Waiting for Agnes

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Temporary enchantment August 27, 2010

Filed under: Things that aren't sweet — titchandboofer @ 4:15 am
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I was bewitched by MasterChef, utterly sucked into the hype, drama and ‘suspense’, watching it, talking about it, texting constantly with one of the LMFs through every episode, trying out the recipes, reading about the contestants and their post-MC ‘journeys’ (I know, gag and puke, the word is ruined forever). Not to over-dramatise (well, much), but it was hard to imagine a post-MC world here. What the hell would we find to watch every night? Then it finished. And strangely I don’t miss it. I have rediscovered the glory of channel 2 and now it’s hard to imagine how MC had such a power over me. I hate reality television. The constant repetition, the breathless voice-overs, the urgency of every staged altercation between contestant and contest, the presenters, the supposedly subtle product placement (so subtle that entire articles have been dedicated to its artistry) and the puffed-up self importance of the whole shebang. Jeez, they’re poaching an egg, not splitting the atom. The only upside to MC, as opposed to some of the other gems that have graced our screens, is that the product can live on beyond the show. Everyone needs to eat. No one really needs to run around in hot pants with 75 litre backpacks, shrieking at their partner and abusing foreign taxi drivers. At least not daily. This recipe lives on for us on a regular basis:

Kylie Kwong’s only-slightly-tampered-with Eggplant with Chilli Sauce

3 large eggplants (never stint on eggplant, it’s lush)

5 tablespoons of peanut oil

1/2 a bunch of coriander, leaves, stems and roots all finely sliced

3 spring onions, finely sliced

1 teaspoon of the sichuan pepper and salt

For the chilli sauce:

1/2 a cup of peanut oil

6 long red chillies, de-seeded and roughly chopped (KK keeps the seeds in, which is fine if you want to blow your head off and drink a litre of milk)

10 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

8cm piece of fresh ginger, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon of tamari soy sauce

For the sichuan pepper and salt:

1 tablespoon of sichuan peppercorns (don’t stress too much on the sichuan, we just use ordinary peppercorns and they’re still excellent)

3 tablespoons of sea salt (rocks or flakes)

To do:

Halve the eggplants and cut into irregular 5cm chunks. Spread over a couple of baking trays and sprinkle liberally with sea salt. Set aside for about an hour. Rinse well, drain and pat dry with paper towel. This process removes all the bitter juices from the eggplant. DO NOT SKIP THIS.

To prepare the pepper and salt, dry roast the peppercorns and salt flakes in a small pan until fragrant and the peppercorns are popping a little. Remove from the heat, cool, then grind up with a mortar and pestle. Set aside. You can keep the excess in an airtight container with your other herbs and spices.

To make the chilli sauce, heat the 1/2 cup of oil in your wok until shimmering slightly. Add the chilli, garlic and ginger, stirring constantly over medium heat for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and continue to stir for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir through the tamari.

Now for the eggplant: heat the 5 tablespoons of peanut oil in the wok until shimmering slightly. Add the eggplant and cook over high heat for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low and cook for a further 5-7 minutes, until tender.

Add the chilli sauce to the eggplant and stir together for about a minute. Toss over the coriander and spring onions, stirring to combine.

Transfer to a serving bowl/plate and sprinkle with the pepper/salt combination. Serve with steamed jasmine rice. This amount makes about 4 generous serves. Good for dinner or lunch. Reheats well. Spicy without burning and salty without overwhelming. Soft eggplant contrasts with the crunch of ginger and coriander root. Yum.

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Stockpiling August 4, 2010

Filed under: Days of our chickens' lives,No baking today — titchandboofer @ 2:33 am
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Home again. Home to chooks, muddy walks, gardening, work, birthday planning and a beautiful pile of eggs, the result of the long-weekend’s work by Agnes and Mrs. P.

Most of these eggs were retrieved from underneath Lola. She has been stealing them, rolling them into her favourite nesting spot in the house and sitting on them, in lieu of laying any of her own. The pearly white ones are Mrs Poulawitska’s. They usually weigh in at about 2/3 the weight of Agnes’ large brown beauties. For this reason, I do love a cookbook that gives egg quantities by weight, or even by the separate weights of yolks and whites.

Betty continues her brooding vigil. She protests mightily when we lift her out of her broody-house for food and water, warbling in her funny high-pitched Silkie voice. Then she’ll eat, drink and scratch about happily for fifteen minutes or so before warbling to go back to her nest. It still astounds me that a hen who once couldn’t navigate her way out of the hen house to find breakfast can prove to be such a good brooder. According to several books and my poultry sources she will turn each egg in her nest one hundred times or more over the course of 24 hours (this stops the embryos sticking to the inside of the egg shell). Sure enough, whenever we lift her off the nest, all the eggs are positioned differently.

So with both Lola and Betty parked on piles of eggs, that leaves Agnes and Mrs P to ward off backyard intruders (Agnes will chase off anything that threatens to touch down, even butterflies in warmer weather), supervise gardening, steal snacks from the small person when he’s at hen level and polish off any kitchen scraps. By the time they’ve done all of that, layed their daily eggs, patrolled the perimeter and popped next door to have a quick scratch in the gravel, that’s their day.

Despite our egg riches, the weekend dessert-a-thon has meant that my beloved has imposed a baking embargo. She does this periodically, worrying that she’s teetering on the brink of baking-induced-diabetes. No baking until Sunday, bah.

We did make this glorious Kylie Kwong eggplant recipe, easily my favourite recipe to have come out of Master Chef this year. My only tweak for it is to add an extra eggplant. It makes for a great vegetarian dinner, heaped over some steamed rice, alongside a long, cool glass of water.

So, until Sunday the eggs will pile up and so will the recipe books on the desk as I mull over what to bake next. Peanut butter and choc-chip cookies? Austrian Maple Spice Cake? Chocolate Mousse cake? Ginger ice-cream?