It's been a funny old week really. I don't really seem to have done too much cooking this week, more a case of just assembling a few salads really, but I have had several "cooking projects" on the go.
First of all has been my first attempt at curing my own bacon, the first project in which I'm participating for the Charcutepalooza group, hosted by Mrs Wheelbarrow's Kitchen and The Yummy Mummy. I would have liked to start last month, but last month's challenge was duck prosciutto - sounds amazing right, and I so want to try this. Problem is you need a cool humid place to hang your breasts (yes I did just say that), and that's just not happening in a hot, dry Canterbury summer - so keep watching this space for duck prosciutto when winter comes around. In the meantime here's a first glimpse of my bacon - today's lunch in fact - about which you will be hearing much more next week.
Project # 2 - my dear friend Clare, who has just started a lovely blog called Arnold River Ramblings (where she shares great recipes and tales from their home on the banks of the Arnold River on the South Island west coast), dropped me off a few pounds of damsons. These are not something I had ever used before, so I turned to a book I've had for years called Jams and Preserves by Olive Odell for inspiration. The moment my eyes rested on Damson Gin in the index, I knew this would have a place in my future. Looks beautiful, doesn't it ...
Now I'm supposed to let this mature for a minimum of 3 months. Other recipes I found for Damson Gin suggest leaving it for 6, 12 or even 18 months. I'm thinking that 9-10 months would be perfect, in which case it would be ready just in time for Christmas, and all those glorious summer cocktails to enjoy on long, warm summer evenings. I question, however, my ability to wait that long, so I'm thinking I may need to make a back up bottle just in case!
Once my Damson Gin was made, I got so ridiculously excited about my ability to make liquor, that I decided to make what I imagine will turn into a kind of coffee/orange liqueur. This is a recipe from Laura Calder called "44" that I had been wanting to make for many months. You simply take an orange and poke 44 holes in it, then push a coffee bean into each one of those holes - got that so far? 44 coffee beans pushed into an orange. Then put the coffee bean studded orange into a large glass jar, and add 44 sugar cubes. Fill with one litre of vodka, seal jar, and store in a cool, dark place, giving it a shake every day for 44 days. Not that I'm counting or anything, but only 43 days to go!
Now, to those "bits and bobs" I mentioned. Quite a while back (about October actually - I know, I'm pretty slack) two of my favourite bloggers Veronica at The Enchanted Cook and Michele at The Fit Foodista tagged me. To cut a long story short, I was supposed to answer a few questions that each of them asked and pass it on to a few more bloggers and ask them to do the same. Well, I just didn't get around to it. Not long after I was given the "One Lovely Blog" Award by two more lovely bloggers - Louanne's Kitchen and Kitchen Flavours - similar deal, answer some questions and pass it on - did I get around to it? In short - no. Then more recently I was given the "Stylish Blogger" Award again by Louanne's Kitchen (she must really like me), by Melynda at Mom's Sunday Cafe, by Daniel at The Haggis & The Herring, by Ms Enplace, and by Annie at Second Helpings. So I thought it was high time I got my act together and did a bit of sharing.
Firstly, let me say that I am deeply humbled by the kind thoughts and high praise these bloggers have bestowed on me. The open-heartedness with which fellow bloggers reach out to each other across continents, making connections with people they've never met, never ceases to amaze and inspire me and is what makes this whole thing worthwhile for me. So, now to share a bit about me, I selected several of the questions from those that were asked from different sources - read on ...
If you had to narrow down your diet to just one cuisine, what would you choose and why?
I love so many different cuisines that narrowing it down to just one is tough - I think it would probably be Italian (but it would only be nudging out Spanish or Greek by a nose). I love pretty much all of the ingredients that we associate with Mediterranean style food; I love the often very simple and rustic way in which dishes come together, relying on nothing more than outstanding, seasonal ingredients rather than a lot of fancy or "chefy" techniques to pull off a great dish.
What has been your most memorable meal to this point in your life?
Don't even have to think about this one. It was a rabbit dish that I had at a little restaurant in Barcelona called The Grill Room. It was quite a simple little restaurant as I recall, but the rabbit was outstanding. Half a rabbit was placed on a long skewer, carried through the restaurant and plunged into an open wood-fired oven at the back of of the restaurant. I could see the rabbit cooking from our table, and half an hour later it was brought out of the oven and set before me. It had been given only the simplest of treatment - a brushing of olive oil, some fresh rosemary, and plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper - but it tasted sublime. Proof once again that good food doesn't need to be messed with.
What’s your funniest kitchen/cooking disaster?
One time when we were kids (me about 7, my little brother about 5), my brother fell out of a tree and badly gashed his knee. My mother rushed him off to the doctor to get it stitched up and, anticipating that Dad would be home from work soon, left me home alone. While I was waiting for Dad to get home, I got to thinking that there had been a lot of blood "coming out of my brother" and he might die. Well, even though I found a little brother enormously irritating at that stage of my life, I really didn't want him to die. Just on the off chance that he might live, however, I decided to bake him a jam tart. So, I duly got out my play dough, found a pretty plastic bowl in the cupboard, lined it with a play dough crust, filled it to the brim with jam, turned the oven onto high and popped my "pie" into the oven. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to imagine the mess that made!!
What's your favourite kitchen/cooking success?
A week ago, I think I would have said the first time I made mayonnaise and discovered how easy it is. However, as of today, I think it would have to be the first time I cured my own bacon (see above) - I'm loving myself sick I think I'm so clever right now.
What are your three “go to ingredients” that are always on hand in your kitchen?Lemons, good extra virgin olive oil, and garlic.
What's your earliest food memory?
Spending a childhood Saturday afternoon in my grandparents kitchen while they made preparations for Sunday lunch. Nana grinding spices, rolling little balls of lamb, while Grandad grated fresh coconut, for Kofta Curry; Nana rolling balls of dough for parantha; and Grandad rolling balls of "cottage cheese", deep frying them and bathing them in rose water, making galub jamun.
Why do you like to cook – what about it makes you head back into the kitchen again and again?
The opportunity to cook for others is an opportunity to show them how much I care for them - it is an expression of love. Time in the kitchen is always a time of real peacefulness for me - a kind of meditation in a way, and a time in which I feel connected with my "food memories" and the cooks who came before me.
So, now we get to the hard part, and I guess this is why I've been avoiding this for so long. I am supposed to pass this on to several other bloggers. My difficulty with that is that I am reluctant to bestow an obligation on anyone who doesn't want to play along, and secondly there are so many of you out there that I love I just can't whittle my list down to a dozen or so "worthy recipients". So I've decided on another way of playing it forward. I frequently cook dishes that I come across on your blogs, and when I do I try to make a point of stopping by and leaving a comment on your post letting you know that I made it. But it occurs to me that it would be even better to let my readers know that I made it, and make a regular feature of the things I make from your blogs - a real Forward Friday, if you like.
So kicking that off this week I want to tell you about this Lentil & Potato Curry ...
This is actually a Mark Bittman recipe from How to Cook Everything, but I first came across it over at girlichef, a blog that never fails to inspire me. Heather has a way with words that literally pulls you into the kitchen alongside her, and takes photos that would pretty much make a bowl of dirt look appealing. So the moment I saw this Lentils and Potatoes with Curry I knew I wanted to make it. Heather did not let me down - the dish did not disappoint, and it has become a regular favourite in my kitchen. Thanks so much for the inspiration Heather.
Lastly, thank you to all of you who take the time to read my blog, to leave your thoughtful comments and offer your encouragement and support - it means more to me than I could ever say.
I'm also submitting this post to the Hearth and Soul blog hop, a place where you'll find lots of wonderful people who are passionate about great food and cooking from the heart - do go and have a look at what they're all cooking this week.