Tonight was Di’s turn to take a break and make us a “simple meal” but she never is known for simplicity so she made an easy meal by her standards.
She started with a first course that I never seem to get around to and that was her signature bruschetta of chopped tomatoes, crushed garlic and drizzled generously with extra virgin olive oil.
This was followed by a main of olive leaf pasta with peas, a bit of chopped tomato, garlic and a splash of her pasta water for added liquid.
A green salad followed with a balsamic dressing.
This was all accompanied by some leftover red of a suspicious variety.
The hot weather continues so last night was another BBQ. The little gas Weber was used so I did not feel that charcoal had been wasted. Sardines need only two or three minutes on the grill before being turned.
Because we had missed our party drink the night before Diane “Barista and Bartender Supreme” fixed us a cool delicious “Bronx” of vermouth, gin and a splash of orange juice–superb!
We started with hallumi on grilled Turkish bread; a much repeated old favourite so nothing new there.
However, for the main, I went back to an Ainsley recipe that we had tried years ago on several occasions; we had just purchased some frozen sardines so it seemed appropriate to revisit his recipe. It is a standard way of BBQing sardines where you wrap individual sardines in a grape leaf that had been purchased or parboiled for a few minutes. There is no seasoning except a lime slice on the bottom and a lemon slice on top before the fish is wrapped.
Diane prefers the fish roasted on the grill so that it is drier and grilled with the cavity filled with seasoning. However, I much prefer Ainsley’s way because the grape leaf wrapping means that it is extremely moist rather than dry. The recipe requires a reasonable amount of preparation so itis a recipe for those that are blessed with time. The Portuguese just cook the sardines as they are caught without even cleaning them; I have never been game to try this method but it would certainly be fast food.
Di chopped some potatoes, sprinkled them lightly with olive oil and then dusted them with smoked paprika and fried them quickly before finishing them off outside. These potatoes make a perfect compliment to the sardines.
Accompanying this Iberian feast was a beautiful bottle of Basa Rueda Blanco which was a perfect on such a hot summer evening.
Our continuing heat wave, now 6 days or so over 100, called for our usual response and that was a BBQ. We started with toasted Turkish bread topped with Cypriot Halloumi dusted with smoked paprika and flour and roasted for several minutes over the hot coals.
Because this was a spur of the moment BBQ we did not have a vegetable second course as we usually do so it was on to the main course which tonight was lamb chops.
We both have lost our taste for other meats, especially when cooked on the barbie and these lamb chops really confirmed that opinion because they were superb. In the past I have always bought lamb steaks to BBQ and never chops but after last night I have changed my mind. I always like to cut some rosemary when BBQing lamb and pressing it between the grill and that gives a little extra flavour to the meat.
Diane served a simple corn salad after the lamb and it tasted wonderful. She just mixed frozen corn with tomato pieces, lemon juice and chopped chipolte chili which is one of Mexico’s super ingredients for enlivening any dish. They are of mild hotness and also add a slight smokey flavour making it an ideal accompaniment as a cool salad.
We shared several glasses of that Tempranillo Spanish wine that we have; it seemed appropriate with this BBQ.
After this superb BBQ I felt bad because the barbie had an excellent set of coals and it was very hot and could easily have continued cooking anything placed over it for hours. This where my problem comes in: I would always like to cook over charcoal but it is such an environmental waste of the product to only use it for such a small amount of cooking. It is much less wasteful to use Di’s Weber and just turn the gas off when we are finished. I guess the charcoal BBQ will only be a special occasion choice.
Last night, after our many day’s of Christmas celebration, I decided that it was overtime for me to cut down the caloric intake so the Juice Diet became my breakfast, lunch and dinner for the day.
For me the Juice Diet consists of vegetable juice from mostly: carrots, celery, and a knob of ginger with an apple for a little juice and sweetness. If you also have a cucumber they are very juicy and provide an added vegetable taste. I have a container that I fill and that gives me three large glasses for the day
I find it an easy way to knock off the extra calories taken in over the Hols; the major downside is that I get cranky as the day wears on but I try hard to work around that little constraint. There is no alcohol to soften the experience either.
Diane goes her own way and uses the opportunity to have low-cal salads and also a break from wine with dinner. Food and wine have always, since we first met almost 42 years ago, provided the glue that has bound us through endless enjoyment, exploration, and conversation. We have a great and undying respect for that glue (among other things of course).
Today’s food was quite a bit different as will be seen tomorrow.
Last night, after Diane’s marathon (no pun intended as you’ll see) of cooking over these holidays, I was able to use some of her remaining mornay sauce and make a dish that we have eaten off and on for years, mostly “off” and that dish was mussaka. It is traditionally attributed to the Greeks but according to Wikipedia variations are known throughout the Balkans and Middle East. My version for last evening’s meal tasted absolutely brilliant! I take no credit in its preparation; it was just a superb traditional recipe. We had to make some changes so my version is more Romanian than Greek. The original recipe comes from a book published in ’72 by Eva Zane, a Greek-American woman, called Greek Cooking For the Gods and the book was given to us as a ’73 wedding gift.
Traditional Greek mussaka calls for layers of sliced eggplant, sauteed lamb mince, more eggplant and topped with (and this is where Di’s leftovers come in) a generous spread of bechamel and according to Zane’s recipe, grated cheese over that topping. We used a local cheddar but some recipes call for grated parmesan.
I also substituted potato for the eggplant and minced pork for the minced lamb. These substitutions made the mussaka Romanian rather than tradional Greek. The topping can vary from the bechamel to the more traditional flavoured yogurt. I have not tried it but with a dish as good as mussaka there are always variations that should not have any effect on the goodness of the dish regardless of its origins.
I just fixed a simple salad for the end of the meal and that cleansing salad could not be more appropriate after the richness of the mussaka.
As a rule, Diane and I drink inexpensive wines and tonight was no exception; we enjoyed a Zonin Veneto Merlot and It tasted excellently. I had tried the wine with another meal and found it to be thin with very little body. This time, because the wine had been opened the day before and obviously breathed (but not too much), I found the wine to be excellent and it wasn’t even decanted. In my terribly ignorant opinion, I believe any wine from a bottle will profit from being decanted regardless of the price. Obviously the higher the price and the older the wine the longer the decanting period.
Last night, Christmas night, was a night of eating celebration; Diane made yet another superb meal for our enjoyment. She put together a dinner of: her signature Maker’s Mark Manhattan with a purchased locally made Wattle Valley Basil and Cashew Dip.
This teaser was followed by an eastern state’s Pork and Sage Terrine by Poach Pear.
The main course was something special as befits this day and that was a locally caught saltwater crayfish transformed into a Crayfish Mornay. Our local independent fish monger supplies particularly fresh fish and this cray was no exception; the ingredients for the Christmas Eve meal were fresh and all supplied by him also.
After this marvellously special Crayfish Mornay (special because the price of crayfish precludes their regular inclusion in retired folk’s menus) Diane brought out some delicious French cheese that we had purchased several days ago at the cheese stand in the Fremantle market.
The wine was also especially delightful: a Rocca di Montemassi Calasole from Maremma Toscana in Italy.
Our Christmas happens for the most part on Christmas Eve and we have traditionally had the same meal virtually since arriving in Australian in ’74. We never eat this main course except at Christmas Eve and we both enjoy it so much that it is something much anticipated here in Leeming.
When we arrived in Perth early ’74 it was about 10 months until Christmas and in those 10 months we realized that Aussie’s buy seafood as the main dish at Christmas. Today here in Perth it is about 105 so having a northern hemisphere Christmas meal is out of the question. A standard TV sequence that I see every year is of the crowds at the Sydney Fish Market: it is the biggest time of the year.
With that information and that temperature (habitually it is one hundred or higher every Christmas) we adapted and was sent a seafood recipe by a woman, Teri Tsugi, who was a friend in the States. It was appropriately a cold seafood salad of flaked crab, pieces of crayfish (lobster in the States) and if the crays are too expensive then a prehistoric looking crustacean called a Morton Bay Bugtail from Queensland.
I have never made this dish but Diane mixes the seafood with mayo, chives, sage, shallots, black olive pieces and lemon juice. It varies according to what is available and the original recipe is looking a little faded and brown but Diane knows it by heart. She serves it on lettuce with orange pieces arranged on the plate.
The meal began with her legendary Gordon’s Dry Martini with chips (that generally only get served on this day). It was followed, last evening, by a dozen Duck Bay Tasmanian oysters that are small and so good. After this brilliant start we enjoyed the seafood salad accompanied by a bottle of Minchinbury White Seal Classic Sparkling Wine; WOW!, what a meal