Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Mystery Pantry Challenge at Farewell Abandoned House Party

My friend Nicola is going to live in Canada for a while and on the weekend she had her Farewell Abandoned House Party.

 (not really spiderwebs, just cotton wool)

It was an abandoned house party because Nicola had been living in a big sharehouse with five other people in Maylands and all of her housemates had moved out of the house. They had a garage sale two weeks ago to sell everything so the house was basically empty.

With all of the furniture gone, the front room was turned into a badminton/volleyball room. We found out why you shouldn’t play ball games indoors because the ball can hit the light and break it. After just a few games, it was game over.

The furniture was gone but there was a pantry with some leftover food so we decided to have a Mystery Pantry Challenge where a few of us came over early to use what was in the pantry to cook food for the party guests. 

I had no idea what was in the pantry so it was an exciting challenge to go over and think up recipes on the spot. This is not how I usually cook. I’m a planner. I have a small fridge and not much space in my unit so I only buy what I need. I have also never lived in a sharehouse so it was interesting to see what gets accumulated overtime when you live with other people (like 4 different jars of honey, lots of canned goods). There was also a shelf full of spices, and some bits and pieces in the freezer. Nicola had also gone to the markets in the morning to buy a few vegetables for her last few days in Perth which we attacked. So we weren’t too limited in what we could use to cook with, and the theme was vegetarian as most of my friends are vegetarian.

Peering into the pantry for the first time, the first thing that caught my eye was the bag of rice and I also found some frozen peas in the freezer, so I decided to cook fried rice. This may seem pretty boring to some, but I make a mean fried rice (the people at the party can attest to that). It’s a dish that’s often bastardised and treated as a scrapheap. If the test for an Italian is how well they can make pizza or pasta, and an Indian is how good their curry is, than for a Chinese person it would be how good their stir fry or fried rice is, and I could cook either of these with my eyes closed. I don't have a set recipe for making fried rice, I use whatever I have at hand with the aim of creating something that is cohesive and has a good balance of flavour.

 (My special fried rice – so it looks deceptively simple and bland but I can assure you that it tastes amazing)

One problem was that there was no rice cooker and I have never cooked rice in a saucepan before (a rice cooker is a mandatory household item for me). Luckily there were instructions on the back of the packet of rice but as I was too busy chopping up vegetables it ended up bubbling up and water spilled out onto the stove and I freaked out. The rice eventually got cooked but it was a little wet so I let it rest on the kitchen bench for a while. Letting rice sit helps the rice to reabsorb any liquid, and results in less gluey and more fluffier texture.

To make the fried rice I sauté finely diced onion until it had softened, then I added in some chopped carrot and mushrooms and fried them for a few minutes. Then I added in the cooked rice. I fried everything together and added in seasonings of soy sauce, sesame oil, brown sugar, salt and pepper until I got the desired taste. Then I added in one egg and stir fried everything together so that the egg coated the grains of rice. I added in some peas at the end and warmed them through. 

 (Cauliflower fritter mixture)

While I was preparing the fried rice, Nicola’s friend Cat made some fritters consisting of grated cauliflower with various spices, bound together with some flour and egg. The fritters were shallow fried until golden brown. 

 (Frying cauliflower fritters)

There was a lot of flour in the pantry (2 bags plain, 2 bags self raising and 1 bread flour) and talk of making pancakes and pizza dough, but finding some puff pastry in the freezer lead to the idea of everyone making their own little pastry parcels, filled with whatever they wanted and then baked. It was a fun idea but required too much effort so in the end we decided to make one big vegetable quiche filled with eggplant and caramelized onions. The eggplant was sliced to 1cm thick pieces and roasted in the oven till softened. Onions were thinly sliced and sauteed with a little sugar until it was brown and caramelized. A biscuit baking tray was greased and lined with puff pastry. The eggplant was put in one layer on the puff pastry, caramelized onions was scattered on the eggplants and beaten eggs with seasoning was poured over the top. Cheese was added over the top and it was baked until the cheese had melted and the pastry was puffed and golden brown. Finished off with some fresh basil over the top.

 (Adding caramelised onions on top of roasted slices of eggplant)
 (Add bits of cheese)
(Add beaten eggs over the top)
(Finished with fresh basil on top)

Another essential sharehouse freezer food item? - we found half a bag of frozen chips which we cooked in the oven.

Nicola’s ex-French housemates made a chocolate cake. The Frenchies made up the chocolate cake as they went, melting the chocolate and butter together first in a pot on the stove and then adding in flour, eggs and more pieces of chocolate into the pot, and everything was simmered on the stove first before putting it into a round baking tin (more chocolate added) and baking the cake in the oven till it was set. This was the most unconventional way I have ever seen a cake been made but it worked out in the end, although it was a bit hard. That’s the thing about baked goods, sure you can fuck it up, it may not look pretty, but it will still be edible. It was full of chocolate after all.

 (Cooking chocolate cake on the stove)
(Put the mixture that has been simmering away on the stove in baking tin to bake. Add more chocolate)
(Baked chocolate cake)

Another thing that we found in the pantry was food colouring. So we turned delicious hummus which had been made from scratch green. The punch also went green. What appears to be a fun thing to do turned out to be a bad idea as the green was a bit of a turn off for people. The hummus went uneaten and the punch wasn’t really a crowd pleaser, some people down right refused to drink it. Some claimed that they had allergies to food colouring, this was untested, but a risk some were not willing to take. It’s just food colouring, but it’s funny how the colour of food can affect it’s appeal, especially when it reminds you of radioactive waste.

 (Cracker and green hummus)
(Green hummus and someone found red food dye)

The Making of Green Punch
 (Add alcohol)
(Measure out ginger beer)
(Add fruit)
(Add in bottle of green dye)
(Hmmm green punch)

We also found out that putting birds on things is so 2011. The ‘b’ in bird for 2012 is for ‘basil’ and ‘bindi’.

Do you want to make your party photos look cool? Put a bindi on your face and/or stuff it with basil. So pretty!

The Mystery Pantry Challenge was fun. It didn’t become some crazy food endeavour where we cooked outrageous things and made volcanos the baking soda. In the end we made up some great food using stuff from the pantry, it was easy simple food, nothing fancy, nothing particularly inventive but it was all tasty. The key was that everything was fried, deep fried and baked – this is how you make things taste good but then you can feel a bit bad for injecting so much grease and fat into your body. The only way you can rectify this is to dance. Just dance the night away.

 (DJ Station)

 Bon voyage Nicola.
I hope you have an awesome time in Canada and traveling around the USA.
Don’t join a cult.
Please come back.

Nicola and Ai-Ling (aka Blue Apocalypse) We have bindis on our faces.