Confessions of a Rank Amateur 

Hello. 

I have recently come to realize that I am what I’ve recently come to call “A Rank Food Amateur”. 

The work ‘rank’ is actually quite an interesting one. Almost as though one’s state of ineptitude can, in fact, be categorized.

 “Oh him? He’s totally an 8th level amateur. Can’t you tell by his scraggly beard and strange look of quiet , unwashed desperation? Also, he’s wearing a wizard’s hat, and seriously…who does that these days?”
Right now, at this very second, sitting across from me in the fancy-ish chain restaurant I happen to be sitting in, there is a girl who can’t be more than 8 or 9 years old – heartily tucking into a massive plate of steak tartar. With a similar expression I reserve for spectacular feats of cricketing prowess or the winner of a prize I was kinda not-so-secretly hoping to get, I’m watching this girl crack the raw egg into her raw steak and go to town like a crocodile goes to town on anything with a beating heart and a stupidly underdeveloped sense of mortality. 
This girl scares the shit out of me, because at her age I thought olives were specifically shat out from the anus of the devil, that feta was its unholy bride, and that anything that wasn’t made by the King Pie corporation was to be viewed with a good deal of suspicion and mistrust. And here she is happily wolfing down a meal that even to this day requires me to have a certain level of tequila-fueled plucky bravado to order. This girl probably shovels down oysters by the unholy bucket-load at casual family gatherings and loudly prefers her pizzas Bianco because that’s how they have them in Rome and what does Debonairs know anyway the fucking savages.

This girl is not an amateur. She will no doubt eat at at least 4 of the world’s top 5 restaurants before her 25th birthday, whereas the closest I’ve ever gotten is eating a barbecue pork roll on the side of the road in a 10 km radius of the French Laundry. I once ate a packet of tomato flavored chips bought from a petrol garage, shoved in-between two slices of white bread with a can of creme soda, for breakfast. 

And yet, I love to cook. I also love the reward of beautiful food, prepared by people who seriously know what the fuck they’re doing, and the resultant sensation of living that those sorts of experiences impart. 

Which is how I’ve recently come to seriously mistrust myself as any kind of food authority – because ultimately one has to ask oneself – what on earth do I actually know? Sure I can fry some onions without setting myself on fire, I can generally cut a piece of meat without stabbing myself to death – but ultimately I feel like a wide-eyed moron in a world increasingly populated by 8 year-olds who would eat me up and shit me out on any given episode of Australian Masterchef.
It’s a weird thing to realize that being an enthusiast does not necessarily entitle one to be an authority. And a recent trip to San Francisco, and a special dinner I had there put together by the people at what started as a pop-up restaurant called Lazy Bear, pretty much definitively proved that I am generally pretty massively out of my depth when it comes to real food.

I can’t possibly remember the intimate details of that dinner, even though I can still pick out rubbishy little details like the pork dish was served with a brine of wild mushrooms that made me want to go sing tribal songs in the deep forest, that the scallop was like the most delicate blob of vaguely briny, creamy butter. There was butternut ice-cream and sego pudding and duck delicately wrapped in translucent cabbage, all punctuated by sauces that seemed inhuman in their delicateness and yet somehow simultaneously full of a frothy richness that could only have been generated by black magic.

   
           
In the face of cooking like that it’s kinda hard to see how anyone could really be interested in my recipe for “extra special tacos”.

I do however totally suggest you go find that 8 year old’s blog – because I’m sure it’s brilliant.

Viva la Quinoa

…which is a joke that only really works if you know how to pronounce Quinoa. Which sounds like such a super wanky thing to say, but…

Oh. Nope. It’s totally super wanky. But I stand by it. 

  


Curried Quinoa with pickle-soaked chicken.

serves 4
Ingredients list

1 cup of quinoa

Half a cup of olives, sliced

I small onion, finely chopped.

Small handful of fresh coriander, roughly choppped – stalks and all.

3 or 4 pepperdews, roughly chopped (optional)
1 tbsp ground coriander

1 tbsp ground cumin

1 tbsp turmeric

1 tbsp smoked paprika 

1 tbsp chipotle chilli powder (optional)

1 large onion, roughly chopped

1 large stick of celery (or two small ones), roughly chopped

1 large carrot (again, or two small ones), roughly chopped

1 small cauliflower, broken up into florets

2 medium-sized sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into cubes

2 tins of whole tomatoes

500ml of vegetable stock

2 cloves of garlic, pressed with salt into a paste

1 (or 2, depending on your taste) red chillies, finely chopped
4 skinned chicken breasts, soaked in pickle juice for 24 hours.

Salt and pepper

Shaved parmesan and chopped chives to finish

  
What to do

So, this should be done the day before, because it imparts such a rich, zippy flavour to the chicken that its utterly, utterly worth it. Essentially, you need about a cup of pickle juice, either from pickled onions (my preferred option) or gerkins, then poured over the chicken in a shallowish sealable tub and the put in the fridge to marinate for 24 hours.

The next day, it’s time to get going. This is an optional step, but I really find that it adds an extra layer of nutty flavour to the quinoa which makes it incredibly rich and satisfying.

In a heated dry pan, toast the quinoa grain until just starting to turn slightly golden brown. It’ll be crackling and hopping a bit in the pan, so make sure to keep shaking or stirring so that it doesn’t catch or burn.

Tip the toasted quinoa into a pot (or just start here), cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Once boiling, adjust the heat down to a simmer and leave until the quinoa has absorbed all the water and fluffed itself. Loosen and stir it up with a fork, cover with a lid to carry on steaming and set aside.

Take the chopped olives, onion (and peppadews if using) and toss them with some olive oil into a pan on high heat (you can obviously use the same pan you used to toast the quinoa) and fry until the onion is just starting to turn crispy golden on the edges. Remove from the heat, and stir through the chopped coriander. 
Mix together the ground coriander, cumin, paprika, turmeric and chipotle powder (if using) and set aside.

In a large skillet heat a good shake of olive oil, then toss in the cubed sweet potato. Cook on a medium heat until just starting to go crispy and golden. Then add the celery, onion, carrots, chilli and garlic. Stir and fry this all up until they start to soften and release all their aromas. You want to keep the skillet on a medium-ish heat, just so that it all cooks more gently than aggressively and to keep the sweet potato from over-cooking. Add the cauliflower and the mixed spices and keep stirring and cooking for about 7-10 minutes.

Then add the two tins of tomato, crushing them with the back of a wooden spoon and mixing in well, add a bit of vegetable stock so that you have a rich sauce, turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and leave this to bubble away for about 20 minutes to half an hour – essentially until its thickened up nicely.

Stir the warm olives and onions into the quinoa and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Heat a griddle pan (if you have one, it’s not essential) splash in a bit of olive oil and add the chicken once up to temperature. Fry on one side until you’ve got those nice sexy lines marking the chicken, then flip them and do the same for the other side. Turn the temperature down to a medium heat and keep cooking for about 15-20 minutes until they’re cooked through.
Mix enough of the curried tomato sauce with quinoa so that its sticky and reddish, then serve with the chicken, cut into slices. Shave over some parmesan cheese and sprinkle with chopped chives.