Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A Florentine Date Night

I like Wednesday nights. Since Without a Trace made its debut on telly, I've considered Wednesday nights my Date Night, a night when I relax and enjoy the company of not one, but three, lovely boys who are both smart *and* cute. More recently, Date Night has been expanded to include NCIS, though exactly why I find Mr Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon) so appealing is a little unclear. (I'd love to invite Dr House as well, but to be honest his attractiveness dimishes in inverse proportion to the annoyingness of his minions. *sigh*)

Date Night is also an excuse to cook something a little special, or at least different. This week, it was a big steak. Marcella Hazan tells us to rub the steak with pepper and then trowing it strauight onto a charcol grill. Only once the steak is cooked is olive oil drizzled on top (after a sprinkle of salt and a rub of garlic). Served with a salad of spinach, roast tomato and roast eggplant, it's a winner!

A Cheeky Red Roast

Roasted vegetables are one of my favourite things in the world. Like chocolate and red wine, they are supremely tasty and full of healthy anti-oxidants. (Additional research showing the immense health benefits of the olive oil in which my veges swim will surely be published any day now.)

Recently I've discovered that roasted tomatoes are especially wonderful, adding a whole new dimension to the toasted cheese and tomato sandwiches I seem to always make for lunch. Topped with some torn fresh basil leaves, they make an el quicko (and el cheapo) lunch taste tres gourmet. Last night I had a little roasting festival with some tomatoes I found lazing about on the greengrocer's "specials" table. The recipe is simple:

1/2 kg Roma tomatoes, sliced into sixths*
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons of dried herbs or 2 tablespoons of fresh chopped herbs

Preheat the oven to 160C.
Line a baking tray with Glad Bake or similar.
Pour the olive oil in a bowl, dip the tomato pieces in the oil and place them on the baking tray.
Sprinkle salt and herbs over the top.
Depending on your commitment or otherwise to a low fat diet, drizzle the olive oil from the bowl over the tomatoes.
Bake for 40 mins or thereabouts, depending on the oven and desired mushiness of the tomatoes.
Remove from oven and let cool on the baking tray.
Transfer to an airtight container, drizzle with a little more oil and store in the fridge.

* Sixths are real easy. Cut each tomato in half . Cut each half tomato into three pieces.

What amazed me even more than the yum factor is the reaction of my colleagues when I opened my tub of roasted tomato goodness:

Them (peering into container): "Where did you buy those?"
Me (assembling sandwich): "I didn't, I made them."
Them (still peering): "When?"
Me (looking somewhat bemused): "Last night - really easy to do."
Them (now tasting): "Wow, they're really good!"
Me (tub in hand): "Take some for lunch. I can do more tonight."

Colleague Angela took up the offer and created this (which, much to her amusement, I duly photographed):

Sunday, March 05, 2006

A Breakfast of Champions

I've spent the past week working in an unusually cold, wet and windy Coffs Harbour. The Northern Rivers area of NSW is one of my fave parts of the world. I've many a happy memory of summer holidays, of camping near the beach, sleeping in a tent and cooking on a camp stove. Awww....

Coffs is all grown up now. New housing estates have popped up along the coast, the mall has been expanded, and the dive that was Park Beach Plaza is now the biggest regional shopping centre between Tweed Heads and Newcastle. The upside is that Coffs now has a great selection of cafes and restuarants. And I'm pleased to report that thanks to the Vouyer magazine I swiped from our Virgin flight from Sydney, I found one of the best:

Cafe Aqua, 57 Ocean Parade (opposite the Park Beach Bowling Club)
Tel 02 6652 5566.
I had grand plans to work my way through the breakfast specials board during my stay cos it looked so good. Unfortunately I got a little distracted by the sensational Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon on Day 1 and ordered it every day.

Breakfast math for the week: 4 x (EB + ss) + 8 x cappuccino = 1 Happy Em. :-)

Another gem we found (but didn't photograph!) was
Granma's Restaurant, 92 Park Beach Road
Tel 02 6651 4777.
This is a small German restaurant just near the Plaza. Great decor, homey feel and lots of yummy food. The pork knuckle, which I'd been craving since dining in Munich in January, was a whole new world of pork and cabbage joy.