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In the world today it’s doubtful any more than one song exists where the subject and title is Eggplant. A quick Google search reveals that yes there is indeed more than one song with Eggplant in the title like ‘The Eggplant That Ate Chicago’. The band Train also has a song called Eggplant and there are a band-names like ‘My Eggplant Died Yesterday’ and ‘Kenny Young and the Eggplants’.  The search also indicates resoundingly by far and above the most well-known Eggplant song of all is ‘Eggplant’ by Michael Franks from the album Art Of Tea.

I heard this song in remix form recently after not hearing it for years, then quite annoyingly remained in my head for a few days afterwards. Anyone familiar with the lyrics  would know the chorus suggesting his girlfriend cooks it up ‘about nine-teen different ways and he sometimes has it raw with Mayonnaise’? More Googling reveals indeed this is a way some people consume it, raw with mayonnaise on a sandwich. (Perhaps they got the idea from the song?) Eggplant, whether it be roasted, fried or Baba Ganoushed is a vegetable unsurpassed with its sweet, cooked flavours and melt-in-your-mouth texture. Raw is just not an option.

Imam Bayildi
Imam Bayildi

I recently performed in Yamba with the Bushwackers, where we were fortunate enough to experience the cooking of Sevtap Yüce. Turkish born, she now owns her own restaurant in Yamba where the menu is a creative mix and modern slant on traditional Turkish recipes. Being so impressed with the food I buy her cookbook full of treasures ‘Turkish Flavours’ and there she was in the open kitchen to sign it for me too with a smile to match as big as her flavoursome, generous cooking.

Blanched Tomatoes Chopped
Blanched Tomatoes Chopped

I consult Sevtaps’ cookbook for Eggplant dishes and discover Imam Bayildi – which translates to ‘The Priest Fainted’. Some say he fainted because the dish tasted so good and others because of the amount of expensive olive oil used. I’ve never fainted because a dish tasted so good, quite the opposite. And with no shortage of Olive Oil thanks to Adina Vineyard decide to attempt this dish.

There appears to be more than one way of approach with many variables of ingredients right down to the initial preparation of the Eggplant. Being a bit trepidatious as to peeling Eggplant correctly I consult YouTube to find out how to, someone must know. And there I find ‘The Imam’ with his recipe and how-to. It’s in Turkish with no sub-titles, but make a note of it all just the same, hoping that I haven’t added salt instead of sugar. There is a green vegetable added, and I can’t recognise it so go with Septavs addition of green capsicum at this point.

Here is the Imam at work himself and the secondary inspiration for this recipe combined with Sevtaps, and a few of my own additions.

Imam Bayildi – Stuffed Roasted Eggplants

1 Large Eggplant (or 3 smaller aubergines) trimmed, peeled, scored, halved and salted in a colander

1 Cup Olive Oil

2 Cloves Garlic, sliced thinly

Sea Salt

1 Brown Onion, chopped

1 Green Capsicum, diced

2 Ripe Tomatoes, scored, blanched, peeled and chopped

1/2 Litre Water

Bunch of Flat Leaf Parsley, chopped

Juice of 1/2 Lemon

1 Clove Garlic, minced

2 Large Green Chillis split lengthways, de-seeded and de-membraned

Method:

1) Pre-heat Oven to 170 Degrees C. Fry onions in half the oil over medium heat for a few minutes

2) Add Capsicum and Tomato. Sprinkle liberally with Salt, let sizzle a bit then add water

3) Let boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for twenty minutes

4) Push slivers of garlic inside scored eggplant

5) Fry eggplant in rest of oil till golden on all sides, remove and drain on paper towels till cool then place in a roasting tin

6) Add parsley, minced garlic and lemon juice to tomato mixture, turn off heat

7) Drain veg mix through a colander, reserving liquid.

8) Dig a well in each cooled eggplant, making sure the skin below is left intact and evenly scoop in veg mixture

9) Top with half a large green chilli (pictured) secured with a toothpick and a sprinkle of slithered almonds

10) Pour reserved liquid around (not over) eggplants, cover and bake 40 minutes.

Garlic Yoghurt

1 Clove Garlic

Sea Salt

1 Cup Greek Yoghurt

Method:

Ground Garlic and Sea Salt in a Mortar and Pestle to paste consistency

Fold into the Greek Yoghurt

I served this on top of prepared red quinoa, Garlic yoghurt (also by Sevtap) a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds and a squeeze of lemon juice. It tasted so good I nearly fainted 🙂

Tangled Drumkit

The life of a full-time travelling musician is rarely dull. Not only are we lucky enough to have the privilege of performing alongside greatness on stage, we also on occasion get to travel to some tasty destinations for work and today is no exception.  Just the mention of the name Darwin conjures up exotic images of sun-drenched harbour walks, vibrant markets, dangerously seductive crocodile-infested waters, vivid coloured skies blanketing bright red Northern Territory dirt and general tropical thoughts of all kinds. It’s been seven years since I last visited Darwin so am thrilled at the opportunity to be a part of the Bob Dylan Tribute ‘Tangled Up In Bob’ at the Darwin Railway Club.

Any air travel needed to be undertaken within Australia with more than one hours’ duration, and I know Dobe Newton from the Bushwackers will whole-heartedly agree can only be on Qantas. Tiger Airlines has been putting in a valiant effort as of late, as has Virgin (who have relaxed their rules of baggage allowance for musicians through APRA). And ever since they provided ‘all-responsibility and no-care’ with my accordion on one ill-fated trip, Jetstar remains an all-round disappointing experience. There is a certain amount of tactility and romanticism associated with Qantas like the intoxicating aroma of a soft, well-worn leather jacket. Complimentary SMH at the gate, your own personal iPad with movies, a free hot-meal are just some of the features that Qantas won me over with when it was time to book the flight to Darwin.

Railway Club Beer-Garden
Railway Club Beer-Garden

In 30 Degree temperatures, a fairly mild but ever so gentle ferocious humidity blasts me on arrival. Feels like a storm is on its way to this troposphere town but turns out is a tease only and more a sign of whats to come over the next six months. As soon as I check into the hotel, am out of my tight black Sydney Winter jeans and boots and into the Havianas and shorts quicker than you can say ‘Story of the Hurricane’.

Slightly peckish and with a few hours to kill before sound-check at the Club I get pointed in the direction of the Parap Village which is directly across from the hotel where I discover a fabulous supermarket, Parap Fine Foods. This establishment has been run by an Italian family for years and they have an extensive stock of top-shelf gourmet selections of all kinds. It takes me by surprise and spend the next hour perusing labels of local and imported jams, sauces and spice mixes. The fruit and veg section is all local and mostly organic. Then I spot the Deli with an incredible display of chocolate sweet delights and macarons, salamis and a cheese component equating the quality and quantity of anything found in a French Fromagerie.

Parap Fine Foods Deli
Parap Fine Foods Deli

I can’t decide on a cheese and this must be obvious to the woman behind the counter as have stared glazed-eyed for some time. She offers assistance and decides for me, giving me a sample of a German Sheepskin Milk Picasso which is divine. Being the end of the role due to the popularity of this cheese, she wraps it up and hands over 200 gms worth with a discount at $14 adding she likes her cheeses to go to a good home and I reassure her this will be the case. This woman knows her cheeses. I also purchase local vine-ripened tomatoes, Kalamata Olives drenched in lime and garlic and a 2010 Mount Benson Merlot from South Australia. Forty-five dollars later, and all I wanted was a snack 🙂

Wheelbarrow Basil at the Railway Club
Wheelbarrow Basil at the Railway Club

The Darwin Railway Club is a fascinating place. This is the first time I have performed at a Club that raises their own chickens and uses the eggs for spinach pies, grow their own herbs and also harvest ducks for consumption. They recently held a feast night where these ducks were (sorry vegetarians) after being raised lovingly, then put to sleep, prepared and served up for the members. Welcome to Darwin! Before the gig, I order a glass of Shiraz and forgetting am in the NT for a moment, shudder at the fact that the bottle comes out of the fridge. After mentioning this to the bar-girl she responds in her NZ accent to just give it two minutes when it will arrive at room temperature. Of course it will.

Beergarden Buddha

The Green-Room where we are hanging before the gig with the local Darwin Musicians in the Tangled Band tonight is the hottest room in the building. I learn later this room is also a completely cyclone-proof bunker made of solid concrete. Unlike performing at the Gympie Muster last weekend in arctic temperatures where the lights on the stage being LED based no longer generate any kind of heat, we are exposed to the old faithful R & R full-on-heat emitting old-school globe variety. The Band also cooks, renditions of Maggies Farm and Subterranean Blues are well executed by these local talented Darwinite Musicians.

Parap Market Flowers with Ginger
Parap Market Flowers with Ginger

Thanks to the Qantas In-Flight Magazine, I have already read about the Parap Markets held every Saturday being touted as a must-do on the Darwin tourist agenda. How serendipitous that I am here on a fleeting twenty-four hour visit, staying directly opposite where these markets occur. The produce is primarily of South East Asian flavours – mountains of chillis, coriander, paw-paws, mangoes, garlic, ginger and accompanying spices. Lebanese flavours are also represented along with reams of tye-dyed clothes and locally crafted silver jewellery. But it is the food that is impressing me here and I circle around in a holding-pattern deciding on what just to go for. Instinct tells me that anything will be good so I go for a Thai spicy chicken larb style salad, a watermelon, lime and ginger juice plus a Lebanese custard desert drenched in rose-syrup. Heaven. I also purchase a Chilli Sauce, made with only birds-eye chillis, garlic and lime. NO SUGAR or preservatives of any kind and is very hot according to the grocer who has made it himself.

Oddly, there appears to be some media action rustling up with TV cameras all assembling in the vicinity of where I am. A quiet buzz turns into frenzy as none other that Kevin Rudd appears out of no-where. All of a sudden I am engulfed by a sea of zoom-lenses and a tsunami of paparazzi, surreal indeed. Now there’s a traffic jam and general mayhem surrounding the previous serenity of the Parap Markets and people are asking Kevin to move-on. Something tells me he’s not here for the Laksa 🙂

The Rudd Circus at Parap
The Rudd Circus at Parap

Muster Main Stage
Muster Main Stage

Driza-bones, Cowboy Hats, Bundaberg Rum, Pluto Pups, XXXX, Boots, Dust and Country Music. These are just some of the elements in no shortage at the Gympie Muster where I have spent the last four days performing.  Set in the beautiful location of the Amamoor Forest Reserve in Queensland Australia, this festival is not for the faint-hearted. This Festival is tailored for die-hard country music fans who are well-seasoned Musterites happy to spend a few days temporarily removed from reality, donning the appropriate Muster gear, yelling choruses of songs about utes, beer, cows and pink guitars while drowning in a sea of Bundy.

For a Musician who has several performances at this festival, the Muster experience usually involves being prepared and match-fit when it comes to the food options. There are long walks involved, carrying gear from venue to venue (there is on-site Artist Transport, but this is ‘unintentionally’ on occasions not so reliable due to the hectic scheduling of hundreds of musicians and gear needed carting around the many different venues) on-top of the actual performance energy required, so it is essential that nourishing food be sourced and this is not such an easy or in most cases cheap task. Being a performer, I have been sent my Muster Pack by email prior to the Festival with a list of handy hints and Artist Services that will be available. A piece of information included in the Pack mentions there will be refreshments and light snacks available for all performers at a place called Artist World and this is encouraging news.  The first gig of the Muster for me is with The Bushwackers on the Main Stage and we will be required to hang around there so there’ll be no time to get acquainted with various food stalls around the site which is fine as will have a fair amount of hurry-up-and-waiting time over the next few days to do just this.

Artist Refreshments
Artist Refreshments

There is fruit, luckily. Then there is a bowl of assorted chocolates and lollies, a huge bottom-less pit bowl of smarties then another with a selection of snack-pack school lunch size chip packets.  Some instant coffee satchels plus several mini-bar fridges chockablock full of festival sponsor Red Bull. With the exception of the fruit, once again my handbag almonds have come to the rescue as we’ve no time to source anything more substantial before jumping on stage to set-up then perform for thousands of Muster revellers on the hill.

Our accommodation is off-site at the Conference Centre back in Gympie which is welcoming as it is away from the mayhem and general racket of the festival. Unlike some other musicians, I much prefer this to the on-site complimentary artist tent accommodation where I would have been an un-happy camper exposed to evening temperatures dipping as low as minus six degrees Celsius, braveness indeed. Also, the conference centre provides breakfast and I am ravenous the next morning having passed on the lollies and chips for dinner the night before. It consists of poached eggs, grilled tomatoes, fruit, a selection of cereals juices and an adequate coffee machine with an espresso option. A good start to the day so far, I am happy and nourished for the long day ahead.

My first gig today is with The Bushwackers at the Crowbar. Playing accordion for seventy-five minutes in this high-energy band burns energy and calories in aerobic proportion so again the handbag almonds are useful, but I’m still ravenous after this show and now have some time to search for some decent food. Something am hoping is as healthy as possible amongst the plethora of hot-chips and pluto-pup outlets. Word has it from some veteran Muster musicians there is such a place, Govindas. All vegetarian and all good so I set out to find it. It’s a bit of a treck from the Crowbar where we have just performed, trundling along past the main stage hill and swimming through a sea of Driza-Bones but after a bit of searching (it’s a little hard to locate not being as flashy or lit-up as some of the other food outlets) I see it.

Govindas
Govindas

Govindas, as the sign above the hut says is Pure Vegetarian and ‘The Taste of Transcendence’. Judging by the genuinely friendly smile on the face of the young guy serving behind the counter, I just know already that I WILL taste the love in this food. He offers two plate sizes $5 for a small or $11 for a bit of everything. So far it’s looking like good value, I’m also hungry so go for the larger plate. The food is of Satvik nature which is traditional Hare Krishna recipes the body best harmonises with – Harmonious Food, how ingenious and apt for musicians. Piled high on an eco-friendly bio-degradable plate made of sugar-cane plus accompanying fork made of corn starch, I receive a creamy curry loaded with vegetables on a bed of jasmine rice, a generous serve of Kofta balls with a spicy tomato sauce and a Halava dessert (semolina and cardamom). I am most definitely transcended far away from pluto-pup land after eating this meal and will certainly be making a return visit before the end of the festival. Well nourished and happy, I’m ready for my next gig. The Torn and Frayed Show – a country rock tribute featuring some of my most favourite musicians. Thank you Govindas 🙂

Big Biodiesel Ute - and THOSE boots
Big Biodiesel Ute – and THOSE boots

Rhubarb

When it comes to fruit and vegetable selection, I like to follow their seasonal habits so they are at their absolute best. This way you are getting them in their full glory, they taste better and are also cheaper. For instance, I wouldn’t attempt a Jamie Oliver Thai Mango Salad in the middle of winter, firstly because you won’t find a mango then (unless you’ve been diligent enough to freeze some pulp from the previous Summers’ abundant supply, who does that anyhow?) And secondly, it’s not really a Winter dish, it’s more appropriate to be slicing up mango and cucumber into slithers while wearing Havaianas in the kitchen rather than Ugg Boots – that just doesn’t seem right.

There are a few perennial vegetables and lucky for us, one of them is Rhubarb. While having a chat with my neighbour the other day about food, she mentioned Rhubarb and the fact that she had always thought it to be a fruit but had recently discovered it is actually a vegetable. This got me thinking about Rhubarb and the fact that I had never really considered making a dish with it. I’ve certainly sampled some lovely baked apple and rhubarb crumble with cream from country cafes during my travels but never thought to do something with it in my kitchen. That same day, I spotted a huge bunch of it in my local IGA and promptly purchased it. It was meant to be.

Now, what to make with it. After trimming the leaves and roots off as these contain poisonous oxalic acid and leaving only the edible stalks, I try a piece, raw.  This is a mistake as Raw Rhubarb is definitely an acquired taste, not something I could get used to or have any desire to either. It won’t hurt you to eat it like this and is certainly loaded with many vitamins and minerals this way, but the good news is that apparently these are retained in cooked form, a much wiser choice 🙂

Quinoa, Rhubarb and Apple
Quinoa, Rhubarb and Apple

Stewing Rhubarb seems to be the tried and tested way of preparing this vegetable, so I cook it up with some apple, coconut sugar, a few spices and serve it on a bed of white Quinoa (the new black) with Greek Yoghurt, strawberries, toasted sesame seeds and a splash of Maple Syrup. Turns out to be a wonderful dessert, as well as a great alternative to rolled oats for breakfast if you are trying to take it easy on the grains. If you are also trying to take it easy on the sugar, leave it out along with the Maple syrup and use a bit more cinnamon instead, but it won’t be anywhere near as delectable 🙂

Quinoa with Stewed Apple and Rhubarb:

4 Rhubarb Stalks, washed, trimmed and cut into 2cm diagonal slices

1 Large Red Apple, peeled, cored and sliced (get yourself one of those super-duper apple-peeler corer machines – gets this job done in seconds)

1 Tbs Coconut Oil

1/4 Cup Coconut Sugar

1/4 Cup Water

1 Tsp of Cinnamon

1 Star Anise

Pinch of Nutmeg

Prepared Quinoa

Toasted Sesame Seeds

Method:

1) In a fry-pan over medium heat, melt coconut oil

2) Add rhubarb, apple, sugar, water and all spices.

3) Fry gently, stirring often till rhubarb breaks down and apples are softened. About 20 mins.

4) Top Quinoa with stewed rhubarb mixture, Greek Yoghurt, sliced strawberries, sesame seeds then drizzle the Maple Syrup over.

Oh yes, thank you Rhubarb.

Three Veg

It’s an easy past-time whiling away hours on the internet googling information or downloading apps in relation to anything about food if you are concerned about your diet and GM factors, weighing up varying statistics and getting bamboozled with conflicting information from countless sites to do with food and nutrition. The Internet is now a place where anyone can post their opinions about food, and basically say anything about anything whether it is substantiated or not. There are of course some reputable sites with backed-up research by qualified food-nutritionists, dietitians and scientists and I have narrowed it down to a few I subscribe to, everyone has their favourites. Not to mention the Mt Everest of products, marketed and available in supermarkets claiming to counteract gluten, fat, sugar and declaring to be the be all and end all of healthy eating. Rather than banging your head against the fridge, I believe it can be a bit easier to decipher and get your thoughts around.

However you look at it, the philosophy is quite simple. Get back to the basics, the way our Mothers, Grandmothers and their Grandmothers approached food. The very simple Meat and Three Veg approach. Or for the Vegetarians, the Egg and Four Veg approach. Even the Vegans, The Veg and More Veg approach. Here are a few of my own rules when it comes to food choice:

Number 1 – Don’t buy food that comes in a box or a packet

Generally speaking, food sold in boxes has at some point been processed in one way or another. Food is put into plastic packaging or wraps and boxes for a reason, to preserve it and lengthen its shelf-life. In order to preserve food, it needs preservatives which are something our bodies really could do without in the long run. If you see the number 220 or higher on the ingredients list, put it back on the supermarket shelf. You don’t need it. (Unless it is completely organic and preservative-free, 220 is also present in most wines as it protects against oxidation and bacterial spoilage. Everything in moderation). 🙂

Number 2 – Eat Fresh

Don’t know about you, but I don’t plan all following week-night meals at the beginning of the week or do one huge grocery shop with each nights meal planned already. I’m not that organised, preferring to give it a bit of thought in the morning and decide what I want to cook for dinner that night, then shop locally for the freshest ingredients that can be sourced on the day. In todays fast-paced world it’s easy to come up with a bunch of reasons not allowing you to do this. Long working hours, dead-lines and two or more kids for example (and this is a legitimate excuse for a lot of people) but really if you dedicate some time of each day to fresh-food shopping, even if you have to diarise it, it will eventually just become part of your daily routine. Nor am I a fan of freezing meat, fish or chicken, preferring to purchase fresh organic if possible, on the day. I know it can all be frozen for convenience and will be cheaper, but I think fresh tastes much better. (An exception can be made  for bought frozen fish as it is usually fresher than the non-frozen fish bought at the sea-food shop because it’s been cleaned, filleted and snap-frozen on the boat preserving it’s freshness).

Number 3 – Keep it Simple:

Meat and Three Veg means exactly that. Whether it be a juicy grass-fed rib-eye-fillet (sorry vegetarians), a Tasmanian salmon fillet or a lovely organic chicken, any of these can be easily prepared to cook with a simple marinade OR just thrown directly in the oven, on a grill pan, BBQ or whatever cooking medium on their own.  Of course you can go all gourmet and exotic with marinades but you can always just simply use Lemon, Garlic, Salt and Pepper and GOOD QUALITY Olive Oil.  Plus a green herb or two – parsley will always get you out of trouble, as will a lemon.

With the Three Veg, just think in terms of ‘tri-colour’ during selection process:

Pumpkin, Broccoli and Red Capsicum.

Sweet Potato, Eggplant and Asparagus.

Carrot, Leek and Cauliflower.

Fennel, Red Onions and Snow Peas.

Bok Choy, Radish and Cabbage.

Artichokes, Tomatoes and Kale – starting to get fancy there but it’s the three different colours of veg am trying to envision in Green, Red (or Orange) and White.

It’s as simple as that!

Broccoli

My quest to find bread and dough substitutes continues and when you start delving into this realm, the possibilities are endless. You are only limited by your imagination and I am discovering new ways all the time. The boundaries of bread are definitely being pushed, mostly by Vegetables.

Of course there are plenty of gluten-free bread/pizza base products available, however these products generally contain a cocktail of ingredients such as Xanthum Gum, Hydroxypropyl Methylcellulose or the dreaded Corn Starch which help the bread to retain a soft texture and nice attractive look. They are usually also high in sugar and fat to make them tastier. When it comes to a pizza base, nothing and absolutely nothing substituted is ever truly going to ‘taste’ like the classic traditional Italian, melt in your mouth dough consistency they have been masters of for decades. But it doesn’t hurt to try something new in the kitchen and experiment just to see what you can create. And in the case of a Broccoli Base Pizza, it won’t hurt your waistline either, you can eat as much as you want without the guilt factor. Win. (Unless it’s loaded with cheese of course).

Perhaps we should refer to this as something other than a pizza as am sure this concept would seem completely unethical to any fans of a great pizza, which would have to be the majority of us. I’ve decided on a Broccoli ‘Flammkuchen’ – a German name which is the translation of the French ‘Tarte Flambee’. Fancy I know but it in generic terms basically just means pizza made of very thinly rolled bread dough, cooked in a wood-fired oven, traditionally topped with Creme Fraiche, thinly sliced onions and bacon.

Flammkuchen
Flammkuchen

I sampled my first Flammkuchen in Switzerland recently after my musical European friends dismissed my plight of eating no-dough as a bit of a no-go. They weren’t wrong, it was incredibly delicious, as was the accompanying crisp white wine.

You can put whatever toppings you like on this, up to you. In this recipe I have substituted Creme Fraiche with a Blanched Almond, Tahini and Garlic spread, then topped with Caramelised Onions cooked in Organic Coconut Oil. So, no-gluten and no-dairy and you could eliminate the coconut sugar from the onions and it would be no-sugar as well, but they wouldn’t caramelise nicely. Some might say ‘no-fun’ either but it tastes good and is good for you. You’ve saved yourself a few high carbs and calories and earned yourself a nice glass or two of Cab Sav to go with it 🙂

Broccoli Base Pizza

 

Broccoli Flammkuchen: *

1 Head of Broccoli

3 Tbs Ground Almonds

1 Tbs Sesame Seeds

1 Egg

Method:

1) Break Broccoli into florets, whizz them all up in a food processor till in tiny bits (do this in batches)

2) Place in a steamer or in the microwave and steam for five minutes, let cool

3) Put steamed broccoli in a tea towel, gather the sides up, scrunch into a ball and squeeze out all the moisture

4) Put in a bowl and mix together with almonds, sesame seeds and egg till well combined

5) Place a piece of baking paper on top of a pizza tray or stone and mould the mix out with your hands to flatten so it resembles a pizza base like this:

Broccoli Base
Broccoli Base

6) Bake in 180 C oven for fifteen minutes

7) Remove from oven and spread with almond paste and caramelised onions (recipe below) or whatever toppings you like.

8) Bake for another 15 minutes

 

Almond, Tahini and Garlic Paste:*

1 Cup of Blanched Almonds

2 Cloves Garlic

1/4 Cup of Olive Oil

1 Tbs Tahini

Juice of one Lemon

Dash of Paprika

Salt and Pepper

Method:

1) Place all ingredients in a food processor and grind up to a paste

 

Caramelised Onions: (Quick Version)

1 Red Onion, cut in to quarters lengthwise and then into slithers

1 Tbs Coconut Oil

1 Tbs Coconut Sugar (or Brown Sugar)

Splash of Water

Method:

1) Melt coconut oil over medium heat, then add onions and let sizzle for a few minutes

2) Add sugar and water, fry gently stirring often till the onions start to soften and get a bit syrupy, about 15 minutes or so.

 

* Note:

Here is the inspiration for the pizza base (where you will find many other great recipes and restaurant reviews by the very talented Not Quite Nigella) originally made with Cauliflower  Low Carb Gluten Free Cauliflower Base Pizza

I wanted to see if it also worked with Broccoli after making the Cauliflower version. It’s a different texture but still tasty.

The recipe for the Almond Paste is originally from here Eat Drink Paleo another wonderful site full of excellent recipes and nutritional information.

The Mystery Box
The Mystery Box

Unless you are lucky enough to regularly fly First or Business Class, chances are high that you have at some point experienced some pretty ordinary and disappointing air-line food. On top of this, the food outlets at most major airport terminals nowadays are like walking through a Westfield Food Court, a place I usually keep my distance from. However when you have to catch a flight somewhere there’s no choice but to amble to the departure gate, wading past all the red and yellow big M’s, Hungry Jacks and Krispy Kreme counters. There are some healthier options like Sumo Salad, Sushi Train and Boost, but at $15 for a Mango Tango and a small fruit salad? I’ve already paid for travel or parking costs to Sydney Airport, hidden overweight baggage fees at check-in and a weak $4.50 double shot flat-white while waiting for the other band members to arrive. The wallet has already had a decent work-out.

I feel some-what comforted by the fact that today I am getting on a Qantaslink flight from Tamworth to Sydney after doing a gig with The Bushwackers there last night, so I will be given food rather than having to purchase something like a triangular plastic packaged stale egg and lettuce sandwich on Virgin, Jetstar or (gulp) Tiger Airways.  Their in-flight menus say they are fresh, but I think this means ‘freshly thawed’ not ‘freshly made’. If you are a highly organised person you’d prepare and take your own food. But if I have an interstate gig, before leaving home am more concerned with making sure I have all instruments and stage gear needed, not what sort of nourishment for flight duration. I do however carry a bag of almonds with me always. Almonds in my handbag have warded off hunger pains in the face of dire food options on many travel occasions.

Tamworth Tarmac
Tamworth Tarmac

The economy class food served by Qantas has gone through many changes over the years. Depending on where you are flying to domestically and at what time of the day determines the quantity and quality of what you’ll receive on that flight. Tamworth to Sydney is a short flight, so it won’t be a three course meal (entree, main and dessert on one single tray). Today, it’s the Mystery Box. It looks cute, a nice picture of what resembles the Great Barrier Reef which is probably meant to relax you if you are a nervous flyer, like the sort of thing you see in dentist waiting rooms.

Mystery Box Contents
Mystery Box Contents

I’m wary of food in boxes and packets, but what’s this? Carrot and celery pieces? That’s a good start. I give the Carrot Feta and Coriander Dip a try and it’s a bit of a let down, too sweet and not much trace of feta or coriander. That’s fine as am happy with vegetables on their own.  (I just googled the dip to find out some more information and a link to Neil Perry and the Qantas Epicure Event held on Lizard Island came up. This probably explains the picture of the reef on the box). I’m going nowhere near that Toasted Cheese Corn, need I say more?

I look up from the box and see the Air Hostess is making her way down the aisle holding a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc in one hand, and Cabernet Sauvignon in the other and offering a glass to any takers. How civilised, I am on my way home from work after all 🙂

Baguette and Olive Oil
Baguette and Olive Oil

I have eliminated bread from my diet since the beginning of this year.  Not because of being gluten intolerant as am not a sufferer (that I am aware of yet) but simply because have felt better with it not in my day-to-day diet, and it’s been an interesting exercise coming up with bread substitutes particularly at breakfast and lunch times.  The conclusion, without a doubt is that it is possible to live without bread.  My vigilance towards this cause was most recently tested in Europe, as this is the home of the most unsurpassed best baked bread available on the planet.  Everywhere you go they are staring you in the face, on every street corner and the aromas to match of the highest standard, those crusty, freshly baked baguettes.  Every meal you order in every restaurant, arrives with a lovely little cloth satchel full of fresh, warm bread.  For the first few days of my visit in Switzerland I tried to ignore this and pretended like they just weren’t there at all as I didn’t want to offend the European waiters by asking them to take them off the table please and testing my will power.  It didn’t last long, I soon fell for the indulgence and the experience was nothing short of divine.  I consumed bread everyday in Europe from that moment as it was impossible not to. Mind you I still ate small indulgent amounts (not devouring the entire baguette) savouring every mouthful, dipped in local organic olive oil, no butter – I drew the line there.

Like all good travel adventures in life, they come to an end eventually and you must face reality, but the good news is there are always more on the horizon.  Upon arrival back in Sydney from this European Music and Food adventure, I found myself craving freshly baked, sweet baguettes with equally sweet olive oil together.   The olive oil was no problem, sourcing some from Adina Vineyard in the Hunter Valley.  This vineyard is run by my parents and supports the biggest olive mill in the lower Hunter, processing most of the olives grown in this region, so they know what they are doing and without sounding too biased, the Adina Olive Oil is truly scrumptious.

Adina Olive Oil and Dukkah
Adina Olive Oil and dukkha

Now, to find the bread to match and this is no easy task.  Forget Coles ‘Baked Today Sold Today’ baguettes, but the fine print says made in Ireland? No thanks.  Even Bakers Delight, as much as their products may delight some people, I just find it completely doughy and too sweet, the MacDonald’s of bread.  My trusty IGA, with all of its market sourced delicacies available, the bread just didn’t excuse the pun, rise up to the occasion.

I did manage to find a small French bakery in the Greenwood plaza in North Sydney who were selling some wholemeal baguettes, which thought would give a go. Sprinkled them with a little water (a trick I learned in Bordeaux to freshen the bread up) before popping in the oven for five minutes. And, voila.  Tore some pieces up, dunked them in the olive oil mixed with the dukkha (also from Adina) and just like that bread is back in my life. For now…

Chilli Oil
Chilli Oil

I am addicted to chillies.  Did I mention that I love chillies? This love affair has been going on for around twenty-five years now.  A bit of background here, this relationship did not start harmoniously or gently feeling our way by any means.  Our introduction to each other was rather hurtful and very painful, and almost set us on the path never to be reunited again as I really did bite off more than I could chew and didn’t see the point of pursuing connections any further, the memory still resounds firmly.

I persisted though, and had no choice as the musicians and people I was associating with at the time were all big chilli freaks and was surrounded by all things chilli, constantly.  If it wasn’t in the cooked dishes, it was on the side as sauces, in marinades, salads and even fried up till they were black and used as sandwich filler.  (I never actually tried this, but an old flatmate used to cook this up from time to time, you had to vacate the premises because of the associated breathing difficulties).

Eventually, I started to introduce my taste buds with chilli correctly, in small doses and gradually. A resistance level to the pain must be built up with this fiery fruit, you need to feel your way with it.  The pain threshold is now no barrier, I have reached the point where it’s no problem to consume large amounts and am no longer fearful, I am in love.

You see, chillies are actually physically addictive. They contain a compound called ‘capsaicin’ which is a natural chemical sending the burning sensation from the nerve endings in the mouth directly to the brain. Endorphins, natural painkillers in the body are then secreted causing a physical ‘rush’. This natural ‘high’ is what keeps us coming back for more, and just like any other addiction, you start craving higher doses the more you use it and your tolerance level builds. However, there is no evidence that eating too much chilli is unhealthy or ulcer causing and capsaicin is actually used in anti-inflammatory creams to treat arthritis and shingles.

Although, on the other extreme I would advise against entering into a chilli-eating competition any time soon.  A greatly talented musician friend I have worked with over the years has recounted a story of this to me. The contestants were made to eat chillies during a few rounds, where after each had to open their mouths to show the chillies had been chewed up firstly, then swallowed and no water in between. The overall winner had to be hospitalised!

I think best to just stick with the Chilli Sauce for now. Or try this recipe for Chilli Oil, a great way of using them when you have a chilli bush loaded with fruit and not sure what to do with them all.

Chilli Oil

1 cup of Birds Eye Chillies (or more depending on your heat threshold)

3 cups of good quality olive oil

1) Pre-heat oven to 180 C

2) Spread chillies evenly in a roasting tin

3) Roast chillies for approximately fifteen minutes or until well roasted, but not completely black, cool slightly

4) Place chillies in a jar, pour in olive oil

5) Cover with glad-wrap and place in a dark cupboard for three days

6) Strain oil into a bottle and discard chillies.  If it’s too hot, pour in some more olive oil to dilute.