Some people are their eyes. Some are their faces or the way they laugh. Some are their voices. Others still, are their smile. Amanda King has always been her smile. Beautiful, isn't it? Don't be fooled though, this angelic mouthed, rosy cheeked, freckle faced mother of two and I met at a somewhat darker chapter of her charmed life, in what I shall from here on refer to as her 'former days'. Amanda got kicked out of her school and sent to mine after a physical altercation between her and another lass...the other girl never stood a chance and we all learned never to make Miss King angry. Heh. She hates it when I tell that story, but my, my, how time changes us all! This former property management powerhouse is not just a mother to macey and zac, she's done more than her fair share in raising yours truly. Her home and her life always beckon to me. Peaceful, warm, full of the joy of love and happy kids running around and morning serendipity in sunlight streaming in through open windows onto honey coloured floorboards (we're ignoring dirty nappies and Soldier breaking fences every other day). Amanda is literally the happiest person I know. She's not a total fairy tale, there have been a hard few years, but that smile beams out regardless. Growing up, it was always Dad I remember wanting to be like. That rocky, stocky five foot two giant, all big wig wheeler dealer business man. Reading and drinking and talking, always going to lunches and dinners with a whirlwind of people to wade through in a some kind of social euphoria, loud and blazing, heard, listened to and seen. All sound and incendiary fury. Mum, however, was always behind the scenes. She was quiet, unassuming, kind, wise, caring. Still is. Wordlessly, she wove herself into the home and into the spaces of our lives. Through the way she cooked for us and cared for us, through the way she was always present, always available, it never occurred to us not to feel anything other than incredibly loved. I grew up adoring my mother but wanting to be nothing like her. My ambitions were loftier than sky scrapers, they were never going to be satiated by the confines of a cosy suburban kitchen. I was totally Tom Cruise circa Cocktail. Which is admittedly better than Tom circa Oprah's couch, but nothing to be incredibly proud of. Amanda King isn't the only one who's changed. Ego has been eclipsed for a desire in life for what is simpler. A while ago, I decided there was more truth and depth in being Good than in being Great. Ever since I have fallen into this idea of myself, I have discovered a new appreciation of my mother, and have subsequently held Amanda up as the best incarnation I know of someone who has, with much difficultly and more love, crafted a home, a life and a family that is truly something worth envying and living up to. So, this piece is for Miss Amanda King (she's actually Mrs Amanda Kaharni, but even her husband still calls her AK), and for all the wonderful things that she does quietly, behind the scenes, just like my Mum and probably yours. Dinner at Amanda's usually goes down on a Wednesday, with Sylvie and macey and Zac.
Now, i'm no spring chicken, but that doesn't mean I can't cook one, or take bloody adorable photos of them in the process! I took charge of the kitchen and the cooking this time, with 3 bags brimming with luscious organic food, alot of mess, quite a bit of confusion, and shitloads of swearing, the following menu came into being:
Roast Organic Chicken with Garlic Herb Paste and Potatoes +
Chocolate Crusted Ricotta tart with VanillaLemonOrange aka The Take Me Tessa Tart.
The former was an adaptation of Jude Blereau's recipe from Coming Home to Eat, the latter was my first foray into the wonderful world of Tessa Kiros Cooking. I recently purchased Falling Cloudberries, it's one of the spunkiest cook books i've ever seen. It looks like fantasy and family and childhood and love and food and colour and words: precious stuff. Flipping through it and reading snippets here and there has already imbibed me with a lifelong devotion to this raven haired foodie with the most desolately wild eyes you ever saw. I'm sure i'll have more to say about Tessa as I test out more recipes, but trust me, this woman gets food. It's beautiful work, beautifully written.
Now, I am going to be honest with you. Like my love life, this chicken wasn't as amazing as i'd hoped. Someone out there knows how to roast the perfect chicken. She probably dwells in some shanty cottage on the fringes of the Andes and hasn't spoken a word to another soul in over 50 years, one things for sure, I don't know her and I never met her. I won't give up, rest assured, but some lovely birds are going to waste in my earnest endeavour, kind of like my brothers attempts to find true love! There is a recipe in Roast Chicken and Other Stories i'll try out next, but here's the current attempt with some tips on what not to do.
This recipe called for cutting the chicken up so it would cook more quickly. I crammed too much chicken into the dish, it was all packed in very tightly, which is probably why it didn't crisp up that well in the end. What you need:
Chicken, Organic if you please
1 head of garlic
30g of good Butter
Mixed fresh herbs, with sage if possible (oregano, thyme etc)
Turn the oven dial to 200 degrees.
With all of your latent anger, frustration and girlie angst, you mortar and pestle the herbs with the pepper and the garlic, then add the butter in and mix by hand or food process it. Let the chicken be at room temperature before you dismember it into a sadistic array of wings, legs, breast etc. Rub sea salt and pepper into the chicken and then molest it (heh, thats what it feels like!) with the buttery paste, slip some under the skin to maximise the penetration of flavour into willing flesh. If you don't want to score yourself a stint at Long Bay for aggravated sexual assault of innocent chook, get some consent happening first. An hour later, in theory, you have beautifully crispy roast chicken with buttery herby flavour. I added some olive oil, you don't need it with all the butter, but if you're Arabic, it just doesn't seem right to roast something without the use of the Good Stuff. My chicken turned out a bit more poached in parts than roasted. Better luck next time. If you're in the know with any roasting tips, share away. I need all the guidance I can get.
And the moment we've all been waiting for, CAKE! Seriously, everything before and after CAKE is just not worth paying that much attention to. For The Take Me Tessa Tart, the following ingredients will have to be procured from shady street sellers in mystical lands beyond the river and to the right of the forbidden grove:
The Take Me Tessa Tart:
100g butter (organic and good quality, youll taste the difference here)
85g caster sugar
150g white spelt flour
30g dark unsweetened cocoa powder
And for the filling:
140g caster sugar
1 tablespoon grated orange rind (organic, all the pesticides are in the skin)
750g ricotta (paesanella if you can get your paws on it)
1 vanilla pod (or 1 teaspoon of paste/essence)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons of orange juice
Tessa's original recipe is with plain flour and is vanillaless, only minor changes, stick the original if you can't be bothered with locating spelt.
Oven at 180 degrees. At least an hour before you begin cooking the cake, you need to start the crust. In a food processor, marry the butter to the caster sugar until its all creamy like, then go in the sifted flour and cocoa, followed by a beaten egg (first it was the chicken, and now its the poor bloody egg). Once it's all mixed, you make a chocolately disc of it on some glad wrap, then wrap it all up and put it into the fridge so it can set, this takes at least an hour, Tessa advises us.
You then take out the dough and roll it over a floured surface. This bit is trickier than it looks. Amanda got a few good laughs watching repeated attempts to get this right. In a tart or springform tin lined with baking paper, press the dough in tart shell form. Tessa then says you should bake it for 5 mins with some uncooked rice in the base to dry the mixture out a little, we skipped this step, dont you!
The filling mix is the stuff of baking dreams: whisk eggs and sugar until it all thickens beautifully, then goes in ricotta and rind, keep processing til smooth and lush. Then you spike it with the lemon and orange juice. I added the celestial contents of the inside of a warmed vanilla pod to this. The smell is just hot. What was not devoured of the raw ricottavanillacitrus glory was then poured into the cocoa embrace of the delicate tart crust. You bake this bad boy for 30-40 minutes, it should look set and a little yellowed on top when it's done.
Recipe advises that you wait til it cools before you cut and eat. AS IF!
I am not a huge ricotta fan but this is just so ridiculously luscious it's not funny. It also looks quite striking, my version was not nearly as pretty as Tessa's, but it really is the kind of end result that makes baking worth it.
Yet to be confirmed is my highly active suspicion that Amanda has already demolished the leftovers.
To Sam: Happy Birthday!
To Miss Sylvie: Happy Engagement!
To Amanda: you'd better do some hard yards on that exercise bike today xx thanks for letting me mess your kitchen and swear in front of your impressionable, sweet, young offspring.