have some one-on-one time with them – plus their dog always loves to see me; even if the photo below doesn’t show the extent of his enthusiasm.

Where I Valentined…

Although I’m absolutely a romantic and believer in happy endings – after all, I write enough of them – I’m not at all into Valentine’s Day so wasn’t too hung up about spending it away from hubby. I do, in fact, think that with all the commercialism that surrounds it Valentine’s Day is probably the least romantic day of the year.

Having said that, when you’ve been together for a while and (heaven forbid) might be taking things just a wee bit for granted, days like Valentines and anniversaries are little reminders that every so often your relationship needs to be put front and centre. Valentine’s is good for that I suppose – the sentiment, not the expenditure.

Anyways, I spent the evening with my friend at a bar in Barangaroo – Wild Sage – catching up on girly gossip and eating yummy food. The rose petals on the table might have been wasted on us but we both agreed it was the best Valentine’s Day ever.

What I blogged…

To be honest I wrote very little last week that wasn’t to do with the day job. I did, however, pop something up for the Nigella Diaries on Chocolate Self-saucing puddings. If you missed it you’ll find the link here.

Random dumplings…

As if I hadn’t eaten out enough last week, I was completely knackered on Friday when I got home so we took the easy option and went out for Chinese for dinner. Yes, dumplings were involved.

What I attended…

Books By The Beach – the Romance Edition – at Mooloolaba on Saturday.

Unfortunately, because I was away during the week, we had friends due for dinner on Saturday night and Ms T was due to head out for a week in NZ at 4am Sunday morning, I could only get to one workshop – but it was a good one on branding and general marketing.

I came away with plenty of ideas – one of which was to keep my brand consistent across each of my websites/ blogs – hence the change at the top of this website. I’ve also changed my foodie Instagram account to one specifically for my author business. It will be pretty much books and baking – given that there’s plenty of baking happening in my books. What I’m writing, reading and baking. You’ll find it at @joannetraceyauthor. Of course my usual daily beachy walky inspo and whatever will be unchanged at @jotracey.

What I read…

Given that I had a couple of flights and daily commutes I read four books from the “to be read” pile in my kindle last week:

  • These Girls and The Opposite of Me by Sarah Pekkanen – both really enjoyable
  • The Christmas Wish, by Tilly Tennant – I’ve added Christmas in Lapland to my bucket list
  • Any Way You Want Me, by Lucy Diamond which I didn’t enjoy at all – even though I normally enjoy Lucy Diamond. I suspect that it was because I found it a tad uncomfortable at times, but given that this was her debut and written a while ago, it could also be because the writing was a little more try-hard than I’m used to with her. Maybe.

What I cooked…

A basil oil from How To Eat that I used to make what would have been a pesto rice salad for Saturday night – except I knew that one of our guests is allergic to nuts so pine nuts were out and basil oil was in. Anyways, I’ll blog it for The Nigella Diaries on Thursday.

Also from the Nigella files, I made this no-fuss, no-cook lemon curd cheesecake that you seriously need in your life. It took about 30 minutes to prepare (and that included time for the base to rest in the fridge) and then you let it chill for 4 hours and toss some fruit on the top. Aside from the fruit, this uses just 4 ingredients: digestive biscuits, butter, lemon curd and cream cheese. Express entertaining at it’s finest. The recipe is here.

Okay, that was my week – how was yours?

 

 

 

 

In the introduction to this recipe – which she calls Sticky Chocolate Pudding – Nigella tells us that her family refers to this as Lemon Surprise; the surprise being that there is no lemon.

Seriously though, Nigella’s Sticky Chocolate Pudding is essentially a self-saucing pudding. And, on account of the fact that it uses both cocoa and dark chocolate buttons in the sponge and about 120g of cocoa in the sauce – a very rich one at that. In fact, as tasty as it was – and it was extremely luxurious – a little bit of this goes a very long way indeed.

The verdict was, in fact, that while it was nice, my family prefers the self-saucing pudding that I’ve been making since I was a teenager and is so foolproof that I’ve even cooked it in a camp or Dutch oven over a campfire. It’s even quick enough to whip up as a midweek after dinner treat.

Nigella, your lemon surprise is pretty fabulous – and I’ll be keeping it for those occasions where deep deep solace is required – but for everyday comfort, I’ll be sticking with my tried and true classic – the recipe of which is below. You’re welcome.

What you need for the cake…

  • 1 cup self-raising flour
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 80g melted butter
  • ½ cup milk
  • I teaspoon vanilla
  • 1egg, lightly beaten

What you need for the sauce

  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 2 cups boiling water

What you do with it

  • Preheat the oven to 180C
  • Butter the dish that you’re using – a 20cm round souffle dish would work, but I actually use a shallow pyrex style dish too… or a 2-quart Dutch oven when in the great outdoors.
  • Sift flour and cocoa into a large bowl, stir in the sugar
  • Combine the egg, milk, vanilla and cooled butter in a jug and slowly add to the dry ingredients, mixing until well combined and smooth. Spoon into the prepared dish.
  • To make the sauce, sprinkle the combined sugar and cocoa over the pudding
  • Carefully pour over the boiling water and place into the oven for about 30 minutes – until crusty on the outside and soft and squidgy on the inside.
  • Serve with cream, ice cream, custard or a combination of all of the above.

I’ve taken on the challenge to cook my way through Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat. You can find more episodes here.

 

This week in photos

I’m writing this at the Sunshine Coast Airport as I wait for my flight to Sydney.

I’m in town for the week for work and whilst I’m dreading the daily commute into the office it’s always good to see my family and catch up with friends and colleagues. Although it might sound weird – me coming from South East Queensland and all – but I also dread those ridiculously hot suburban Sydney days. We might have dreadlock inducing humidity, but our temps rarely get above 33C #firstworldissues

Anyways, enough about the weather, let’s wrap this week up…

What I wrote…

Normally a short walk or change of scene at the end of the day job day is sufficient to switch my brain out of corporate mentality and into the world of the characters that I’m writing about, but not this week. It’s been so incredibly and constantly busy that at the end of each day my brain had room for nothing else – not even the simplest of decisions. I’d spoken to so many people during the day that it was that dialogue I heard and not the voices of my characters. The “pages” in my new book remained blank.

I still haven’t contacted my editor to slot myself into her diary – and must do so this week. Once I have that date set in stone I won’t be able to use the excuse of a hard days work in the day job – the words will have to get written. I intend getting at least 1500 words a day done each night I’m in Sydney…although I am booked to catch up with friends on 3 of the 5 nights already. What can I say? It’s all so social…lol.

What I blogged…

Who I met…

I managed to escape the office on Wednesday and catch up with some other fabulous bloggers for lunch in Brisbane. Here we all are:

From left to right is Sue from Sizzling Towards Sixty & Beyond, Leanne from Cresting The Hill, Deb from Debbish, me and Min from Write Of The Middle.

While I’ve met Sue, Deb and Min in the past, Leanne had travelled all the way over from Perth just for this lunch…okay, maybe not just for this lunch… Although we all met online – through each other’s blogs and social media – catching up with these ladies really was like talking to friends I’ve known for years.

It might have been a manky day outside but the conversation was sparkling in the Riverbar- and the prawn cocktail rolls were yummy.

What I read…

With over 3 hours to spend on the train into Brisbane the other day, I devoured Jill Mansell’s latest Maybe This Time. It was my 2nd 5-star read of the year.

I also finished Prue Leith’s Food of Love. While I love Prue in Great British Bake-off and previously in Great British Menu and could hear her voice loud and clear, I didn’t enjoy Food of Love as much as I thought that I would.

What I cooked…

Nothing healthy at all this week – I simply didn’t have the bandwidth. I’d had such a shocking day on Tuesday though that once I logged off I declared that I needed to chop something and concentrate on a different process to bring my heart rate back down and get my brain out of work mode. Given that it was Chinese New Year I made some prawn toasts to have before the stir-fry hubby was doing for dinner.

There’s something so comforting about the golden crunch of a good prawn toast – and these were good. I sort of used this recipe and they turned out beautifully (the photo does them no credit at all). To make dinner even more like a Chinese takeaway we also had cut up segments of orange and fortune cookies to finish off with.

We had friends for dinner last night and kept it simple with a lasagne and green salad plus a pudding from How To Eat – which I’ll tell you about in the next instalment of About Roast Chicken – The Nigella Kitchen Diaries.

Finally, I had a go at making honeycomb – although I do prefer the Cornish (or Kiwi) name for it: hokey pokey. Apparently, the Geordie version is known as “cinder toffee” and in some parts of the U.S., it’s called “seafoam” or sponge candy.

Whatever you call it, it’s relatively easy and a tad theatrical to make. Golden syrup, caster sugar and bicarb soda become a gorgeously yellow foam before setting into something you can smash into the shards we’re familiar with. I dunked some in melted chocolate, left some whole and grown more into a powder that I sprinkled over the pudding last night. Ms T has it in mind to mix these through her ice cream while I’m away.

Anyways, if you’re interested, the recipe is here.

How was your week? Highlights?

Yorkshire Puddings

When we were in Britain during winter a few years ago the one thing we tried to do each week – with mixed success – was to find a pub for Sunday lunch.

The most memorable of these was at a pub called The Rock Inn in Devon, on the edge of the Dartmoor National Park. It was a windy, rainy, miserable December day and we’d been aiming for a hotel in a town called Bovey Tracey – of course, the Tracey’s would want to have a look at Bovey Tracey. Unfortunately, the place we had in mind had been taken over by a 1-year-old’s birthday party. Instead, we drove on to a village where Dartmoor ponies were grazing on the side of the road and the mist was rising up from the moor. It was just perfect – as was the Sunday lunch.

As an aside, Bovey Tracey takes its name both from the River Bovey and the de Tracey family who were the lords of the manor. One of the silver-spooned offspring – not that I think they had silver spoons in the 12th century – William de Tracy was implicated in the murder of Thomas A’Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. According to one of my husband’s cousins who has done a lot of family research there’s apparently a curse on the male sons of the family as a result – that they will always feel the wind in their face. Although William did attempt to do a sort of penance by rebuilding a church in Canterbury, I’m not sure how that affected the curse. Oh, and the curse story was backed up by this guy I met one time working in a tour shop in Queenstown, New Zealand. Once we’d got over the fact that we had the same surname with the same spelling he said, ‘Hey did you know there’s a curse on our family?’ It’s a small world.

Enough of curses and back to the subject of Sunday lunch – the concept of which is not one that sits well in an Australian summer. Hours in the kitchen with the oven on at war with the air-conditioning is, quite frankly, ludicrous – and a waste of electricity. Sunday lunch for Saturday night dinner, however, is a different story entirely.

As Nigella writes in How To Eat, “Traditional Sunday lunch does, of course, mean beef.”

At this point, she brings up the issue of BSE and advises checking in with your guests to make sure that they’re okay with eating beef. She also mentions how, at the time of writing, it was still illegal to sell beef on the bone. How To Eat was published in 1998 – the same year that the BSE inquiries in Britain were taking place.  Whilst I certainly recall the crisis, we were untouched by it in Australia and I did need to head to google to remind myself of the story.

Anyways, Nigella’s Sunday lunch consists of:

  • The Roast Beef
  • The Gravy
  • The Roast Potatoes
  • The Yorkshire Pudding

Being unapologetically bossy, Nigella, bless her, also gives us a run-sheet for the perfect traditional roast beef Sunday lunch that I followed (much to my husband’s amusement – I’m not normally one who allows myself to be organised) for Saturday evening timings. Nigella likes her beef a lot rarer than we do – just a moo away from blue – whereas we’re more of a medium-rare family. With the help of her handy table (see below) I adjusted the cooking time accordingly and the beef cooked exactly as we like it.

In fact, as hilarious as my family found it, following Nigella’s list the whole process of putting a roast dinner with all the trimmings on the table was remarkably stress-free – although the wine I consumed while I was preparing it also helped.

First up was the gravy. Usually, I’m in the can’t-be-faffed-might-as-well-use-gravox camp but for the purposes of this exercise, I made proper caramelised onion gravy – Nigella’s way – and am glad I did. The little bit of effort – and it was a very little bit of effort – was rewarded with a rich beefy gravy, sweetened by the slow-cooked onions and a dash of Madeira.

While I was in gravy making mode I took the beef out of the fridge, rubbed some mustard over the outside and brought it up to room temperature before putting it in the oven. I also prepared the horseradish cream to serve with the beef by stirring some horseradish (from a jar – not only is obtaining fresh horseradish at this time of the year impossible, but Nigella says it’s fine from a jar) into a couple of spoonfuls of creme fraiche.

Then it was time for potatoes. The key to perfect roast potatoes is to par-boil them for about 5 minutes, then drain them and shake them about a bit to roughen up the edges and then tip them into a baking tray containing very fat (have this heating up while you’re par-boiling your spuds).

Before I move on to the Yorkshire Puddings, a word on vegetables. Rather than roasting root vegetables, we like something with more colour and usually opt for broccoli or beans and carrot.

The last piece of Nigella’s Sunday Lunch is the Yorkshire Pudding. She makes hers in an enamel dish rather than, as she puts it “those depressing, canteen-style individual portions”. I, however, like it in individual portions and use a muffin tin.

The recipe itself is a simple one:

What you need
  • 300 ml milk (full fat)
  • 4 eggs
  • 250g plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • a 12 hole muffin tin

This recipe makes 12 individual yorkies or one large one. I usually halve the recipe when there’s just the 3 of us.

What you do with it

When the beef is cooked and taken out to rest turn the oven up to 220C, put a splash of oil into each of the compartments of the muffin tin and pop it into the oven to heat up for about 10 minutes. In a jug beat the milk and eggs together with the salt and let it stand for 15 minutes before whisking in the flour. When the oil is hot carefully remove the tin from the oven and pour the batter evenly into the compartments. Put the filled tin back into the oven and cook for 12-15 minutes – or until risen and beautifully golden.

I’ve taken on the challenge to cook my way through Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat. You can find other episodes here.

 

Regular readers will know how much I love Melbourne – it is without a doubt my favourite Australian city. I love it so much that I’ve already set a couple of novels here – with more to come.

Regular readers will also know that weekends in Melbourne are a tradition for my daughter and me. We’ve been doing girls weekends down here since…well, for a lot of years. I’m just grateful that at nearly 21 she still wants to spend the weekend with me. I’m refusing to listen to the cynics who say that it’s because I’m paying…

Anyways, here how we spent our 48 hours. I warn you, there is plenty of food. There was, however a lot of walking and a little light shopping in between – but I didn’t photograph that…

Where we stayed…

The Swanston Hotel Grand Mercure…

I’m an Accor member so save my 2 nights for the cost of 1 offers for these weekends with my daughter. This hotel is in a great location – smack in the middle of everything. If you’re the world’s worst sleeper like I am (and can hear a frog fart in a car on the highway from miles away) ask for a room away from Swanston Street. The view won’t be as good but you won’t be disturbed by the buskers and the rooftop bars.

They’re in the process of turning the hotel (transforming seems to be the word that’s used) into a Pullman and we were lucky enough to get one of the new rooms. Supremely comfortable and more than a tad stylish.

Dumplings…

Of course. It’s one of the things we miss most about living in a city – decent dumplings. It’s, therefore, one of the first things we go for when we are back in a city. We ate dumplings at New Shanghai in the Emporium for a late lunch on Friday…

and more dumplings at our favourite purveyor of these little morsels of yum at Hutong in Market Lane on Sunday before heading for the airport.

Pastabilities…

The second craving we always satisfy when in Melbourne is pasta – and we go for that at Guy Grossi’s Cellar Bar at the top of Bourke Street. Great pasta, Italian waiters, Aperol spritz…what’s not to like?

Greek style…

Dinner on Saturday night was with friends at Gazi – at the Flinders St end of Exhibition Street. We’ve eaten here before and have loved it, but this time around? I’m screwing my nose up because it was all a tad meh. While the taramasalata, saganaki and grilled chicken were as good as ever, the tuna was under-cooked and over-cooked, the chips were floppy and the Nutella doughnuts boring. And yes, I know how that makes me sound. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt by saying that it was because it was stinking hot outside and noisy inside and we had a late booking. I do, however, still love the upturned flowerpots on the ceiling.

Surprising gardens…

This sustainability garden is in containers around the town hall and is fabulous. It had herbs, tomatoes, corn, sunflowers, aubergines, beans and so much more. In the middle of the city.

Hidden Bars…

Okay, Melbourne’s laneways are no secret – nor is it a secret that they have some great bars in those laneways. Some of these bars, however, are a secret…or at least well enough hidden so that we can pretend that they’re supposed to be a secret – which is sort of the same thing.

First up was Arlechin. This bar is part of the Grossi Florentini stable and is located in what used to be their wine cellar in the dingey lane behind the restaurant.

We walked past the black door a few times before we saw someone coming out. It was only then that we noticed the tiny logo on the door. Once inside it was obvious that this was a secret that was already known to plenty of other people. The cocktails are inventive, the bar menu is what you’d expect from the house of Grossi, and when we came out there was another group lurking in the alley looking confused. ‘Is there a bar in here?’

Oh, and in case you were wondering, my cocktail is a pretty cool take on an Aperol spritz – but not as you know it.

Saturday night’s hidden bar was another we walked past a few times before realising that the door that looked as though it was a kitchen back door was actually a front door to Eau de Vie. In Malthouse Lane (off Flinders Land or Exhibition Street), this place is a real “speakeasy” – straight out of 1920s prohibition America. We were led to a darkened booth and handed a menu of cocktails that defied description.

Overwhelmed with the choice I opted for a Smokey Rob Roy – a mix of Talisker and Highland whisky, rum, vermouth and orange bitters, it was served under a cloud of wood smoke and smelt like my jacket does after a weekend around the fire at Eucumbene.

The best part? The whisky den hidden behind a fake bookcase. Used mostly for functions, it’s also a storage facility for members of the club with whisky they need to keep under lock and key and stored at the right temperature conditions. My whisky never lasts that long!

The State Library of Victoria

If you’ve never been inside this beautiful building and the even more beautiful reading room on level 3, next time you’re in Melbourne you absolutely must.

High Tea at Sofie’s Lounge, Sofitel

Well worth skipping both breakfast and lunch for, we indulged ourselves with this on Saturday afternoon. A mix of both sweet and savoury – and with champagne on the side – it truly was an indulgence – although to be honest, I would have been just as happy with the scones and cucumber or egg sandwiches.

Street Art

A trip to Melbourne with me wouldn’t be the same without some street art…so here you go.

Okay…and some more…

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishWrite of the Middle, and, of course, me.

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January is a funny month – there’s all the excitement of the new year and yet there’s also the disappointment that Christmas is done. Having said that, the worst month of the year has to be February. I read something the other day where Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall said something like (and I’m about to misquote) “thirty days hath September, April, June and November All rest have thirty-one except February which has 1000.”

I had the first week on leave from the day job, but certainly made up for that by the time January came to a close.

Anyways, here’s January all wrapped up.

How I spent New Year…

I lasted only until 9pm although the thud of the midnight fireworks at Mooloolaba did wake me…does that count as seeing in the new year? Floated about in the pool reading on New Years Day…and the day after and the day after that. In fact, I barely got out of the pool until I had to be back at work on the 7th.

The Ballinger Hill Challenge…

I went into January determined to tackle this hill twice a week.

It mightn’t sound like a big deal but this is a long and very steep hill. Entire cycling and other events have been planned with this hill in mind – although if you’re fitter than me – and, let’s face it, most people are – you’d still think this isn’t that much of a deal.

Although I walk 5kms each morning, I have the cardio capacity of …something with a poor cardio capacity. I might not want hills in my life, but I need them – it’s a self-nurture vs self-love sort of thing.

So up I went – stopping a lot along the way to take photos and find the breath that I’d left somewhere far below. It’s a habit I’ll continue with in February.

What I booked…

Way too much travel – my credit card is groaning! We have 3 overseas trips planned and a couple of mini domestic breaks:

  1. North Island NZ in March for a friend’s 60th birthday/ 30th wedding anniversary. We’ll be away for my birthday so are putting a few days either side onto the trip.
  2. Penang and Singapore in May to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary and 30 years together.
  3. England in December for Christmas and New Year. I’ve now booked all our accommodation – just need to deal with airfares and car hire. It amazed me just how many Air BNB properties were already booked up for Christmas.
  4. Canberra and Eucumbene in August. Jetstar was advertising $61 airfares to Sydney so we jumped on some of them. From Sydney, we’ll hire a car and drive south.
  5. I’ve also booked some travel to Sydney for the day job

What’s inspired me…

The cream tea at Aimee Provence in Buderim. You’ll need to wait for Christmas At Curlew Cottage to see how.

What saddened me…

Hearing of the sudden death of my web host after a freakish accident in Perth a few weeks ago. My heart hurts for his family and friends.

What I’m grateful for…

Not being in Sydney (or Melbourne or Adelaide) with the disgusting heat waves they’ve been having. I don’t miss those 40+ temps we used to get in western Sydney at all. We’ve had a taste of it over the last couple of days in Melbourne and it really isn’t fun. Weirdly we don’t get anywhere near those temps in our little pocket of Queensland, although we do get humidity and it doesn’t really cool down at night.

What I read…

A lot – hello, it was January and I spent the first week of it floating about in the pool reading. My January total was 10 books, with the stand-out read being Jay Rayner’s A Greedy Man in a Hungry World. I started reading as research for Christmas At Curlew Cottage but soon forgot all about that. This book takes everything you thought that you knew and believed about food – industrialisation, seasonality, localisation, supermarkets, GM products – and makes you think again. It certainly gave me food for thought…no pun intended.

Another 5-star read in January was Jenny Colgan’s Little Beach Street Bakery. I want to go see puffins and bake bread now.

What I wrote…

I’ve made a good start on my new novel. It’s fun to be heading back to Brookford to see what’s been going on there, and I’m enjoying playing around with an invented reality show – you’ll need to wait until the book is released for more about that!

What I learnt…

Coorie is a thing. What Hygge is to the Danish way of living, Coorie is the Scottish art of snuggling down, cuddling in. It’s about living happy the Scottish way. It’s cool, contemporary Caledonian. You heard it here first.

What I watched…

Great British Bake-Off is back (yay), so is Death In Paradise (yay). I’ve also been watching Christmas cooking shows that I recorded leading up to Christmas. It’s for research.

What I cooked…

A lot! I’ve taken on the challenge of cooking my way through Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat. My daughter picked up the book, screwed her nose up and said ‘Okay, I don’t get why you want to do this. The book is like huge and there are no photos. Where’s the fun in that?’

Indeed.

Okay, that was my month…how was yours?

 

 

Now that we’re into the sauces part of How To Eat there’s something that needs to be addressed before we go too much further – what to do with the leftover egg whites.

The hollandaise sauce and the forthcoming bearnaise sauce each use 3 yolks, while the mayonnaise uses 2. That’s a lot of egg whites I’m going to need to get creative about. Nigella, bless her little cotton socks, suggests freezing them in freezer bags – and helpfully reminds us that if we happen to forget to write on the bag how many yolks are within, a large frozen egg white weighs around 40g. There, pop that into the part of your brain that retains trivia like that. (For me it’s the section that also remembers song lyrics, boy bands and iconic TV advertising jingles.)

On the savoury front, while there are obviously egg-white omelettes to be made (yeah…nah), Chicken and Sweetcorn soup is a great way to use them (2 egg whites). One of my favourite party desserts – the Strawberry Cloud Cake – also uses 2 egg whites…along with a biscuit base, some strawberries, lemon juice and sugar. The love child of ice cream and mousse, it’s impressive, it’s pretty, it’s seriously easy to put together and, very importantly, it’s pink.

It’s also a piece of scientific mastery as these ingredients are whipped until they somehow become…

…this.

If you want to give this a try, you’ll find the recipe here

Of course there are other recipes too, but for now, we’ll turn to, as Nigella suggests we should, meringues. Again, she’s helpful – for every egg white use 60g of caster sugar. Easy peasy. From here it’s the usual palaver with meringue making – whisk the egg whites until the peaks hold their form, and gradually add the sugar, whisking as you go until it’s thick and glossy. You can pipe them onto a tray and make them look pretty, but I used 2 teaspoons and formed little freeform blobs. These are then cooked for around 40 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 140C.

I froze some of the meringues for another time and crushed about 8 to make a lemon meringue ice cream. Yes, you heard right. Although this isn’t really an ice-cream, it’s a Nigella shortcut to an ice-cream. You whip 300ml cream until it’s quite stiff, fold in 110g Greek yoghurt and 160g lemon curd (shop bought is perfectly fine), and the zest and juice of 1 lemon. Stir through the smashed up meringues and pop the lot into the freezer.

It’s one of those ice creams that you need to take out of the freezer and soften in the fridge for about 40 mins before you eat it, but when you do? It’s tangy, fresh and the occasional crunchy and soft meringuy bits are a welcome surprise.

We do have some other egg white treats coming up, but for now, I’d like to know, what do you do with egg whites? Are you for or against the egg white omelette?

lemon meringue ice-cream

I’ve taken on the challenge of cooking my way through Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat. You can find other episodes here.

Try as I might whenever we’re out for breakfast or, for that matter, brunch, I can’t seem to resist the eggs benedict. To me, it’s the one dish a café’s breakfast should be judged on.

Sure I’m partial to a smashed avocado on toast, but that’s so easy to do that at home that it’s become almost pointless to order when out. A good eggs benedict though? That’s a thing of beauty – even if my tummy rebels at the very thought of it these days…but enough about my digestion.

The thing with a good bennie is that you can’t make it at home unless you’re prepared to make your own hollandaise – and why would you do that when:

  • It takes ages and involves whisking by hand
  • It uses almost an entire packet of butter
  • There’s always the risk of it splitting

Sure, you can buy hollandaise in a jar or one of those packets that finishing sauce comes in and, you know what, that stuff isn’t bad. But it’s not hollandaise, not really. There’s still the faint taste of preservative.

Despite loving the humble bennie, and despite believing that there is very little in the culinary world that is better than dunking a spear of asparagus into fresh hollandaise sauce – other than perhaps dunking a spear of asparagus into a soft boiled egg – I’ve somehow managed to avoid attempting to make the real thing. I think it’s all that incessant whisking that has turned me off. It’s certainly not the butter.

It’s not that I haven’t made hollandaise sauce – there is, after all, very little in the culinary world that can beat fresh hollandaise drizzled over pan-fried salmon. And yes, I know that already said that about asparagus. I haven’t though made it entirely by hand. There’s a Delia Smith recipe that I’ve been using forever and a day where not only the processor is used, but you also use the egg whites to turn it into a foaming hollandaise. If you’re interested, Delia’s recipe is here.

The main problem with that recipe is that it involves getting the food processor out and as dearly as I love my Kitchenaid processor it’s flipping heavy and a pain in the neck to wash and dry. Plus you don’t get the bragging rights that you do from the real hand whisking version.

Delia’s recipe does, however, have two “advantages” other than using the egg whites:

  • It uses less butter than Nigella’s recipe – although is that really an advantage? I’m not so sure.
  • It incorporates an approximation of what Nigella referred to as the “fierce reduction” found in French cookery textbooks – a couple of tablespoons of white wine vinegar, one of water and a twist of salt and pepper. The already small amount of liquid is boiled until it’s reduced to just one tablespoon and then whisked into the egg yolks at the start. After tasting Nigella’s simpler version I’m not convinced that this is necessary.

Besides, this challenge is about cooking my way through Nigella’s How To Eat…not Delia Smith’s backlist of books (although I could do that as well, just saying #cookbookqueen).

Okay, onto the recipe – which does involve whisking by hand – which really doesn’t hurt you every now and again – and is much quicker on the clean-up.  Plus, it tasted really, and I mean really, good. Groan out loud good. Too much information?

All you need are:

  • 3 egg yolks – we’ll deal with the egg whites in another post
  • 200g unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into little cubes (I told you it was a lot of butter)
  • Juice of ½ a lemon – more if you like it really lemony
  • Salt and pepper to taste

I don’t have one of those fancy pants bain-marie style set-ups so put the egg yolks into a wide stainless steel bowl set over a saucepan of water – making sure the bowl and the water weren’t actually touching.

Place the pan on the heat and start whisking the egg yolks. Once the water has come to a boil reduce the heat so it’s barely simmering and start whisking in the butter – one cube at a time. By the time all the cubes have been added the sauce should be thick and luscious. Still whisking, add the lemon and the salt and pepper.

If you’re not using it immediately, ie if you have eggs to poach or salmon to fry or asparagus to steam, you can pop the bowl over a pan of tepid water – this time with the base of the bowl submerged – and whisk it firmly again before using.

My sauce didn’t split and despite the manual labour involved, to be honest, the biggest issue I had was whisking fast enough so that the butter didn’t melt before I could toss it in – even though I had the air-conditioning on. This is, after all, summer in Queensland.

I served it with asparagus spears and broccolini that I’d cooked for just a few minutes – almost blanched, I suppose. And it was incredible.

Is hollandaise worth making by hand? The taste is definitely better than that you get in a jar but in balance? Probably not. Aside from the fact that, on account of that much butter, it’s a heart attack in a bowl, it’s one of those things that’s more special because you don’t have it often. Besides, it involves a lot of whisking. But man, it was good!

I’ve taken on the challenge of cooking my way through Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat. You can find other episodes here.

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