Helloooo, blog land! And by that I mean, helloooo Mom (thanks for reading!). I had planned to do Blog-Tober, where I post every day. Then I was all “well, I’ll do Blog-Vember, since I missed Blog-Tober.” And then, I did nothing. Continue reading “Catchup.com – uh, November?”
Frito Chili Joel
Any good Mid-Western or Southern American has tried Frito Chili Pie at least once in their lives. Growing up in my house, it was a staple. Continue reading “Frito Chili Joel”
Hot enough for ya?
So, we’re in the meat of summer.
It’s muggy and it’s damp and it’s the time of year where two cold showers a day become a necessity. And even though we don’t have air con in our apartment, we’re pretty lucky to now live in one the middle floors, in a space shaded by trees and built with a pretty decent cross breeze – as opposed to our apartment in Balmain, which faced the sun, had NO shade, and absolutely broiled in the afternoons. Continue reading “Hot enough for ya?”
Garbage can eating
I used to eat like a garbage can.
Correction, I used to eat like a garbage can – and get away with it. I sure as shit haven’t cleaned up my eating habits – ever. And it’s becoming moooore and more clear that I might not have a choice to soon.
One charming aspect of climbing into my 30’s is my new reaction to food. Tomatoes? Heartburn. Onions? Heartburn. Oatmeal? Heartburn. Too much salt? Simultaneous and instant bloat, dehydration headache. Too much sugar? Irritable sloth bitch who can’t keep her eyes open. Dairy? Let’s not get into it.
This is all new to me. In my prime, my garbage can days saw me skipping breakfast for a large coffee mixed with powdered creamer, hot chocolate, and Splenda; mid-morning snack of doughnuts; lunch of fried, instant nooodles scooped up with Doritos; inhaling every processed snack when I got home; giant bowl of pasta, sauce, and bread with a bottle of wine for dinner. Rinse and repeat with no real issues.
But the past few weeks have been a real eye opener. I fell into a downward spiral of fat a couple Saturdays ago. I woke up and ate a chocolate croissant with a cup of sugary coffee. Then we went out for breakfast and milkshakes. Then we had coffee in the park. After I spent the afternoon with a stomach ache so bad I was cursing the dairy Gods and their evil temptress ways, we ordered Pizza Hut and I ate 4 pieces. The next day, I made cookies and ate half the batter. The following week at work, I had take away coffee every day (2 sugars each!), and that week + plus the few weeks that followed were so busy that I found myself eating Welsh Cakes (like a bigger, less exciting Snicker Doodle) for lunch, and really, snacks throughout the day. That’s in addition to coming home to eat dinner and dessert. One night, as I was literally struggling to get off the couch because I was so crabby and so stuffed with shit food and so full of chest pains, I thought to myself, “what the hell am I doing?”
But then fucking Christmas. The season of Obligatory Gifts from Co-workers Who Don’t Know You, i.e. sweets. Cookies. Brownies. Cakes. Cannolis. Fudge. And really, any and every sweet thing imaginable. It’s been a week of not being hungry for lunch because I’m full of sugar. A week of riding a roller coaster of emotions as I peak and valley with sugar highs while feeling and looking a bit like Violet Beauregard.
Suffice it to say, I’ll be looking for a nice sugar detox after Christmas. My skin, my dreams, my joints, and the waist bands on my pants are ALL feeling the strain of eating like shit day in and day out.
Any suggestions? Or maybe a hypnosis program that makes vegetables taste like doughnuts.
Comfort Food, ch. 1: Bolognese for Days
Comfort eating – my favourite sport. I have a few meals in my rotation for when times get tough, or when I just need that ultimate food hug. Yes, it’s unhealthy to use food as a coping mechanism. But we aren’t here to discuss my unhealthy coping mechanisms – that’s another post all together. We’re here to talk about the food that takes you to a safe space. The meals that give you an island in a sea of bullshit.
My most craved meals are almost all from childhood, and they’re almost all amazingly unhealthy – chicken enchiladas, biscuits ‘n gravy, bbq chicken with yellow rice, brisket sandwiches, french toast, I could go on in a gravy coated, cheese topped dream.
Today, though, I’m all about bolognese. Full disclosure: I love my mom’s spaghetti sauce. It’s pretty damn good and my #1 meal of all time is her baked chilli spaghetti (coming soon!) But this sauce isn’t my mom’s recipe. I happened upon this deliciousness when I was older and living out of state on my own for the first time.
My sister’s God-brother’s wife, Mandy (yes) posted this recipe she got from her friend, and claimed it was life changing. I was an Extra Super Cooking Novice (I have since become a Kinda OK Cooking Novice) and had always thought bolognese was intimidating and too advanced for me. But Mandy made it look easy. I book marked the recipe until the one random night that I was gutsy enough to try it.
Sheeeeeew – it was incredible then, and it’s incredible now. It’s even good when I forget/swapped some ingredients (read: forgot to buy the right ones). It was the first real “adult” or “more than 3 ingredients” meal I attempted, and it was a raving success. And now, it holds a special place in my rapidly clogging arteries. Joel thinks we should have it once a week.
So, here’s the low down, complete with inevitable Audrey Mayhem (see above about forgetting/swapping ingredients) –
Step 1: find some good trash TV to cook to. You’ve got some chopping to do.
Step 2: cook the onions in some olive oil for 2 minutes.
Step 3: Add the celery, carrot, and garlic and cook for 5 minutes
Step 4: Pour yourself a glass of the $5 wine. Hold out hope that this is the one $5 bottle of wine that defies the odds and doesn’t taste like room-temperature, freshman year of college bad decisions.
Step 5. Add the pancetta and cook for 5 minutes
Step 6: Add the beef and cook until brown
Step 7: Add the remaining ingredients
Step 8: THE HARDEST PART – let it simmer for at least 45 mins.
Step 9: NOSH
This recipe makes between 5-8 servings, depending on how big your servings are. It’s wonderful, complex, creamy and savoury, and I suggest you try it tonight. Because I’m off the store for more pancetta…
Best Bolognese Ever
From M Cubed
Makes 5-8 servings
– olive oil
– 1 large yellow onion, diced
– 3 stalks celery, diced
– 1 carrot, diced
– 4 cloves garlic, minced
– ¼ pound pancetta, chopped
– 1 ½ pounds lean ground beef
– 1 cup dry white wine
– 1 cup whole milk
– 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
– 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
– ¼ teaspoon red pepper
– 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano, or 1 tablespoon dried
– ½ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
– 2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
– ¼ teaspoon black pepper
– ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
– ¼ cup grated Parmesan (plus more for sprinklage)
1. In a Dutch oven (sigh. Or deep sauce pan, or wok, or something stove-top oriented that’s deep), over medium heat, heat the oil.
I’ve wanted to do a Friendsgiving style dinner since maybe before I moved to Sydney. But I’ve just never had the wherewithal or the space to get it together. I mean, my first Thanksgiving here literally snuck up on me the day before, and was thusly celebrated with little fan fare. The second one was better thought out, but as we were in a tiny heat box apartment with only 3 plates and 2 chairs, there wasn’t any space to entertain. But, as luck would have it, at Joel’s exhibition, Hugh (our master chef pal) and I started to loosely plan a big Thanksgiving dinner.
In mid-October we remembered we were planning a dinner (actually, Hugh remembered, because I’m absent minded professor), so we picked a date, set a menu, made a plan, and on Friday night, we made it happen. With Hugh at the ham helm and the grill station, and me with the mayonnaise and bacon salad (America) we fed 17 of our pals and killed many 3 for 1 bottles of wine. It was fan-damn-tastic.
When I think of Thanksgiving food, I want cheesy green bean casserole, heaps of mashed potatoes and gravy, piles of turkey, stuffing, etc etc. But when I think of cooking and eating a meal of cream, cheese, starch and gravy in the air conditioner-less heat of an Australian November, it makes me want to curl up and die. So we adapted the traditional meals for something more light and summery — but still paid homage to the fat filled, cheese topped, heavy, heavy style traditional noshes. What we ate:
- Ham with pineapple/lime/chipotle glaze with a chipotle apple sauce
- Glazed and grilled carrots, and squash and broccolini (topped with pickled carrots)
- Green beans tossed with almonds and pickled onions
- Red Skin potato and bacon salad
- Corn bread from scratch
- Homemade pumpkin pie with spiced whipped cream
- Mixed berry cobbler
- Honorable mention but didn’t make it to the table – buttermilk rolls and mini bourboun pecan tarts.
The meal didn’t come together without its share of Audrey-style mayhem – I was meant to do a big shop on Wednesday night so my Thursday night would be totally free for baking, but Glued to My Phone Election Night Blues got the better of me.
I went to the store, but it was only to buy bacon for dinner and to cry in the aisles like a basket case. So on Thursday, I did my big shop. 90 minutes and 30lbs of groceries later, I was exhausted. At 8PM Joel took command and made most of the corn bread (ok, he really made all of it but I read the recipe to him and grated the cheese and pointed out that I forgot to add the creamed corn, so I’m taking credit, too). Around 9 PM I started boiling the potatoes and putting the pie together. By 10PM the pie corn bread was done, the pie was baking, and the potatoes were still hard, and I was counting how many hours of sleep I’d need to be up at 6:30AM and not feel like a zombie for work. By 10:45PM the potato salad was done, the pie was burnt to a crisp (fucking *F to *C), the buttermilk rolls were scratched, and I was all “fuck it.” and went to bed.
But, the meal was still a success! Hugh is a genius with food, and it’s a meal I wish I was still eating. Here are some moderately good pics – mostly blurry and mostly forgetting key elements like the green beans and the whipped cream gun, but some pics are better than none:
It really was a fantastic night – friends, wine, great food, laughs, and even some interpretive dancing. Thanksgiving is intended to be a day where you reflect on your good fortunes, and for showing gratitude for those good fortunes. I felt the gratitude. And I felt the love. It was a night to not dwell on the negatives (Trump), and it was a night of reassurance that not everything is dark and terrible. As I looked down the table filled with people and candles and conversation and food being passed around and everything just felt – good. If I were the Grinch, this is where my heart would break the frame.
I am incredibly thankful for my Sydney family, for Joel’s friends who have never treated me like a stranger and who I now consider to be my friends, too. I’m thankful for my life here. I’m even thankful for this year, even though it’s been so hard, it’s been so eye-opening and revelatory to support systems I didn’t realise I had.
I’m thankful for the life I live, and I am thankful for the people around me.
And I’m thankful for that ham. Seriously, it was damn delish.
On the Subject of Pancakes
I hit one of those “I’m a Grownup” goal posts this week that I didn’t know existed and thus took me completely by surprise: my pancakes taste better than restaurant pancakes.
A little back story: last Saturday night, I had a craving for buttery syrup covered pancakes, crispy break like glass in your mouth American style bacon, and extra crispy outside soft on the inside salty hash brown patties. It was one of those “wow if I don’t get this exact meal right now I am going to burn this place to the ground” cravings. However, being that it was 8:30 PM and I had just eaten dinner, 3 cookies, a bowl of cereal, and was working my way through a chai tea made entirely with hot milk, I wasn’t about to walk out to the store to gather ingredients. And by that I mean I couldn’t convince Joel that this was an emergency and he needed to go out and get bacon and hash browns for me. Butthole. So I vowed to wake up on Sunday morning and have my pancake brunch.
I woke up with determination, even though it was raining. I knew where I wanted to go, and I had cash burning in my pocket, and it wasn’t until I was half way out the door that I realised the place I wanted to go to was closed on Sundays. On Sundays! The high holy day of Brunch. The brunchiest of Brunch days. No big loss, I thought, since we live in a super hip
gentrified neighbourhood and you basically can’t spit without passing hitting a cafe.
But, spit all I want (which I don’t, that’s gross), I walked around for half an hour and couldn’t find a single place that sold pancakes. Womp womp. So I cut my loss and headed back to the grocery store to buy bacon* and frozen hash browns, and just make the pancakes myself from scratch. I also passed a stand selling brownie-cookie sandwiches and I bought three for Joel and I to sample. Whoooops. I was too stuffed on cookies to make the pancakes that day, but Monday was a pancake dream come true. And with crispy American style bacon and the dream hash browns. It was worth the sodium/diabetic coma I fell into and couldn’t pull myself out of.
A few days later, Joel and I met a couple of friends for breakfast, at the afore mentioned inexplicably closed on Sundays cafe. I ordered the pancakes, which came with a side of home made mascarpone. I was really excited to get the professional pancakes, after eating my home made ones for most of the week (it’s been a fat week). And as the plate was put in front of me, they couldn’t have looked more beautiful: perfectly round, golden, full and even, lightly dusted with powered sugar… delish.
But as I dove in, something just wasn’t right. They were a bit dry. And the edges weren’t crispy. And I made it 2/3 of the way through the stack and still wasn’t feeling that pancake joy. And it hit me: my pancakes are better.
I patted myself on the back, because this is honestly the first time I’ve ever felt something I made at home was better than something I ordered in a restaurant. And the next morning, I made pancakes again. They’re rarely perfect circles, or even, but they’re amazing. They’re soft and rich on the inside, crispy on the outside. They’re rich enough to make you feel sick if you eat a giant plate of them, but tantalizing enough to make you never stop eating. And I sat there eating with a smug smile of satisfaction on my face, feeling like I achieved something in this world.
Don’t fuck with my pancakes, guys – they’re awesome.
Audrey’s “Better Than Restaurant Pancakes” Pancakes
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp white sugar
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup butter milk (look, you can use 1 1/4 cup of any milk you want, but this combo is perf)
3 tbsp butter, melted
1 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste (or 1 tbsp vanilla extract)
In a large bowl, sift together all dry ingredients.
Make a well in the center of the bowl, and add wet ingredients
Whisk together until the batter is smooth
In a skillet on medium high heat, melt a bit of butter to coat the pan
Once the skillet is hot, scoop the batter out into the pan using a 1/4 cup as a scoop. I like to make small pancakes – tiny pancakes make me feel better about eating 6 at a time. But you can easily make giant ones using a 1 cup scoop.
Fry the pancake until you start to see slight bubbling around the edges or on top of the pancake, taking care not to burn. With small pancakes, this typically takes around 3-4 minutes. Flip to the other side and fry until cooked.
Serve with butter and syrup. Or whatever your heart desires – I’m not here to judge, only to guide.
Excess batter can be stored in an air tight container for like, a week probably. Not that it ever lasts that long.
I want to chop up strawberries into the batter to make strawberry vanilla pancakes and serve it with whipped cream. Or experiment with using cake flour instead of All Purpose. What do you think? Share any pancake thoughts that make you feel smug. THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS YOU GUYS.
*I all but stopped craving bacon here because it’s just not the same. But, I found out that if I fry Australian bacon in olive oil, it gets super crispy. It takes me back home in a weird, wonderful, beautifully American way.
Good Gravy, episode 1
I love my parents – they’re hilarious and adorable and they’re best friends and huge nerds, and they compliment each other in a million different ways. But my favourite yin/yang quality of theirs has to do with my favourite breakfast: biscuits* and gravy.
My mom is the cook in the family. She reads cookbooks for fun, re-creates recipes after eating a dish at a restaurant, and has a vault of self-learnt recipes that impossibly blends complete trash food and gourmet dining. With the exception of something we now call “Corn Loaf”, a corn and cheese side dish that was supposed to be a fluffy Mexican corn dish that somehow went wrong and solidified mass of corn and goo that we could almost cut in slices, I can’t remember a single dish my mom has made that I haven’t liked. No one makes a grilled cheese sandwich or a plate of scrambled eggs like my mom. And I’ve tried for years to replicate my all time famous dish of hers, Baked Chili Spaghetti, to no avail. I’ve been asking for about ever for her to write these recipes for me, but I always get the same answer – “I’m not sure – I just make it. Just take X and X and X and go with it!” She’s a jerk.
My dad, on the other hand, passed his cooking skills down to me. We both need detailed instructions and tools. But we both looooove to eat. So it all balances out.
One of the biggest things I miss about living with my parents is the food. Particularly the big Sunday or holiday breakfasts. “Breakfast Skillets,” which are individual skillets layered with a fried egg, hash browns, sausage gravy, and topped with cheese and crumbled bacon. French toast fried perfectly with crispy edges and a soft center and topped with maple syrup and powdered sugar; Bacon and egg fried rice; but the best of it all is biscuits and sausage gravy.
Mom makes a helluva good gravy. I’ve never actually seen her make it – it just always appeared at the same time as the scrambled eggs did – both hot and ready to eat, with only one pan being used. It’s a mystery to me. For all the cooking talent my mom has, she can’t form a biscuit to save her life. They come out lumpy, malformed, a bit like a gargoyle fist – if that gargoyle fist was slammed in a door a few times. They break when you touch them and they’re pretty dense.
That’s where my dad comes in – his gravy may taste floury or be too watery, but his biscuits are always geometrically perfect with flat golden tops, and have the most perfect smooth and fluffy texture. I remember watching him make the dough, flouring the counter top, rolling the dough with a rolling pin, and using the same cup he always used to stamp out the biscuits. It’s the only cooking ritual I remember my dad having in the kitchen – besides the giant bowl he used to eat cereal.
With my parent’s powers combined, they make one awesome sauce breakfast. And it’s just one of those little anecdotes about their relationship that I think is too adorable.
I was looking through our fridge this morning and noticed our bacon was about to go off, and I immediately thought about making gravy with it. Even though I never made bacon before. So I called the Breakfast Masters for a crash course in Gravy 101 – what kind of spices to use, what kind of utensils, and basically the most important aspect of gravy – which is continuous whisking.
Now, this is for bacon gravy, which isn’t as good as sausage gravy – (which I’m attempting next week), so this is an abbreviated method (mostly so I won’t forget when I try again next week)
Step 1: Fry lots of bacon. Sing the bacon some sweet songs to encourage all the grease to collect in the pan (you only have to do this in Australia, where the bacon isn’t NEARLY as greasy as it is the US)
Step 2: Once bacon is at desired doneness (extra crispy for me, please – I want that shit to shatter in melty bacony goodness), remove from pan and wrap in aluminium foil to keep warm.
Step 3: On medium heat, melt some butter (see above note about Bacon not being greasy enough)
Step 4: Sprinkle a couple table spoons of flour over the butter and whisk that up with either a whisk, a wooden spoon, or the bottom of a flat rubber spatula – whatever won’t scratch up the pan
Step 5: Whisking constantly, cook the flour and butter for a few minutes until it’s really clumpy. If you don’t cook it long enough the flour will taste raw.
Step 6: Add milk – I eyeballed it by adding 1/2 cup at at time. And whisk whisk whisk.
Step 7: Season with salt, pepper, whatever else you’d like. I threw in some cajun seasoning.
You can add more milk if it’s too thick, more flour if it’s too watery
I served mine over toast with the fried bacon. And it tasted just as good as my mom’s, which made me feel like a double champ – 1) because I tried something new and it wasn’t a disaster, and 2) because it was delish. It felt like a taste from home.
But I also feel like a world of heart clogging, thigh jiggling, gravy topped food opportunities have opened up for me – and that’s hella exciting.
Tune in next week for episode 2! We’ll see if my biscuit game is on point.
*I should clarify for my non-Americans that I mean scones – biscuits in the States are the equivalent of scones in Australia. The first time I mentioned biscuits and gravy at work I was met with some grossed out and confused looks.
“Like… biscuits? Covered in gravy?”
“Yeah, it’s SO good.”
So Joel and I have been on a kick watching Kitchen Nightmares lately. It’s like the Hoarders of food shows, and I love it. Even if I do feel just the slightest bit shamed because the food Gordon Ramsay turns his nose at I’m usually like “DAMN THAT IS COVERED IN CHEESE AND IT LOOKS GOOD.” I have the most sophisticated pallet. Clearly.
But on one of the episodes, Ramsay was trying to choke down some mussels marinara*, and I was instantly hit with a craving for mussels. I’ve never made mussels on my own before, and I think I can count on one hand how many times I’ve eaten them. But the craving was sudden, ridiculous, and insatiable. One of those “if we don’t make these tomorrow I will cry” kind of cravings – seriously, Joel came home on Sunday night after an unsuccessful mission to find fresh mussels and I did cry**.
A few years ago when Joel stayed with me in the States, we took a trip to Montauk, NY. It was November, so there were exactly 18 people in the Hamptons, and even fewer in Montauk. We stayed in a shifty motel close to the beach, and googled restaurants until we found one that was locally famous and had the most insane name ever – Shagwong Tavern. I would have eaten there based on the name alone, but the reviews boasted the best seafood on the island, so onward we went.
Being near the Hamptons, I was expecting something a little more upscale. What we arrived at was a dank, dark, tavern that had been ridden hard and put away wet. One of those old restaurants that’s been around so long and will never not smell like cigarettes and bad decisions. We were welcomed to queaky plastic seats with American Indian fabric covered booths, crappy tables, and decor that hadn’t been updated since the mid 80’s. The bar was across from the dining room, where the clientele looked like they hadn’t been updated since the mid-80’s either – a mullet or two, curls crunched up with gel, guys wearing flannels with the sleeves cut off making out with girls in high waisted tight jeans, getting drunk and rowdy and playing pool, and everyone drinking Budweiser from the bottle. Needless to say I was no longer worried about wearing a zip up hoodie to dinner.
We ordered a bottle of wine, some entrees, and the steamed mussels to start. I wasn’t sure how to eat them, but I wanted to impress Joel so I just went with it. And fuck if they weren’t amazing. We ate until we were blind and made a lot of passing judgements at people. I think there was almost a bar fight at one point. And I remember being scared to use the bathroom. It’s one of our fondest date memories.
Since Monday was a public holiday (woo!), we woke up and set out on a quest for fresh mussels. And later that night, we were eating a pan full of deliciousness. Joel came up with a garlic and white wine sauce that was basically magic, we had fresh sour dough, and it was damn good. We even cleared off the table to eat like real grown ups.
Who knew mussels were so easy to make? All in all it was about 30 minutes of prep and cook. Normally, here is where I’d post the recipe, but Joel was at the helm and I was catching up on some work, so I have no idea what happened. Except vegetable stock was included at some point. And garlic. Oh, and white wine. And it took like 14 minutes to steam the mussels.
So there you go, world’s easiest recipe. Get some mussels and some wine and go to town!
*Until I moved here, I always thought marinara sauce was a plain tomato sauce. Nuuuupe. Continuing the seafood adventures kick, Joel bought a bag of fresh seafood mix and made a seafood marinara on Monday, complete with this badass tomato sauce that I once again didn’t pay attention to as he was making it, because I was once again catching up on work. But it was one of the best sauces I’ve ever had. I believe stock was once again involved. And parsley. And onions. And garlic.
So there you go, another awesome recipe to try this week.
**But really, what hasn’t made me cry this week? I need a vacation.
***No shame in my pun game.
April Thus Far
So who is waiting to wrap a big fat DONE ribbon around April, quietly put it on the shelf and just pretend it didn’t happen? *raises hand*
I can’t remember a month where I’ve felt more – fragile – I guess is the best word. Hence the sporadic appearances here and everywhere else in the social spectrum. It’s been a tough few weeks. I’ve been on the receiving end of more pep talks than I have in years. But I’m happy to say that being more proactive and attentive to what I need has been helping immensely, so I’m just taking it day by day.
BUT – April hasn’t been all bad! For one thing, we watched so many episodes of My 600lb Life that I think I’m *thiiiiiis* close to cutting out all processed foods from my life. Joel has become Head Chef around here and we’ve never eaten better. I’ve been able to skype/Facetime/phone date with many of my nearest and dearest. And my most favourite person had a birthday. We celebrated with a doughnut cake, Game of Thrones, and a night with friends… and a resulting Friday night of pizza and sweatpants recovery.
Annnnd we just had an awesome three day weekend of good food, good movies (ok, and some terrible movies), and relax times (and let’s face it, obsessive cleaning and rearranging #stressed) in honour of ANZAC Day.
So here’s to the last few days of April – fingers crossed that it all starts to shape up.