Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Sunday Slow-Cooking recipe #1

Anyone who owns a slow-cooker will understand how I feel about mine. There's a love and a reverence I feel for anything that will work through the day (or overnight even) to come up with a tasty meal and all I have to do is sling stuff into the pot.

Massive respect.

My slow-cooker hibernates through the summer but in winter it appears, sloughs off its coating of under-the-cupboard dust and gets back into the cooking of soups, stews, ragouts or chowders that the colder weather and my family demand.

My preferred approach to slow-cooking is that there should be as little preparation as possible. The use of cans, cubes, packets and any other pre-prepared ingredients may be a no-no to some, but for me it is the quintessence of the slow-cooking philosophy. Working mothers will understand that on the weekend, you need family-time and down-time and not 'six hours in the kitchen time'. Pre-prepared is good and is your friend.

So, what's currently simmering in the kitchen (and I mean that literally, I can smell it wafting into the study where I am currently typing) is a roasted red-pepper and tomato soup.  I am not sure how recipe-oriented this blog will turn out to be, but let's give it a go. 


A jar of roast red peppers, two tubs of tomato puree and two cans of tinned tomatoes.

I have no preference for my brand of puree or tinned toms. There just happened to be Ardmona on the shelves. I like to get the chopped tomatoes with added herbs, saves me having to dig around in the spice rack or spend $$$ on out-of-season herbs.

About 3 cups of chicken stock and half a bottle of white wine.

Sometimes I use vegetable stock (when I am cooking for vegetarian friends) but generally I think chicken is more flavoursome and it means that I don't have to add too much extra salt as the stock does it all for me. The wine is a cheapy from the local bottle-o. I went in and declared "I need white wine to cook with" and this is what the nice man gave me (it cost $10 and is perfectly okay for the cook to quaff while tossing ingredients into the slow-cooker). 

One onion, a lemon and three sticks of celery.

The onion will be chopped and fried, the lemon will be juiced and have the zest taken off and the celery simply chopped.

A handful of chopped coriander.

I am a recent convert to coriander. Previously, I felt it was too soapy and alkaline for my tastes but I am getting used to it slowly. If you are feeling more trad, you can use basil, fresh is best.

First up, you need to chop and fry the onion. This is the only pre-cooking that I do. I get the onion on the stove to sweat while I put the other ingredients into the pot, then when I am nearly done, I turn up the heat and let the onion get really dark and sweet. If I am feeling indulgent, I will put some sugar in to help the caramelisation process along.

I drain the peppers in the sink:
The chopped tomatoes and celery go in the pot with the drained peppers.

After that, the tomato puree and the coriander.

Then I get the juice out of and the zest off the lemon.

The onion is usually ready by now so it goes into the pan with the lemon zest. I add my 3 cups of chicken stock and my half-bottle of vino bianco.

Then I add the secret ingredient (not so secret as of now):

One of my favourite spices to cook with.

You can't go past the smokey, earthy aroma of powdered smoked paprika. For me, if a soup or casserole dish comes out a bit on the thin side, then this will save it every time. 

I like to put the slow-cooker on a low heat for 6 hours, but if you are pressed for time, high for 3 hours will also work out fine.

To whizz or not to whizz? A bit of a whizz in the blender - up to you whether you want yours very smooth, quite textured, or, as I did, somewhere in between. Once this is done, I decide how much sugar to add. You need the sugar to balance out the acidity from the tomatoes and the lemon (and this came out super lemony!).Some people like to add their sugar when they cook up the tomato paste, but I prefer to taste and add at the end.

Then into bowls with a dollop of creme fraiche and some more coriander.

And the end result!

A word on the bread. I am lucky enough to live within walking distance of one of Lawley's bakeries. Originally located in Mount Lawley, there are now enough branches around Perth to make it possible to get hold of nice bread very easily.

As it says on the bag, they also operate a pretty good cafe on their premises.
I chose a rosemary flat bread. There were sprigs of toasted rosemary scattered across the top of the loaf. It was nice and moist with lots of olive oil which soaked into the paper of the bag.

Can you see the paper glistening?

The best thing about this soup? Well, beyond being smokey, peppery, lemony and sweet, there was heaps of it left. It served 5 of us with generously-filled bowls on Sunday evening, plus I will be able to have some for work for three days this week. The only drawback about having it at work - I can't have a glass of wine on the side...

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Love Shak

One place that I often find myself on a Saturday afternoon is Fremantle Arts Centre.  I drop Number 1 son at his art class and then Number 2 son and self walk the short distance to the Arts Centre. We like it because it is (usually) quiet, it is historical, there are gallerys, there is a gift shop and there is a great cafe.

Normally,  we sit in the leafy courtyard and have coffee and cake. However, the last time I went, something had changed. As I sat there with my mocha and muffin, I noticed a delicious spicy fragrance emanating from the kitchen and the waitstaff going past us with bread boards and little frying pans.  A quick glance at the menu revealed exactly what was going on:


I had only had shak-shuka once before and it had left an impression on my palate not easily forgotten. It's a North African dish of eggs poached in a spiced tomato sauce and, if you are tired of the standard breakfast fare offered in cafes on Saturday and Sunday mornings, shak-shuka is a wake-up for your weekend and your taste-buds. So it was with excitement yesterday, that I returned to the Arts Centre cafe to try it out.

My son is not into tomatoes or spice. He swears by the apple pie that they have there and declares that while they have it on the menu, he will never try anything else. I get this. When you are 10 and you have the opportunity for a large slice of warm apple pie, made with caramel and topped with cream, ice-cream or both, then you shouldn't pass it up.

It was one of those rare instances when he wanted his pie without anything on the side.

I ordered my shak-shuka, deciding that I would add a serve of chorizo into the mix. I also opted for a glass of local red. I've been a fan (and a mailing-list member) of Madfish Wines for many years now and when I see their shiraz on a menu I know that I can't go wrong. The shak-shuka took a little while to come but, hey, it is made fresh and when you see the little frying-pan come sizzling towards your table you get very excited!

I could have just sat and looked at it all day.

The tomato sauce was thick and still bubbling as the waiter set it down in front of me. I could smell onion, cumin and the generous handful of chopped coriander on the top. There were four slices of soft white baguette, a portion of garlic butter and  some kalamata olives on the side.

It's important to have enough bread for the mopping up stage.

The sauce was spicy without being hot - the last time I had shak-shuka, I'd been offered some home-made chilli sauce to go with it and I wish that I had had the same option this time around. That said, it was warm and studded with slices of quite delicate, fennel-y chorizo. I buttered my bread and got into it. The eggs were poached just the way I liked them, the yolk not too runny and not too firm.

Just-right yolk oozing onto the pan-base.

Such a good mingling of flavours in the mouth was made even better when chased with a slurp of decent WA shiraz. I tried to slow down, really I did, but before long my plate - sorry, my pan -  was clean.

The sign of a happy customer.

I sat, finishing my wine, feeling that I could easily eat the whole dish all over again if they had placed one in front of me. Luckily, things like that don't tend to happen. As it was, I was too full for dessert.

Fremantle Arts Centre Cafe opens for breakfast and for lunch. The staff are prompt, courteous and friendly - most importantly, kid-friendly. The menu is a short one, but a varied one and the wine-list is encouragingly local:

 All WA wines, bar one.

We like it so much there that we will forgive them their appalling typo at the end of the wine-list. In case you didn't notice, here's a close-up.

I don't know about you, but to me 'cockage' sounds rude.

The shak-shuka appears on both the lunch and breakfast menu, the main difference being that if you order breakfast shak-shuka, you can add chipolata as an extra rather than chorizo. Next time, I'm going back with my partner so that we can order a few more extras between us and see what they are like.

On a clear, crisp winter afternoon, sitting under the vines at the Freo Arts Centre is just lovely.