mairead’s seafood chowder

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Ingredients

500g marinara mix, or make your own mixture of prawns, scallops, mussels, calamari and anything else you wish
250g white or smoked fish
750ml of fish stock (preferably fresh)
250ml of skimmed milk
1 tbsp olive oil
4 medium potatoes
1 small onion
1 stick of celery
1 carrot
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
½ teaspoon turmeric (if desired)
Fresh parsley finely chopped

Method
Finely chop all the vegetables except the potatoes and fry in the olive oil until well softened. Stir in the turmeric.
Meanwhile chop the potatoes into very small chunks (peel beforehand if you wish).
Add the fish stock and the potatoes, bring back to the boil and simmer for about 15 minutes until the potatoes are well cooked.
Chop all of the seafood into very small pieces (however small you think you want them, chop them a bit more).
Add the skimmed milk, and immediately add the seafood into the pot. Simmer for 30-45 minutes.
Sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley and serve with proper Irish brown or soda bread, or if not available a decent pasta dura bread will do.

Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a starter.

leftovers pizza

No, I don’t mean I had pizza last night and ate the last two slices this morning. As if, in my home, there would be any pizza left for breakfast.

Tonight, despite being Thursday, is the start of my weekend and I wanted Friday Food. (No Andy you do not have the copyright on this…). For the uninitiated, our Melbourne take on Friday food is that is has to be special, it has to be something you don’t normally eat on a school night, it has to be comfort food, it has to be something you like to end the week with but doesn’t take a Cordon Bleu chef to pull off.

I rode home from the city on the scooter in a strange high-temperature, high-humidity fog (really, is this still March?) and focused on pizza and red wine, my ultimate comfort food.

When I got home the Stanton and Killeen shiraz durif was hitting the spot and it was all I could do to call Pizza Hut – my favourite non-pizza pizza hit. (Let’s face it: Pizza Hut is not pizza but it is tasty). As it was March, the month of Slow Food, I focused hard and changed my mind. I would have home-made pizza with toppings made of all the leftovers in the fridge.

Two mini pita breads. Two teaspoons of tomato base from a tub (OK, it was not all slow food sourced from the land, but give me a break). A stray rasher of streaky bacon from a Paddy’s Butchers Sunday breakfast that just got too big. Some baby bocconcini from a weekend pasta dish, with about a week until sell-by date. Five cherry tomatoes and half an onion and a green chilli from the vegie drawer in the fridge. The heads off half a bunch of rapidly-failing broccolini. Spicy Italian herbs. All set.

Divine Thursday night dinner, nine points (Weight Watchers) instead of minimum 15 if I’d ordered in. OK, I would have ordered something meat-lovers and it would have been a train wreck – maybe 20 points which is more than I’m supposed to eat in a full day. But my dinner was a lot tastier and exactly to my taste.

And the fridge is a little emptier tonight because of me.

I thank you.

mammy dinner

>A routine trip to the hospital and a dose of anaesthetic yesterday meant I needed chaperoning overnight. Lee and Mena came to visit, the former to stay over and play nursemaid, and the latter to cook dinner for us.

I was feeling perfectly fine and totally compos mentis, except Lee said I wasn’t really: apparently my intelligence level seemed to have decreased somewhat. Now and again I made a declaration which elicited a puzzled response from her, because apparently I was making no sense whatsoever and even getting simple sums wrong. Horrifying.

Meanwhile Mena arrived and set to work cooking the exact menu that was served in our family home for decades on a Tuesday (and still is). Eggs, beans and chips. Perfect comfort food. I added sausages to the menu, having been to Paddy’s the Irish butcher last week and so having a plethora of pork products to hand.

Nothing fancy: real Heinz beans, two eggs dry-fried sunny side up, and potatoes chipped by hand and oven-cooked with a little spray oil. Irish-recipe pork sausages fried in the pan (they are really low fat and dry-frying them gives a much better browning effect than grilling). The only thing was that I only had regular malt vinegar. A nice onion vinegar would have gone down well with the chips. A good dollop of tomato sauce for dipping (sorry, Andy, it was shop-bought) and it was just the perfect Mammy Food.

I probably shouldn’t have, but instead of washing it down with a nice strong cup of tea, I indulged in a cheeky glass of two of a nice Langhorne Creek shiraz cabernet. Not strictly Irish kosher, but on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day I reckon that was forgivable.

charmaine’s dhal

>On a chilly autumn evening after a power walk I was ready for comfort food. Still trying to lose one more kilo before our trip to Laos, the healthy option was also necessary.

The decision: Charmaine’s dhal, the perfect spicy healthy food. Charmaine, a colleague at Red Cross and a food writer, is an Indian food expert and lover. She has written a few books on Indian cookery, several of which were published in India, and has just come back from another four-month stint collecting more recipes and stories.

Her dhal recipe is perfect every time.

Ingredients

400g dry lentils of any colour (I do a mix of 3/4 brown, 1/4 red)
1 medium onion finely chopped
1-2 cloves garlic
1 green chilli finely chopped
1 tbs olive oil
2-3 medium tomatoes finely chopped
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp black mustard seeds

Method
Rinse lentils a few times then cook in boiling water for at least 45 minutes.
Meanwhile add the olive oil and black mustard seeds to a frying pan and wait until the seeds start to explode. Then add the chopped chilli and fry vigorously for a minute or two.
Add the onion, garlic and other spices and fry until the onion is soft and brown. Add the chopped tomato and stir in. Cook until the tomatoes are soft and breaking down.

When lentils are cooked tip them into the frying pan – don’t bother draining all the water off them. Stir in and cook further until desired consistency is reached (I prefer my dhal a little bit runny) or add a little more water as required.

Serve on steamed white rice with a little chopped coriander or kasuri mehti as a garnish.

Serves 6

slow food saturday

Dinner with friends: the perfect excuse to spend a quiet Saturday doing what I do best. Focusing on food.

I was up and at Victoria Market by ten. A bit seedy after a glass or two too many the night before, I kept the sunglasses on despite the heavy cloud. For once, a sea mist was blanketing the city in blessed coolness, the humidity was high and it smelt like Ireland.

Vic Market was buzzing, as it always is. I strolled down the lines of produce in the fruit and veg shed first, comparing prices, tasting locally-picked fruit, getting sidelined by things not on my shopping list. The sellers shouted out their prices, competing with each other. Bananas $1.50 a kilo. I remember after Cyclone Larry when they went up to $15 a kilo. Seems like forever ago.

Laden already with plums, grape tomatoes, fresh basil, cucumber, sweet yellow chillis and mushrooms of different sizes, I headed for the meat department. Again the rows of perfectly-presented meats made me second-guess my menu plan. Perhaps it’s not too late to choose steak? Perhaps I should make hamburgers with that lovely mince? (it was the debut of our new barbecue after all.)

No. I steeled myself and kept walking down to the seafood. I browsed the counters, looking for the best prices, the exact tiger prawns I wanted, nice butterfish (which is not sold everywhere). Scallops winked at me; sushi-grade tuna begged to be bought and I capitulated. Something for me and Orlando, not this evening’s guests. Back to my usual butterfish man, I bought too much, knowing I would want leftovers. Two kilos of fresh shelled tiger prawns with the tails still on – perfect finger food – and I was done. Almost.

Over in the deli building, I quailed at the increasing weight of my various bags and rued my decision not to bring my wheelie trolley. Who goes to the market without a trolley?? Hungover me, that’s who. Plump Ligurian olives won over skinny kalamata. Bocconcini won over a more substantial piece of mozzarella. A sourdough baguette won over the other fifty or so breads on offer: this is always the hardest decision.

Last stop the chicken place for nice locally-produced free range chicken breasts, to round off the feast. Lucky I remembered.

Laden like a pack-horse, I sank to a seat in the food court with a strong flat white, two sugars. That’s better. A trip to Dan Murphy’s for wine and rum, and Safeway for a handful of remaining ingredients, and back home to take over the kitchen.

Half the prawns I marinated in a mix of red chilli, garlic and Punjabi Kitchen King Masala. It’s my favourite for shellfish and a real crowd-pleaser. The chicken was cut into more manageable pieces and coated simply in Italian herbs, garlic, a touch of chilli and green pesto. The butterfish got the Walkerswood jerk seasoning treatment.

Meanwhile more chicken was quickly browned off with some vegetables and slow-cooked in the oven with some of John’s seasoning. John Maughn is our friend who is a food wizard and his home-grown and produced seasoning is the best Caribbean flavour you can find. Seriously addictive.

A sit-down, a cup of tea and a Creme Egg later, I tackled the Greek salad and prepared the ingredients for an Italian pasta salad: grape tomatoes, bocconcini, fresh shredded basil, more pesto. Vegie skewers were constructed from yellow chillis, mushrooms and more grape tomatoes. The table was set and the mossie coils in place ready to be lit: all done.

The evening was a success. Two bottles of divine Brown Brothers 2002 Patricia Shiraz, and two more of Stanton & Killeen’s Rutherglen Shiraz Durif (2007), washed down the feast. The barbecue acquitted itself well, as did the chef. I thank you. Eileen’s cheese platter, Robyn’s handmade chocolates and Orlando’s orange muscat and flora rounded off the evening in style.

Even the washing-up went swimmingly.

bajan sweet bread

>This is a lovely cake/bread from Barbados.

Ingredients

125g butter
1/2 teasp coconut essence
1 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup coconut
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
300g sour cream
1/3 cup milk

Method

Grease a deep 23cm round cake tin.
Cream butter, essence, and sugar in a small bowl until light and fluffy.
Beat in eggs one at a time until combined.
Transfer to large bowl.
Stir in half the coconut and sifted flour with half the sour cream and milk.
Then stir in remaining ingredients. Stir until smooth.
Pour into cake tin.
Bake in moderate oven for 1 hour.
Stand five minutes before turning onto wire rack.