Fabulous food and not a cooking show in sight

COMMENT

Move over, MasterChef - there's more talent than you can point a camera at on the South Coast.

Every night we're cooking up a storm in our kitchens - searching for new recipes, experimenting, pushing boundaries, exchanging ideas and rating our efforts.

The dishes may not be quite as intriguing as chorizo-stuffed squid with saffron broth or filet de boeuf et pommes souffle au jus gras but they are an interesting fusion of Australian cuisine.

The planning begins at breakfast: what's tickling our taste buds, what's in season, are we time rich/poor, who's likely to drop in for dinner.

Then we're off in search of inspiration and ingredients, ready to compromise if neither is readily available.

It's great fun and makes for some interesting results, albeit not always successful.

Husband Garry has what he refers to as his "signature dishes" which usually have a strong Italian flavour - home-made pizzas (he makes his own bases and sauce), spaghetti marinara or matriciana, mushroom and spinach risotto and minestrone.

Loads of garlic is a key ingredient - "Cold's coming on, Jen," is his constant refrain.

Occasionally he breaks out and cooks a chilli lamb and hokkein noodle stir fry or scallops with snow peas and Thai basil.

I'm the fish specialist - usually snapper with a chilli/tomato/cucumber salsa or baked blue eye with avocado and basil or just the local blackfish crumbed with a squeeze of lemon.

I'm also in charge of the curries, whipping up a mean rogan josh, fish vindaloo and Thai green chicken.

Lighter Asian food - prawns with rice noodles, rice paper rolls with teriyaki chicken, nori rolls and sushi - also get a workout.

Last week a friend gave us home-grown cabbages and a bit of research threw up a delicious Vietnamese chicken and prawn coleslaw recipe.

This same friend adores a cooking challenge. She leans towards richer dishes: crispy skin pork belly, slow-cooked sticky veal, quail with red wine.

She's recently introduced me to dishes based on different spices: harissa, piri piri and fajita.

She pops in and casually recounts the previous night's meal: apple and fennel roasted pork tenderloin; chicken in balsamic, orange and rosemary; warm quinoa salad with grilled haloumi. My mouth waters.

Then come the desserts: panna cotta, apricot soufflé, lemon tartlets, apple and pear crumble.

Garry and I are not sweet treat people. After many cake failures - visions of my father manfully filling the collapsed middle with ice cream and declaring it a triumph - I now resort to a packet mix when a birthday looms.

But recently I decided to go all out and whip up a strawberry hazelnut gateau.

I came a cropper with the meringue base. As I stood looking forlornly at the sticky goo, Garry intoned: "No matter how long you look at it, Jen, it's not going to get any better. Throw it away."

Take two and I got it right; the birthday party was back on track.

My neighbour is forever entertaining, churning out loads of fabulous food. A lot of it revolves around the hibachi - lamb straps or marinated chicken - but her beef massaman and slow-cooked kangaroo curry are legendary.

And with so much simmering, steaming, roasting and baking going on we have a bottomless village pantry: "Any chance of some fish sauce/a cup of coconut milk/six eggs/a red capsicum?"

It's a rich tradition with its genesis long before the reality shows that captivate television audiences today.

But if the onscreen antics inspire a generation of cooks, that is a wonderful result.

It's all grist to the gourmet mill.

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