This week on Friday Feast we’re fulfilling a destiny, oh yes we are! How, you ask? Easy, we’re hosting lovely Aussie author and ARRAward finalist Imelda Evans whose debut contemporary romance, Rules Are For Breaking, was recently released by Penguin Australia’s brilliant new digital offshoot, Destiny Romance. See? Told you there was a connection.
Imelda writes contemporary novels about women’s lives – the dramas, the challenges the joys and the occasional loaded gun – and how they get through them with a sense of humour and a little help from their friends.
Or, as Imelda so wonderfully puts it, contemporary fiction with a sense of humour; because life is serious, but reading should be fun! Which says to me that Rules Are For Breaking is going to be one rocking read.
Jo is a smart and determined young woman with a clear-eyed view of men and what she expects of them. Put simply, she is over searching for ‘The One’. When challenged by a friend who thinks she can’t do it, Jo goes one step further and vows not to date, sleep with or even kiss a man for six weeks.
Enter Declan, Jo’s gorgeous yet unwelcome house guest. Convinced he can win her over, Declan views Jo and her vow as an irresistible challenge.
An infuriated Jo declares that Declan is like all the others – attracted to her for all the wrong reasons. She insists that he devote time to getting to know the real her and to doing the things she loves. Will Declan survive the test? Or will a major misunderstanding spoil everything?
Rules Are For Breaking is a witty, entertaining romance certain to have even the most disenchanted believing in love again.
HOW TO LOOK GOOD IN THE KITCHEN WITHOUT REALLY TRYING
Who doesn’t love food?
Think of all the things it can do. It can sustain life, bring pleasure, mark celebrations, gather families, diffuse awkwardness, expand horizons, comfort, challenge and even seduce. How many other inanimate objects do you know that can do that?
I love it. And so, by extension, do my characters.
In Rules are for Breaking, my hero, Declan, begins his campaign to snare the heroine, Jo, by inviting her to a picnic. It’s a smart move. She’s a pretty tough customer, and she’s very wary of Declan, but she isn’t proof against an offer of smoked salmon, tropical fruit and wine when she’s hungry.
Especially since, like many of us, Jo likes the idea of eating wonderful food more than preparing it. Given a choice, she doesn’t cook at all. I like to cook a little more than that, but even I struggle with time and energy these days.
Once upon a time, I would home-make béarnaise sauce for a dinner party. I would segment oranges for a dozen people and make the pasta as well as the sauce from scratch. But those days are gone.
Actually, if I’m honest, they were never all that common. It’s true that I have done all of the things listed, but lest you think I was some kind of demented Julia Child wannabe, I should add that I have done each of them exactly once. Even in my footloose and fancy free days, my kitchen masochism was limited. I liked to make impressive stuff, but after a few dinner parties that I was too exhausted to enjoy, I started to rethink the MasterChef-y carry-on.
And now that I am mother, wife, volunteer, dog and frog wrangler, house manager and writer, anything that takes hours to prepare is out. I’d rather spend my emotional energy in my fiction than the kitchen. And I like to be able to invite people around at a moment’s notice without freaking out about what to feed them.
So I’ve developed a repertoire of solid favourites that are easy, quick and tasty and can be put together either from what I have in the pantry or what I can gather with a very quick swing around the supermarket.
The three dishes I’m sharing today are a mish-mash of influences from all over the world – appropriate for both me and Jo, as we live in Melbourne, a city which seems to absorb new cultures mainly to pillage their cuisines.
The first is an excellent snack for unexpected guests, or for writing breaks mid-afternoon when vegemite toast and an apple just isn’t doing it for you.
Dukkah is a middle-eastern snack, made from a mixture of crushed nuts, seeds and spices and served with oil and bread for dipping. It comes in all sorts of different styles, depending on who makes it. Some are lumpy with nuts, others are quite fine; some are mild and almost creamy, others are fiery. I love it, but I don’t always have it on hand, as you can’t keep nut-based things too long or they go rancid. But I have discovered that you can mock up a very acceptable home-made version with what’s in the pantry. The quantities given (and indeed, the ingredients) are all approximate. You can adjust depending on what you have and the flavour you like. Just start with a very small amount of the spice mix. It’s almost certainly stronger than you think, when eaten raw, like this.
Morrocan Spice Mix*
Breadcrumbs or crushed nuts**
Oil and bread to serve.
Put approximately 1Tbs each of Sesame and Poppy seeds into a small bowl with 1tsp of spice mix, 3-4 Tbsp of nuts or breadcrumbs and a dash of salt. Mix, taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve with good oil and hunks of bread.
*I used a Moroccan rub from Dean and Deluca in New York (foodie heaven, should you ever happen to be in Soho, NY, NY). But I’ve also used Moroccan spice mix from my suburban supermarket. I was just showing off for the photo!
**The first time I made this, I didn’t have any nuts, so I used dried breadcrumbs and it was surprisingly good. Nuts are more traditional, but don’t use nut meal – it’s a bit fine for this. (You could, of course, crush your own in a mortar and pestle, but if you are the kind of cook who is likely to do that, you aren’t likely to need my quick hasty-tasty recipes. 😉 )
Note on oil and bread: Ideally you would serve this with hunks of fresh Turkish bread or something similar. Since I didn’t have any, I toasted a bagel from the freezer and cut it into chunks. It tasted great and provided the requisite large cross-section for soaking up the oil and dukkah. The oil can be any, as long as it’s fresh and good quality. If your oil is old, it’s fine for cooking, but not nice to eat like this. Fancy infused oil like the one in the picture are great, partly because they taste good and partly because they come in small bottles, so they tend to get used up before they get past their best.
Rare Cajun Salmon with Smashed Potatoes and Greek Salad
If you’ve made the Dukkah for unexpected guests, they will doubtless be so impressed that they want to stay on for dinner. If they do, nip down to the supermarket and grab the following (took me 16 minutes including paying at my local independent supermarket – I timed it):
One cucumber (I use the long continental ones – no peeling)
One punnet of cherry tomatoes
One capsicum (whatever colour pleases you)
A little bag of washed chat potatoes (or any washed, really)
Approx 50 grams of fetta from the deli
A scoop or so of black pitted olives, also from the deli
About 600 grams of salmon fillets
One large jar of Cajun Spices.
I tin of mango slices (of course you can use fresh, if available and you can be bothered.)
Some good whole-egg mayo if you don’t have any at home
These quantities will feed about four people (with leftover potatoes). If you have more people, just increase the quantities. Method is the same. You could double it and it would still take about half an hour, from when you hit the kitchen to when you sit down.
First, fill the kettle and put it on. Get out as many potatoes as you think you will eat and a pot with a lid. If you have chat potatoes, cut them in half. If they’re bigger, cut into more pieces. Don’t bother peeling them. Put them into the pot, barely cover with the boiling water from the kettle, put the lid on and put on a high heat to come to the boil.
Cut the cucumber and capsicum into a rough dice and throw into a salad bowl. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half (or quarters, if they’re huge) and toss them in too, along with the olives and the fetta, cut or broken into smallish pieces. Toss. You can add some oil and lemon juice if you like, but I normally don’t bother. All the veges are juicy and the olives usually have some oil on them and everything else in this meal is dressed.
Check the potatoes and turn down a bit if they look as though they are going to boil over. They need to be on a high simmer.
Get out a frying pan big enough for the salmon and a shallow plate (like a pasta plate). Tip about 3 Tbsp of Cajun Spices onto the plate and coat the salmon in the spices. Check the potatoes again. If they are looking nearly done, put the frying pan on a high heat to get hot.
When the pan is hot, put the pieces of salmon in, skin side down, and set a timer for one minute. (Yes, it’s a dry pan. You don’t need oil or butter. Trust me.)
While they are cooking, open the tin of mango, take out on cheek (or a few slices) and whizz them with a stick blender. If you don’t have one, mash them with a fork. You need about 2-3 tablespoons of pulp.
When the timer goes off, turn the salmon and reset the timer.
Mix one Tbsp of mayonnaise into the mango pulp. Put your back into it. It will look a bit curdly at first, but you will soon have a smooth, runny-ish sauce.
When the timer goes off again, have a look at the salmon. If the spice mix is well blackened, you can take it off the heat now. Seriously. It is supposed to be rare and it is delicious. If you like it a bit more ‘done’ just turn it over again and give each side another minute or so. But make sure, however long you cook it, that the surface is black. Cajun spices are supposed to be black. If you don’t blacken them, you are liable to take your guests’ mouths off with the chili kick.
When the salmon is done to your liking, remove from the heat and put onto a serving plate. (If you leave them in the pan they will continue cooking, even if off the heat.) Drain the potatoes and toss in their hot pan with some olive oil or butter and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Serve the salmon with the potatoes, the greek salad and the mango mayonnaise.
After dinner, whizz up the rest of the mango and the syrup with some ice and use to make rum cocktails.
Bask in the praise.
And if, after all that, your greedy guests want dessert, make them take you out for icecream. (Or, if that’s too rude for you, put a pack of Magnums on your shopping list. 😉 )
WHAT A FEAST! Thank you, Imelda. That was fabulous, especially for the dukkah recipe. I’m a huge fan of this nutty mix. As for those mango and rum cocktails… mmmmm!
Now, my Feasty lovelies, being the generous soul that she is – as she has so beautifully demonstrated in the above post – Imelda is offering a giveaway. Simply reveal what your favourite ‘meal in a hurry’ is when unexpected guests appear and you’ll go into the draw to win an ebook copy of Rules Are For Breaking in the format of your choice. Yes, Feasties, this destiny could be yours!
Giveaway closes midnight Tuesday, 19th March 2013 AEST. Open internationally. Rah!
This giveaway has now closed. Congratulations to Christine, who has won herself an ebook copy of Imelda’s debut release, Rules Are For Breaking. Thanks to everyone who dropped by the Feast and joined in the fun.