The Cook's Toolkit

The Cook's Toolkit
The Cook's Toolkit by Clever Pumpkin.


The romance is over: Edward & Bella twenty years on. My short story Daylight is now available as a free download.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

Or more accurately, short story competitions.  I'm thrilled that my fiction has recently garnered a number of prizes and commendations.  My short story, Bittersweet, which combines my love of food with my great joy of murdering people on the page, recently won the New England Thunderbolt Prize.  

Bittersweet can be found on the Armidale Express website or the New England Writers' Centre website.   Sophie Masson was good enough to interview me for her blog Feathers of the Firebird.    That interview will appear this coming Saturday.

My story, Mister Switzerland, also recently won the Sydney Writers' Room Short Story Competition, while 3778 scored a high commendation in the Grace Marion Wilson Emerging Writers' Competition.  

Many thanks to the competition organisers; with special mention to Sophie Masson and MD Curzon.

Beef Bourguignon with Vegetables

Ah spring, what’s not to love?  The days are growing balmy but the nights are still cool enough to enjoy some hearty fare.

Traditionally vegetables such as mashed potato and beans are served separately with beef bourguignon, but I like to add them to the stew, then freeze leftovers in one person portions (around 400ml.)  Then during the week when I’m busy I can reach for takeaway at home.  Restaurant quality; one dirty pot and no cooking.  What more can you ask from a mid-week meal?  Anything slow cooked tends to reheat beautifully; why not make double so that you can have a night off from cooking during the week?

The wine I’ve used is about $11.00 per bottle.  Feel free to substitute it with the red wine of your preference, but bear in mind that this dish rests heavily on the flavour of the wine, so the wine you use should be something you would be prepared to drink rather than put in the petrol tank.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Italian Special

Italian Special

This is one of those incredibly simple, incredibly good recipes. Its 'proper' name is Italian Beef Noodle Bake, but in my family we always called it Italian Special.  I've been eating this since I was a kid, so it's officially an antique.  Last night when I was making it, I got to thinking about how things have changed.  The first time my mother made chicken cacciatore, she had a devil of a time finding a supermarket that stocked canned tomatoes.  Back then, the more a recipe claimed to be Genuine Chinese Style Chicken or Authentic Chinese Style, the more likely it was to call for something like Vegemite.  And spice equalled salt.  Want more genuine?  Add more salt.  Want more authentic?  Yep.  More salt. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Baked potatoes stuffed with pancetta, parmesan and sour cream

It’s hump day, and that means you deserve comfort food!  These baked stuffed potatoes with pancetta, parmesan and sour cream are richly flavoured and so satisfying – try them once and you’ll be hooked.  Although very little effort is required, it does take about an hour of baking to prepare the potatoes, but this step can be completed in advance, and the potatoes refrigerated overnight for an express mid-week meal.  As potato sizes vary, ingredient quantities are approximate.  It’s important to taste the mixture before stuffing the potato to make sure it’s to your taste.

Baked potatoes stuffed with pancetta, parmesan and sour cream
Ingredients (per spud)

1 Desiree potato – the biggest you can lay your hot little hands on (usually around 300grams)
3 spring onions (scallions) bulb end only (around 10cm), sliced
3 slices pancetta, chopped
3 tablespoons (60ml) freshly grated parmigiano reggiano (aged parmesan) cheese
1 tablespoon crème fraiche or sour cream

Anytime Salad with toasted walnuts and parmesan croutons

Clever Pumpkin's (to die for) Anytime Salad with toasted walnuts and parmesan croutons

Ingredients (serves 2):

80g mixed, washed salad leaves

Heaped ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons (40ml) good, salad quality olive oil
1 tablespoon (20ml) tarragon vinegar
1 French/Dutch shallot, finely diced, or the bulb (10cm) of a spring onion/scallion sliced
½ cup walnuts, lightly toasted

30g Turkish Bread (or other gutsy bread) crusts removed, cut into even sized cubes
1 ½ tablespoons (30ml) grated parmesan
2 teaspoons (10ml) olive oil

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Trip Advisor copyright rip-off

Recently while browsing restaurant reviews on Trip Advisor I came face to face with one of my own photographs, used without my consent or knowledge, to promote a local restaurant – presumably without the restaurant’s consent or knowledge also; given that it was a photograph of lasagne and the restaurant was Indian.  The caption read “management photograph” and attributed the source as “Photocrawler,” which seems, as far as I can tell, to be some sort of scraping program Trip Advisor is using to thieve photographs.

Among the reasons one may report a photograph on Trip Advisor, copyright infringement does not number; additionally, Trip Advisor “requires” that reports of copyright infringement come from copyright owners as opposed to other sources; in other words, Trip Advisor neither welcomes or facilitates reports of copyright infringement, and that in itself speaks volumes.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Pasta with Caramelised Cauiflower, Pancetta, Pine Nuts & Cheese

One pot, one frying pan; nutty, smoky, tangy, creamy and sweet all at once; mouth-watering, nutritious, deeply satisfying and cheap because we're using seasonal ingredients at their best.  What more could you ask?  Well, someone to cook it for you.  Send me a plane ticket.  I'll be right there.

Ingredients (per person)

1 ½ tbsp, pine nuts, toasted
1 ½ cups small cauliflower florets
¾ cup orecchiete pasta
1 tbsp marinated chevre or feta, broken into small pieces
4 thin slices mild pancetta
2 tbsp reggiano parmigiano (parmesan cheese), grated

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Recipe: Friday Night Chilli with Lime Guacamole

Friday Night Chilli with lime guacamole, sour cream, and tasty cheese

The good folk of Mexico, as in most peasant cuisines, know how to coax every ounce of flavour from the most modest, cheapest ingredients.  Chiles are toasted; tomatoes are roasted; as are nuts, fruit and spices.  Most of what we know as Mexican cooking in this country is actually Tex-Mex; an Americanised version of the real thing.  Genuine Mexican food is to die for, but it’s also incredibly labour intensive.   The reason Mexican people have so many kids is because it takes half a dozen people to get dinner on the table every day.  I’ve spent three days in the kitchen just making one sauce (on one occasion, only to have to pour the lot down the sink because I toasted the chiles a little too long and made the sauce bitter.)  This express chilli tries to be true to the real thing by including just a couple of ingredients which have been slow-cooked to bring out their flavour, without being too labour intensive or calling for exotic ingredients.

You might be sceptical about the amount of onion that goes into this, but once caramelised, the onion mass will reduce by ½ or more, depending how long you give them (allow half an hour or more).  Caramelising the onion in this way adds beautiful depth to the colour of the chilli and also sweetly balances the smokiness of the spices, along with the roasted garlic.    If you’re not comfortable with the amount of onion or don’t have enough time to caramelise it, halve the amount and just cook it gently for around 20mins, until the edges start to brown.  That will still add sweetness and balance the flavours.

Don’t be alarmed when you add the stock and find the consistency of the chilli too liquid; by the end of cooking it will have reduced to a sumptuous texture.


2 garlic cloves, roasted,
2 red onions, roughly chopped (around 350 g)
1 red capsicum, chopped (around 125 g)
½ cup adzuki beans (note: adzuki beans do not require pre-soaking)
1 litre beef stock
1kg minced beef
2 teaspoons chilli powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon smoky paprika
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 cans crushed or chopped tomatoes (my current favourite is Mutti Polpa, which are pulped Italian tomatoes available in a two-can pack from Coles Supermarket, at least in my area.  Any canned tomatoes will do, but if you get a chance to try these, please do.  Rich and vibrantly red, they’re the closest thing to fresh tomatoes.)

1 ripe avocado
Lime juice to taste

To serve
Light sour cream
Corn or tortilla chips
Grated tasty or Black Jack cheese

  1. Roast unpeeled garlic gloves over a warm heat in a dry frying pan or in a moderate oven until yielding when pressed; around 10 to 15 mins.  (Note: if roasting in the oven, prick garlic with a fork if you would like to escape the joy of cleaning exploded garlic from the oven.)  Set aside until cool enough to handle.
  2. Heat a little olive oil in a pan over low heat, add onions and cook gently until reduced and deeply coloured – around 30 mins or a little longer.
  3. While the onion is caramelising, slip the skins from the garlic and squash with the flat of the knife, then chop roughly and set aside.
  4. Remove onions to a plate or use another pan/pot to heat a little more olive oil then fry minced beef quickly until nicely browned.
  5. Add the cumin, chilli, coriander, paprika, oregano and garlic and stir through for about a minute, when the spices should be aromatic.  Toss in the chopped red capsicum and the rinsed adzuki beans, as well as the canned tomatoes.  Add the beef stock (I like to rinse the tomato cans with a little beef stock first to get the most out of them.)  The chilli will be very liquid at this stage – don’t worry.  Simmer gently, partially covered, for around 1¼ to 1½ hours until the chilli is a nice consistency and the beans are tender.
  6. A note on seasoning: please be careful about adding salt until the chilli is fully reduced, otherwise it may end up too salty, particularly if using bought stock.
  7. Guacamole: Add strained lime juice to mashed avocado to taste.
  8. Serve with light sour cream, cheese and corn chips or tortilla crisps.

Adzuki Beans: economy and nutrition tip.

My casseroles and stews used to contain a greater proportion of meat than vegetables, as I think was true of most people in a time when our diets typically contained more meat, but now that we know the health benefits of limiting our red meat intake, I add more vegetables, no matter what the recipe calls for, and you know what?  I’ve found it doesn’t make a great deal of difference to flavour or satisfaction.  Using more vegetables than meat is also more economical and better for the planet.  Another way I like to stretch casseroles and stews a little further is by adding some dried beans.  Most of us don’t eat nearly enough pulses, which is a shame, because they are extraordinarily good for us as well as being dirt cheap.

Recently I’ve started using these adzuki beans and I can’t sing their praises highly enough.  Unlike other dried beans, they don’t require pre-soaking, which means they soak up the juices of the casserole or soup they are cooking in, and therefore the flavour, rather than just sucking in water.  They are much smaller than many beans, adding to their visual appeal, comparatively quick to cook, have a lovely sweet-nutty flavour and a crisper texture than some beans which are more inclined to be pasty or claggy.  I dare say – dare I say it really? – you might even get adzuki beans past the kids.   Try adding a handful or two to your soups and casseroles, or try them out in our Friday Night Chilli recipe.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

EJ Brady Short Story Competition 2014-15

My story, Myxo, has been privileged to be selected from among its undoubtedly wonderful colleagues as the winner of the Mallacoota Prize in the EJ Brady Short Story Competition 2014-15.  This welcome news has sentimental significance for me, as one of the judges was Bruce Pascoe.  Though he won’t remember me, many years ago, Bruce owned and edited the journal, Australian Short Stories, to which I was an aspiring contributor.  I once received a rejection from him criticising my lack of focus and discipline – both fair criticisms – but which also held two words of encouragement that meant so much to me I have never forgotten them: keep writing.