Wednesday, 6 July

One of the chickens is quite enamored with me. She’s the smaller of the two red chickens and I’ve caught her spying on me in the sun room a number of times. Once when I was on FaceTime with my mom this movement kept catching my eye in the reflection of my screen. When I looked behind me I didn’t see anything and then suddenly a chicken head popped up from beneath the deck. I’ve since caught her doing this a number of times, she seems very curious about what I’m up to.

Two days ago I was taking out the recycling and the hens were rummaging through the bushes on our path. They tend to scatter when you get near them and I was making a fair amount of noise with the tins and glass containers rattling in the bin. Instead of following the others, the red hen came out of the bushes and trailed behind me to our garbage cans. I emptied my bin and started walking back to the house. She let me pass and then resumed her stalking. I stopped and she looked at me, jerking her head this way and that to get a full look, and then we both carried on until she dropped me off at the door. It’s pretty hilarious and I’ve taken to referring to her as my girlfriend.

IMG_0277
my girlfriend, the red hen

Right now I’m craving a doughnut. So bad. And I hold Fraser fully responsible. A couple weeks ago we were lying in bed slowly waking up and arguing over who was going to get up from under the warm covers, go into the icy air (it is winter here and surprisingly cold in the mornings) and make us coffee. Fraser has his own version of the Jedi mind trick where he asks me if I want to do something. Making coffee for example, he will go: “did you want to make some coffee for us?”, as if it had been my idea all along. It’s quite genius, but I’ve caught on and am using it myself now.

Anyways, we got on to discussing breakfast. I had a craving for eggs and bacon, specifically bacon. Fraser wanted a doughnut. Neither of us wanted to go out though. So we googled how to make doughnuts. There are two types of doughnuts, if you didn’t know, yeast doughnuts and cake doughnuts. Fraser is firmly in the yeast doughnut camp whereas I’m more impartial but with a lean towards the cake camp. This is not to say I’m impartial to doughnuts, not at all. Well, we didn’t have any yeast in the house, so cake doughnuts it was. These are also faster to make as they are more of a batter than a dough.

The batter was simple enough to make and I put it all in a ziplock bag with the corner snipped off since I don’t have a piping bag. The interesting thing about these is the method of cooking them. Since they’re going into hot oil and the batter is so wet I was curious how you’d get them in doughnut shape. On a recipe I found they suggested parchment paper. You pipe a circle of batter onto a piece of parchment and then slide the whole thing into the hot oil. The heat doesn’t affect the paper, and as the batter cooks it separates from it. Now this definitely took a little getting used to.

The first doughnut that went in I’d made too mini and it had immediately spread out into a big splotch on the parchment. Then when I put it in the oil it almost instantly turned to a big black stone as the oil was way too hot. The next one also turned into a ball as well but seemed to cook better. Said doughnut also turned out to be the one Fraser picked to try first. He seemed super impressed and asked me what I had filled them with. After a second of confusion I realized that the doughnut had not cooked the whole way through and he was tasting the batter…oops. Third times a charm though, the oil was hot enough again and I finally realized that to make them the traditional shape I would have to pipe them thin and large. When the batter hits the oil it puffs up quite a bit, filling into the middle.

The New York Times had a recipe for basic glaze which was just 1 cup icing sugar and 1 cup milk all stirred together. Once the doughnuts had cooled enough I dipped them in the glaze and then left them on a cooling rack so the glaze can solidify. We ate them all in one sitting. I definitely made a good call when I halved that recipe.

Well the success of this lead to the attempt at yeast doughnuts last week. These took longer as the dough needs time to rise, and both our bellies were rumbling by the time these were ready.

In order to get that doughnut shape I used a bowl and a shot glass for the outer and inner rings. The centre bit I fried as doughnut holes and I used the same glaze recipe but added cocoa at the end for two of mine for a chocolatey glaze. The basic glaze was better. If I do this again (my mind says no but my stomach says yes) I want to find a proper chocolate glaze recipe, or make the dough chocolate. This would also ensure I wouldn’t have to fight Fraser for the last doughnut…maybe.

A couple Saturdays ago we went to the animal sanctuary on the Gold Coast. We’d driven past a sign for it when we’d stayed up there for award night and Fraser had said he’d take me. I love Australian animal sanctuaries. It may be the fact that they have a number of very cuddly and chilled out animals native to the country, but my brain was melting with how up close and personal we were able to get. When I’d been in Australia with my parents around the age of 12 we’d gone to a sanctuary up by Noosa with my mom’s best friend Jan and her family. I’d gotten to hold a young koala while there and it’s left me with two main memories. One, it was not as soft as it looked, and two, it had just pooped all over the girl before me and I was really hoping to not walk away from this amazing experience looking like she did.

This sanctuary was a lot bigger than the other I’d been to, and right when you walk through the entrance there’s a huge wall of green spotted with moving grey. This is the eucalyptus and koala enclosure, of which there are multiple throughout the park. There were so many koalas. My phone could not adequately capture them, but they were amazing. Snoozing and munching and snoozing. Fraser talked me into paying to hold one again. I got a bit of stage fright and said we didn’t need to, but he dragged me up to do it anyways. Major points for him! They brought out this big soft koala and put him in my arms and then the battery died on their camera right before they could take a picture. So I got to stand there and hold him for five extra minutes while they changed the battery. It rocked. Fraser got to stand with me and pet him too, and he was much softer than I remembered the other one being.IMG_1699

There were so many awesome animals to see and they had a kangaroo enclosure where you could walk among them and pet and feed them. This I had not done before. It reminded me of Jurassic Park at one point, only much more cuddly and with a lot fewer teeth. The kangaroos were amazing. They didn’t care at all that people were there. It was quite a warm day compared to the previous weeks weather and they were all lounging around soaking up the sun and snoozing. They were so soft and lazy, we went around and pet as many as we could, it was a good day.

Now that I had yeast in the house from the doughnuts, I decided to try making my mom’s famous french bread from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She told me it took her 20 years to perfect, which I’m sure was an exaggeration to make me feel better, but I thought I should start practising. It’s an 8-10 hour process, has to go through 3 risings and is kneaded in a very calculated manner. If you can do it the way my mom does, it’s totally worth it. Mine turned out a bit too dense, but it was still enjoyable and I turned half of it into focaccia, just rolled out the dough and covered it in olive oil, salt and rosemary then cooked.

Continuing on in last weeks cooking ‘firsts’ I went out and bought crab. I looove me some crab, but I’ve never made it myself. My parents had a New Years Eve tradition of having lobster for dinner, and one year when I was very little I made friends with the crustaceans walking around the kitchen floor, claws tied of course. When they disappeared and I found out they had gone in the pot of boiling water I was horrified. Who were these monsters I called parents? That was the last shellfish that entered our house alive. When I got older and ditched my vegetarian childhood I experienced the joy of crab and lobster meat. So when I’d seen crabs at the fish market a while back, I knew we’d have to get them at some point. They’re Spanner crabs which are a bit different looking from traditional crabs and I had to youtube how to shell them. You pull off the top shell and then remove their gills and tail (yes, they have a tail, which I did not know), then you cut the body in half, pry off their legs and heat them up. Vicious, isn’t it? Confidence is key, no gentleness allowed here. These crabs were already cooked, so I only needed to heat them up. And I found a disgustingly delicious way to do it.

Melt 1/4 cup of butter in a pot, add chopped clove of garlic and salt and pepper, bring to a simmer and add crab pieces. Coat them in the butter and then cover and let steam for ten minutes. It worked like a charm. I’d already made a butter dipping sauce before I’d found this recipe, so now we had plenty of butter available. For the dipping sauce I put two crushed cloves of garlic on a fry pan until they were lightly toasted. I then poured hot clarified butter over the cloves and added red chilli flakes. Once ready to eat I strained the butter so it just retained the flavour from the chilli and garlic, yum.

I’d also picked up prawns because I was unsure of how much meat we’d get from the crabs. How naive of me. When I had asked for ten green prawns, I was unable to see the size of them because they were covered with a layer of icy water. Well these were the largest prawns I’ve seen to date, so we ate very well that night. It also ended up being Canada day, so along with our beers this felt like a pretty good Canadian tribute, or as my friend Vicky said we celebrated it Halifax style.

 

After the seafood extravaganza of the weekend, I moved on to Asian cuisine. I did a yummy red Thai curry on Sunday night which I’ll definitely be making again. Then last night I attempted Malaysian Laksa for the first time. It’s one of Fraser’s absolute favourites and he just polished off a bowl of it in front of me a minute ago. I had never had laksa before, had probably avoided it on menus since I’m not wild about coconut. I tried it for the first time when Fraser ordered it at a little noodle place after the animal sanctuary and it was delicious. Very rich and flavourful with chicken, noodles and veggies. But you can do shrimp or tofu or a combo. I picked up a jar of laksa paste from Coles which makes the cooking time very short for this dish. At some point I want to try making my own paste, but I’ll have to find an Asian specialty store for some of the ingredients.

I used a combination of recipes for the laksa, picking and choosing aspects of different ones, but I’ll attach the main one I worked off of. You definitely want a big pot if you try this, mine was full to the brim and may have spilt once or twice when being stirred. You heat 3 tbsp of veg oil in a pot (I used peanut as Fraser read that it’s one of the healthiest cooking oils) and then add the entire jar of paste and cook it for a couple minutes until it darkens and becomes quite fragrant. Then you add 6 c of chicken stock and 1tbsp brown sugar. Then add 2 c of coconut milk (full fat) here and simmer. I was unable to find fresh kaffir lime leaves but Coles had jars of them shredded. I put about 8 of these shredded pieces in a tea strainer and added it to the pot so I didn’t have to search for the pieces later as they get removed like bay leaves.

I boiled two chicken breasts separately and then shredded them with a fork. I also decided to cook up some white onion and add it to the soup as I thought that I remembered onion from the noodle shops’ soup, though none of the recipes called for it. I added all of these to the soup with the juice of one lime and a cut up chilli pepper. I cooked some Singapore style rice noodles that the recipe had recommended, as well as cutting a Lebanese cucumber and pineapple into matchstick size pieces. After it had simmered for a while and we were ready to eat I poured the soup over the noodles and placed the cucumber and pineapple on top. At the table I had fresh bean sprouts, mint, crunchy fried shallots (Asian section of supermarket – yum) and hot sauce. It was very good but we agreed that the noodles needed to be thinner and that something more should have been done with the chicken. Fraser said it was better today, so next time I make it I’m going to do it in the morning and then leave it to sit for the day so the flavours can seep in a bit more. Fras also used vermicelli noodles today which he said worked way better, so he’s already fixed both the issues for me!

 

One last thing I made which was so simple and delicious was a batch of chocolate cheesecake cups. With only five ingredients they take about 7 minutes to put together, then you just have to wait while they cook and then chill. Even Fraser liked these, which was good because I would have gladly ate the entire batch myself.

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/155375/crab-legs-with-garlic-butter-sauce/

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/weeknight-red-curry

Laksa Soup – A Malaysian Coconut Curry Soup

Five-Ingredient Chocolate Cheesecake Cups

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