Gifts given

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“… What do you have that you did not receive? … ” (1 Corinthians 4:7b)

Not much really! I have been musing about the idea of sacrament, ceremony and celebration recently. Thinking about the way that God made a good world, full of good things that should remind us to turn our gaze to Him in gratitude. About formalising our thanks in ceremony. About expressing and sharing our thanks in celebration.

I have been thinking about creation and Eucharist, about feasting and joy, about thankfulness. About a good world, about bread. About cake and friends to share it with. About delight and welcome. These are the threads I am beginning to trace as I learn God’s word. I am beginning to see the story about a world made in love, about good gifts given. About a King and a feast, about coming home to dinner. About fullness of life, about joy, not fear. Oh, I want to be able to tell that story. I want to tell it with loaves of bread baked in precious new pots. I want to tell it with Funfetti cake topped with butter cream frosting and sprinkles.  I want to tell it slowly and carefully and with great joy.

The psalmist tells us that “He withholds no good thing …” Psalm 84:11 and I know it to be true. Sometimes the gifts are extra special though. This last week I was given a beautiful blue le Creuset pot, heavy with the hope of bread to break and dinners to share. Newly arrived in Vancouver, only few months ago, I had also been given an preloved Kitchenaid mixer and then, last week, the bowl finally arrived. Talk about stuff being sacred – my heart and my kitchen are full! So I baked in thanks. I baked basic-bread and a party-cake. The stuff of life and the stuff of celebration. I think we need both. We need the reminder that our earthy bodies are nourished both by the earth, and by the One who offers us Himself, the true Bread of Life. And once we have remembered, we need to gather and celebrate His Goodness and His abundant welcome.

Piece of cake, anyone?!

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The romance of cold pork pies

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Sometimes it takes a long time to learn something. I am a baker. You could woo me with the pretty pastels of a patisserie window any day. My husband is a savoury person. He will try anything I made (especially warm out of the oven) and loves a good chocolate chip cookie – but in his heart of hearts, it is the cheese and olives, crackers and dips that win him over every time. I may be a slow learner but I am getting there. This year, his birthday treat was my attempt at recreating Donna Hay’s cold pork pies from her Autumn Issue 8 magazine. With the help of a kind and knowledgable butcher, they worked! Here is a little taste!

Eat Street

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We join the stream of cars seeking a place to park. Pangs of anticipation and hunger give way to a dizzying revelation of choice. We realize with some disappointment that that we are not nearly hungry enough! The crowded Hamilton Wharf area is a maze of brightly lit shipping containers transfigured into pint-sized food shops. On a Friday night there is a steady stream of people through the tiny avenues, munching on an eclectic assortment of ‘street’ foods. After an initial reconnaissance we decided on a cheesy German Kranksy, red Seekh kebabs and soft tacos with pulled-beef. The sausage was an early choice – blanketed with bright American style mustard it was warm, salty and satisfying. The lamb mince pieces from the Indian establishment were suffused with the flavours of an impeccably balanced spice blend only improved by the yoghurt dipping sauce. Fingers were licked. The cornmeal tacos were slightly chewy, their silky ribbons of meat toped with a fresh coriander-sprinkled salsa. Letting dinner settle, we wandered through the streets, listening to some of the live music and trying to decide on dessert. Not feeling quite up to the outrageous cabaret delivery of the funnel cakes or the lavish ‘cronuts’ we settled on a simpler indulgence. Enjoying a handmade square of velvety Madagascan vanilla marshmallow – we buy a few more of the pillowy, gelatinous sweets to take home and share later. While the girls stopped by the flower stall, Asher chose a large cup of organic tea on the way out, the mildly sweet Black Lemon infusion was a refreshing conclusion to a night rich in flavours.

Thanks to Jess and Mel, our hosts! It was a lovely adventure experiencing ‘Eat Street’ Market, on Brisbane’s Northshore with you as our guides.

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Warm in side and out: Chicken tagine

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While I have a lot to learn regarding the finer points of Middle Eastern Cookery, I am definitely inspired to try more recipes in that style after making this warming, satisfying dish. It was not to hard to make and was full of interesting, complex flavours that seemed to nourish us deeply at the end of a big day. The recipe is originally from the Women’s Weekly Slow Cooker book – here I have included some of the variations I made while I was cooking it at home. The olives were our addition – I had used them in the past for another tagine recipe and remembered how well they worked. And they did again! I would probably add 100g to the sauce while it simmers next time and then serve with another 100g that are still ‘fresh’ from the jar.

On another note – this dish was my first time using saffron for its flavour and colouring in a dish. Knowing only a very little about it beyond a few details of its very expensive production method, I think I would like to do some more investigations its use and history in both food and textiles – so stay tuned!

Ingredients:
8 chicken thighs
1 tbsp olive oil
2 brown onions
400g can diced tomatoes (or several chopped tomatoes and a tbsp of tomato paste)
125mL (1/2 cup) chicken stock
165g (1 cup) dried apricots
1 cinnamon stick (1 tsp of ground dried cinnamon worked fine too!)
Roughly chopped pistachio kernels, to serve
Fresh coriander sprigs, to serve
Sicilian green olives, to serve
Steamed cous cous to serve (we used wholemeal pearl cous cous)

Chermoula ~
1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander
1/4 cup chopped fresh continental parsley
1 long fresh red chilli, halved, deseeded, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
large pinch of saffron threads
1 tbsp cumin seeds (1-2 generous tsp of ground cumin was my successful substitute here)
1 lemon, rind and juice

1. The chermoula mix is prepared as a marinade mix for the chicken pieces. The fresh herbs, chilli, garlic are mixed with the dried herbs in a glass bowl. The chicken thighs then need to be let soak up all those flavours for at least 2 hours.
2. Ideally this would be prepared a tagine, the Moroccan cooking vessel this dish is named after, however a large frypan will produce a tasty result too!
3. Heat the oil in your chosen piece of crockery or pan and cook the chicken in batches till all pieces have been browned and have a golden crust.
4. Remove chicken and sauté the onion in the same pan till soft.
5. Add the tomato, stock, apricots and cinnamon. Increase the heat till the mixture is simmering and then add the chicken, nestling it in the thick sauce in tidy chicken-thigh bundles.
6. Cover the pan and allow the dish to cook for about 25 minutes or thereabouts – by this time the chicken should be cooked right through.
7. Remove the lid and allow the dish to continue to cook for another 15s or so till the sauce thickens.
8. Serve with cous cous and vegetables (we chose broccoli, cauliflower and sweet potato) and garnish with more coriander, the olives and pistachio.
9. Enjoy this delight to the senses!

Layered Mexican Salad with Chicken and Wraps

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Friday night movie and dinner with Asher, Mum and Dad. Mexican inspired fare and Frozen to entertain us. Good fun and company all around. One of my students made a Mexican salad a few weeks ago and I really enjoyed it. I thought I would have a go at making a creamy dressing with a lower fat content than sour cream (despite the cries of the sour-cream lover in my family!). After a little Google research I ad-libbed a bit and in the end, everyone was happy – and we were all glad of it the next day for lunch too!

Ingredients:
Chicken –
Chicken thighs
warm and spicy flavouring (your choice of paprika, turmeric, garlic powder, chili powder and salt …)
Oil for frying

Salad –
lettuce
1 x 400g can of beans of choice
tomatoes
1 x 400g can of corn kernels
cucumber
carrots (we grated them and I would recommend this!)
capsicum
low-fat cream cheese and greek yoghurt in a 2:1 ratio
corn chips

Method:
1. Slice the chicken and allow to marinade in chosen spices (these are really only a guide but I think they were the ones I used – all were happily received!)
2. Make the salad by preparing the vegetables and layering them with alternating colours attractively front the base of the bowl up. Again, those listed are a guide but they did work well.
3. Combine the yoghurt and cream cheese and spread over the top of the salad. Top with crushed chips. Refrigerate till serving time (2-3 hours allows the dressing to soak down into the salad a little, yum!).
4. Pan fry the chicken pieces and serve in wraps with salsa!

Chicken Caesar Salad

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This is the Chicken Caesar Salad that we make at home … it was conceived by Fast Ed and was demonstrated by him on Better Homes & Gardens 27.11.05, although since using it to teach my Year 9 students about hygienic preparation of both raw chicken and salad ingredients for several years, the method has been slightly adapted! I particularly adapted it this time as I needed to use up some of my not-so-successful sourdough (see a few posts back!). At home we sometimes made it with rye bread and that was also tasty. Turns out it made quite delicious croutons (as did the almost-failed-pumpkin-scones, but they were used in another salad!). Hope you enjoy it as much as the Year 9s and I do!

Ingredients:
1 chicken breast
1-2 small cos lettuce (1/2 a large one)
1/2 baguette bread stick (however I used the sourdough I made a little while ago toasted as croutons!)
vegetable oil (eg. olive or grapeseed)
veggie salt
Chili, salt and garlic spice mix
4 rashers bacon
Parmesan cheese to sprinkle

Dressing Ingredients:
4 eggs
2 tsp Dijon mustard
10 capers
4 anchovies
4 Tbs olive oils
2 garlic cloves
Salt and pepper

Method:
1. Slice chicken breast into strips approximately 1.5cm by 3cm.
2. Heat a little oil in a fry pan, pan fry the chicken pieces slowly till golden and cooked though.
3. Drain on plate covered with kitchen towel, cover with a plate till ready to serve.
4. Soft boil the eggs, see instructions below.
5. Chop the cos lettuce leaves roughly, place in a large serving bowl.
6. Defrost the sourdough after removing from its hiding place in the freezer. Paint with a little oil and sprinkle with spices and salt. Bake in a moderate oven till golden and crispy.
7. Slice up the bacon 5mm thick, and then dice.
8. Fry the bacon in a fry pan with a little oil till browned and crispy (if using bread that is less deep and meaningful than very heavy sourdough, this can be fried off in the fry pan before the bacon instead of being oven toasted).
9. Drain the bacon (and bread) on greaseproof paper.
10. Make the dressing: mash the eggs using a fork in a medium bowl, add other dressing ingredients to the eggs, combine.
11. Add the baguette slices/croutons, chicken and ham to the lettuce. Add the salad dressing and toss to combine all ingredients.
12. Shave cheese and sprinkle over the top of the salad.

How to soft boil an egg –
1. Fill the saucepan with enough cold water to cover the eggs
2. Fill a bowl with cold, iced water and set aside
3. Bring it to boil over high heat. When boiling, add the eggs gently.
4. Boil for 4:30-5 mins (start timing the cooking once the water starts to boil)
5. Remove eggs gently from saucepan and gently place in chilled water
*Variation: boil for 8-9 mins for hard boiled eggs.

Chili Con Carne

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My first attempt at this basic dish. Inspired by a book from my lovely husband called The Conscious Cook, by Giselle Wilkinson and the need to cook a carbohydrate rich dish with my Year 10 class, I had a go and also made some corn bread to go with it (the beans and the polenta in the cornbread are the carbohydrate rich ingredients). I tried two recipes of corn bread from Taste.com and the first was better … but both were a little grainy and crumbly. I think I might try doing it sometime after allowing the corn meal to soak for a while. If I do I will keep you posted!

Ingredients:
375g white beans (although you can use others, whatever you like/have in the pantry) that were soaked overnight*
2 tablespoons of oil for frying (Olive if you have it, I’m using grape seed oil at the moment)
800g kangaroo mince (beef works just fine, but Wilkinson suggests kangaroo because here in Australia ‘roo meat’ is much better for the environment than the growing of cows for meat)
2 large onions (I think I doubled the original recipe!)
2 large garlic cloves
4 cups chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
4 cups of stock (I used stock cubes)
2 chilli peppers (I think I used less than was called for)
1 tsp cayenne
1 tsp dried chili flakes
1/2 tsp sugar
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp cinnamon
Salt to taste
1 capsicum

Method:
1. Preheat oven to 180°C/160°C fan-forced.
2. Dice onion, crush garlic, chop chili and capsicum, measure out spices and stock.
3. Heat a little oil in fry pan (medium to high heat) and brown mince (medium heat). Take meat out of the fry pan (keep in casserole dish).
4. Add a little extra oil if needed. Sauté onion and garlic. Cook till soft.
5. Add tomatoes, tomatoes paste, stock, chilli, spices and sugar. Bring to the boil. Add meat and beans. Turn temperature down, cover and let simmer for 20 minutes. Add the capsicum half way through the simmering time.
6. Serve Chili con carne with lots of vegetables, a green salad and perhaps corn bread!

*Year 10 did theirs with tinned beans and this worked fine too.