Isn't it funny when you find out something interesting, soon after other examples pop up. Or in my case a post I wrote a few days ago seems to have been confirmed in a strange kind of way.
It England, it would seem a farmer has saved a cow that was dying from a stomach problem, by feeding it yeasty beer dregs obtained from the local pub, on the advice of his vet. The cure was so successful that the cow has since given birth to a calf named Adnams - after the beer.
Here is a picture of Gumby saving a cow by feeding it vegemite, which every Aussie knows is yeast extract. No mad cow disease here.
Photo by bendystraw.
From The Age today:
It's one of Australia's icons, 340 metres tall and hard to miss, even at night. But despite being 100 metres from Uluru (Ayres Rock), a NSW tourist stopped a car to seek directions to it on Tuesday.
It was a police car.
The tourist was over the limit, unlicensed - and busted.
He is a man who helped change the way Americans eat.
Born on the 29th December, 1921, his interest in food began as a boy on his father's fruit farm. Later on he attended university earning a bachelor's degree, majoring in pomology (the science of fruit) from Cornell, and later on was awarded a master's degree from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate from Purdue University.
In 1949, he moved to Cornell as an assistant professor, where he was responsible for teaching, research and extension in the Department of Poultry Science. He became a professor of food science at Cornell in 1957.
This is a man who has many achievments to his name, but we primarily know him as the man who helped develop the chicken nugget by figuring out how to get a breadcrumb coating to stick and not fall off. Nowadays this technology is in use with any number of products. He also had a hand in other things such as turkey ham, chicken hot dogs, as well as the famous Cornell Chicken barbecue recipe, which despite the name, he developed whilst working at Pennsylvania State University.
To many foodies the chicken nugget is an abomination, to parents a God send. Mechanically recovered meat formed into small nuggets and encased in a breadcrumb shell, then either oven baked, grilled or fried. Children love them, until recently it was the only fast food my daughter would eat.
But there is another way. If you prefer to prepare them yourself it is not hard to do.
Take a chicken breast and place it skin side down on a cutting board. You will see a long fillet of meat that is loosely attached to the breast. With your hand pull this free. If the skin is still on, pull it off, then place your hand flat on top of the breast and with a sharp knife cut it in half horizontally. Now you have three pieces of chicken all about the same thickness, two large and one small portion. If you are imitating chicken nuggets, cut these portions into nugget shapes, either way season them, then dip into a beaten egg and coat with breadcrumbs. Allow them to set for 15 minutes, then shallow fry until golden.
I'm sure Robert Baker would approve.
My wife D's godmother E had her birthday recently and we went over to her place to give her birthday wishes. We sat, had a drink and caught up. As is Polish custom, E had prepared a table for us and after a chat we repaired there to eat. There were dips, cold cuts, pickled cucumbers and breaded prawns. The prawns were interesting, they were a commercial variety and the bread coating was thicker than the prawn.
I picked up a pickled cucumber and E looked at me.
"Sorry I don't have fermented cucumber for you."
In Polish households preserving is a big thing. Every year jars and jars of fruits and vegetables are put up for the coming year. Sour cherries, plums, peaches, mushrooms, tomatoes and above all else, cucumbers. It is the pride of every Polish house to be able to offer their own fermented cucumbers. There are two traditional methods to preserve cucumbers, pickling and fermenting, Eastern Europeans prefer fermenting theirs. The fermenting yeast forms a sourness that many find pleasing. It is a simple process that consists of just cucumbers, water, salt, garlic and dill which is sealed in a jar and left to ferment. After a few days the water turns cloudy as the fermentation gets underway. Some people love new season cucumbers with just a few days in the jar as they still have a good crunch with a faint hint of sourness, but they will easily keep for a year or more.
E continued her story.
"You see I had to give mine away."
"My friend asked me for them, you see her son is in hospital."
"That's no good, what happened?"
"Nobody knows, he just got sicker and sicker until he finished up in hospital. The doctors ran all sorts of tests, but couldn't find out what was wrong with him, other than he had some sort of infection, and he was getting worse and worse. The doctors were trying everything they could, until one day a doctor told my friend to expect the worst, maybe her son had a week to live. She was frantic, everything that could be done had been done, but the infection was still raging in his body. My friend decided to try and give him fermented cucumber juice (the liquid that's leftover in the jar). Because her son couldn't swallow, she gave him drop by drop on his lips. After a few days the doctors noticed some improvement in his condition, one doctor told her that whatever it was that she was doing, to keep on doing it. After a few weeks her son was able to get out of bed, but only in a wheelchair. Because she was giving him the juice everyday, she ran out and she called on all her friends to help her and give their fermented cucumbers for her son. I had six jars and gladly gave them to her."
It's an amazing story that I'm relating to you, without comment. It's exactly as it was told to me. I have no reason to disbelieve it.
My apartment is not far from here, Michael if only you had of turned around. In my youth I spent a lot of time here, running around the lake, a group of us used to run two laps nearly every day. A lap is 300 m short of 5 kilometres (3 miles). Why did I ever stop? The line of buildings marching their way to the foreground are along St Kilda Road, one of Melbourne's most well known streets. At the other end is the city of Melbourne.
Just right of the city, you can see some parkland, this is the Royal Botanic Gardens, notice the Royal in the name? That's how come we are hosting the Commonwealth Games right now. I can't quite make out the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) which is on the right edge of the Gardens, and I also can't make out the Yarra River which flows right through there, to in front of the city and onto Port Phillip Bay which is just left of picture.
At the top of the photo, you can see Mt Macedon, a favourite retreat for the wealthy folk of Melbourne. It's full of mansions surrounded by fabulous gardens. Someone that lived there told me that in autumn there are plenty of mushrooms and in the spring, morels can be found here.
To the left of the lake are sporting grounds which include rugby, golf, soccer, Australian rules football (yes, we have our own rules) and cricket; at the bottom of the lake are rowing sheds, at the top of the lake is The Melbourne Aquatic Centre, where all the swimming events for the Commonwealth games were held. We like our sport!
Albert Park Lake was developed from a series of swamps and lagoons, and the park itself was named after Queen Victoria's devoted consort, Prince Albert in 1864. It is one of Melbourne's best loved parks with 3,500,000 visitors annually.
Hope you enjoyed my potted tour.
A few years ago, the lamb marketing people ran a campaign in which a young girl was told she had won a date with Tom Cruise, this was long before he got all excited on Oprah. The girl was all excited about her prize until she realized that the date was going to clash with her mum's roast lamb dinner. Being the good Aussie girl she chose the roast lamb over Tom. At the time of the ad, this would have been unheard of, but these days a bit easier to understand.
Forgive me for being a little hazy here, because this might have come from another blog, if it has, let me know and I will credit you, but I'm pretty sure this came from Full On Food. That guy from The Fat Duck restaurant in England was on, Heston Blumenthal, and was discussing meat, when he briefly mentioned he felt that everyone was carving lamb the wrong way. He pointed out that the meat fibers run parallel to the bone, and that most people carve their lamb parallel to the bone.
Most of us understand that when carving meat, it's better to cut across the grain of meat fibers than to carve along them. By doing this meat will be more tender as we don't have to chew long fibres, which makes meat seem tough. If you look in my profile, you will see that I'm no spring chicken. All my life, since my first experience of cooking roasted leg of lamb, I have cut slices parallel to the bone, which I'm proud to admit I'm pretty good at, stripping a whole roast into neat slices, with only a bone leftover. Now someone was telling me there is a better way.
If Heston can turn water and chocolate and nothing else into chocolate mousse, we should listen to him. I did check a reference book on carving that showed a leg of lamb being carved the same way I did it, but this was to make sure that I hadn't missed a boat somewhere.
We had a lamb roast in the fridge and a couple of nights later, Wife D cooked it up. It felt peculiar to attack the leg of lamb a different way and it was not easy to get neat slices, they were also much smaller slices, but there I was, cutting at ninety degrees to the bone, in other words straight down to the bone. It was a real learning curve and next time should be a little easier. I said next time, because when we sat down to eat, D and I both thought the lamb was exceptionally tender. Remember that it's almost April, spring lamb is getting on a bit and tends to be tougher than lamb bought in September (we're in the Southern hemisphere here).
Of course if one took the bone out, carving would be a cinch, but meat cooked on the bone retains more succulence. But we will perservere with this way of carving, which when you think about it, makes so much sense that you wonder why you didn't think of it before, but then I never thought of serving snails with porridge either.
One things for sure, you can teach an old cook new tricks.
A catering complaint.
At the first party the food consisted of party pies, sausage rolls and fairy bread. Ditto the second party. Is this as far as our imagination can stretch? There is no children's party we have attended in the last couple of years that doesn't feature these three foods. Even places that specialize in parties invariably have these items, maybe with chips (both kinds) as well.
M's sixth birthday is coming up, so started to think what we can do. It looks like we will have a gym party that we will cater for. So far, so good. Until I started to look for recipes that would hopefully interest the young ones. There was absolutely nothing that looked like fitting the bill, the only things I can think of are, you guessed it, party pies, sausage rolls and fairy bread.
I so don't want to do that.
Does anyone have some ideas, or a tried and tested recipe? It doesn't have to be healthy, that would be a bonus, but we are talking kids here. Just something different.
Like last night. Wife and daughter head out for a visit late in the day. Nothing was said, but I know they expect something delicious on the table when they return. To late for a roast and uncertain of their exact return (you know when sisters get together), inspiration was lacking.
A quick reconoitre of the kitchen, mouldy leftovers had already been turfed out, not really in the mood for cooking, what to do? Then I spotted them. Homegrown potatoes from the sister-in-law's garden.
For those of you having a yawn and saying so what, they're just potatoes, nothing special about that, waste of garden space really, you need to know that you haven't tasted potatoes until you have tried homegrown. They have a superior texture and the taste is out of this world, it sounds obvious to say, but they taste OF potato, sort of like comparing vanilla essence to vanilla extract.
It has fallen to me to select the potatoes for each years crop, after bringing it on myself one year when I suggested different varieties to the supermarket ones (sebago and desiree) the sister-in-law was planting. In that first year I bought pink eyes (southern gold) and patrones for her, both waxy potatoes, which serendipitously mature at different times. No-one could believe how good they were, so every year sees me at the potato shop at Prahran Market, buying 20 odd kilos of small potatoes for planting. Other varieties we have tried include kipfler, king edward, dutch creams, binjte, russet burbank and nicola. Even purple congo had a run one year, a purple fleshed potato, great in beetroot soup, which is about the only place they don't look out of place.
So there I was standing in the kitchen, looking at our bags of potatoes, when inspiration came, which I'm sure was sent by the devil himself. Gratin Dauphinois. Potatoes and cream, baked in the oven until the top is browned. So old fashioned, but oh so nice.
There are many versions of this classic dish, but they can all be boiled down to two schools of thought, Curnonsky's and Fernand Point's. These two gourmands from the mid 1900's diverged markedly over the same dish. Curnonsky's version is simple, potatoes and cream, Point's was more elaborate with added milk and eggs, some versions also add cheese, and no doubt someone would have made it with truffles, but this is to miss the point, above all this is a dish about potatoes, which with the addition of cream forms a sort of lumpy cheese anyway.
There is no need for a recipe, it comes down to how many potatoes you can fit into your gratin dish. Start by rubbing the inside of the dish with a cut clove of garlic, then butter the dish; if you like a more pronounced garlic taste, crush a whole small clove and scatter over a buttered gratin. Peel and thinly slice as many potatoes as you can fit neatly in the gratin, layer them in and season each layer with salt and pepper, don't fill above the rim. Next pour in single cream (35% milk fat), until it is just under the top layer, then dot the surface with butter. Bake in a 200 c (400 f) for about one hour, until browned on top.
Because this dish is so rich, a little goes a long way. We like to have it just by itself, with perhaps a green salad.
Do you like vegetables?
Of course, some times meat free is just the thing. You can play around more with them, taste and texture is always varied.
Do you have a favourite vegetable?
Not really, though I go through phases, usually tied to the seasons, just when I'm getting sick of one thing, something else comes along. Amongst my favourites are potatoes, tomatoes, all legumes and rocket.
Is there any vegetable that you think (or know) most people don't like, but you find great?
Okay, I don't know if most people don't like it, but my wife loathes it and calls it pig food. The strange thing is that it grows freely in my sister-in-law's garden and every time I threaten to pick some, it disappears! Makes a great soup and I'm dying to try it in a rissotto.
Is there any vegetable that you think (or know) most people find great, but you don't love that much.
What experiences did you have with it?
My mum was forever trying to get me to eat it, boiled, roasted, mashed, it didn't matter, I always gagged on it. Even to this day, I do not like green eggs and ham, Sam I am. Oops sorry, parsnips.
What kind of vegetables are unusual to you?
Kohlrabi and celeriac. Nothing wrong with them, in fact love them, just came to them late.
Name a couple of vegetables that you cook and eat.
Green beans simmered in tomato sauce with garlic and kohlrabi simply grated and dressed with lemon juice and seasoned.
Which vegetables do you want to know more about and bring into your kitchen?
Kale and samphire, very hard to find here.
Some thoughts about vegetables.
I know that I will probably never become a vegetarian, but I like smallish pieces of meat with plenty of veggies. They definitely stimulate my appetite and I never feel bad about eating a lot of them. All right, maybe chips. They bring colour and movement to the plate, along with bucket loads of taste and flavour.
Name a great cookbook.
Antonio Carluccio's Vegetables, all the common and not so common vegetables, with interesting recipes.
This one isn't part of the meme, just a recipe for a vegetable snack.
1/2 kg (1 lb) okra
1 cup buttermilk
salt & pepper
1 cup cornmeal or polenta
1 cup plain (all purpose), flour
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 bunch coriander, coarsely chopped
2 limes, cut into wedges
oil for frying
Trim the stem from the okra and cut into bite sized pieces. In a bowl place buttermilk, egg and seasonings, whisk to incorporate. In another bowl mix cornmeal, flour, cayenne and seasonings. Put the okra pieces into the buttermilk, lift with a slotted spoon and place into cornmeal/flour mixture. Heat oil until frying temperature and fry okra in batches until done. Keep warm in a low oven until all the okra is fried, garnish with coriander and wedges of lime.
I don't usually nominate people, but I would like to see kitchen hand, vicious ange and if he's got time, tomato, have a go. Only if you want too.
Sounds great, doesn't it?
Until you think about what it really means. Look, I'm an offal lover, it's just that I don't love all offal. As youngsters our family was traumatized by our dear departed mother's love for lambs fry. It was a fry up of onions, bacon and lambs liver. In the hands of a sensitive cook, it would most likely be a wonderful dish; in the hands of my mum, it was something else all together. Mum was from a generation of cooks that held meat wasn't cooked until it was well done and then some.
We all know now that liver should be cooked until just pink, mum cooked liver until it was completely tough and inedible. We kids would sit there and chew and chew and chew, but it didn't help. Different strategies were developed to get around eating liver. My sister M would hide her liver under her seat cushion and remove it later, which worked well until the day she forgot to remove it. My brother and I would stuff as much liver into our mouths as possible, when an overwhelming urge to go to the toilet would strike. It would be only half joking to say that mum could have made her fortune selling her lambs fry to a shoe manufacturer, it was far tougher than anything else on the sole of a shoe.
It is only recently that I have actually bought liver to cook at home. My butcher slices liver into pieces only three or four millimeters (1/4") thick, cooked over high heat for a couple of minutes, it has no time to toughen.
Other offaly bits I have trouble with are heart and lungs, though the Scots have managed to find a way to make it palatable, good enough to write a poem about it. The preparation is another story, I watched Nick Nairn turn green then vomit while making it, But in his defense, it was being made from scratch, like from a live sheep. There is no more hands on than that. I notice that Magictofu has no such problems with heart.
In the program I was watching, the chef was extolling the virtues of nose to tail eating and was demonstrating various bits of lamb offal. There was of course the liver, which he cooked whole until rosy pink, then sliced thin, lamb sweetbreads, which looked absolutely delicious pan fried and lamb testicles.
Now here is the crux of the matter, what would you rather eat sweetbreads or testicles? Sweetbreads sound great, testicles do not. I've eaten both and there isn't a lot of difference in texture or flavour. The poor testicles are in need of some marketing spin if they are ever to gain acceptance. In fact a whole lot of offal ought to be renamed. Black pudding sounds nice, blood sausage does not.
But the fact is, in Australia at least, offal is getting harder to obtain. Very few butchers carry it, and it usually has to be ordered. Fresh sweetbreads can't be had, only frozen, trays of brains have largely disappeared, as has tripe, not a kidney anywhere. Chicken shops are a different matter, just about every part of a chicken can be purchased, gizzards, hearts and livers included.
My feeling is that this campaign will fail. I gave my son some tongue, which he thought was very nice, until I told him what it was, whereupon he refused to eat another piece. Offal is a vestige of another time and place, that has largely disappeared. Nowadays meat is king and only people with a strong interest in food will be bothered with offal. It's a real shame.
Champagne is derived from the Latin term campagna, used to describe the rolling open countryside just north of Rome, which since the early Middle Ages was applied to this now strictly delimited area. The first credible mention of vineyards was in the fifth century AD. Vines had been planted around the city of Reims by the local nobility and abbeys. By the ninth century certain names were becoming associated with wines, such as vins de Reims and vins de la riviere (river wines), with several villages being noted for the quality of their wines, namely Bouzy, Verzenay, Ay and Epernay. In these times several grape varieties were grown, though today only three are permitted, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay
What is fascinating about these wines is that none were sparkling at all. That didn’t come until late in the 17th century, when a certain Dom Perignon, the cellar master at the Abbey of Hautvillers, near Epernay, made several developments such as tying down the cork with string, stronger bottles, though not strong enough as he lost half his production to exploding bottles, and the blending of wines from the region to achieve the best possible flavour.
Prior to this, wines from Champagne were fermented in the barrel, come winter the fermentation would shut down with the cold and would referment in the spring, inducing bubbles in the wine, which at the time was considered something of a nuisance for its habit of breaking the poor quality bottles available. Wines in the barrel were shipped to Britain where they had better quality bottles and the resulting sparkling wine was quite a success, which eventually bubbled over into the French court, through Louis XV, whose mistresses seduced him into drinking it, giving champagne a certain cachet that survived those who preferred the still wines of the region and were indifferent to it. Production at this time was limited to a few thousand bottles per year.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that the Champagne business that we know today developed. An employee of Madame (Veuve) Cliquot devised the system of pupitres to assist in the remuage process, which we know as riddling, that removes the sediment after the prise de mousse (development of the sparkle). Every single bottle of champagne is rotated and increasingly elevated over time to allow the sediment to slip down to the neck of the bottle, from where it’s disgorged (degorgement).This involves freezing the neck of the bottle and the pressure of the bubbles forces out the frozen sediment, leaving room for the liqueur d’expedition, a mixture of wine and sugar, the dosage of which determines the sweetness and type of champagne.
Types of Champagne:
Brut non dose, brut nature, ultra brut, brut zero ~ not dosed, no addition of sugar
Brut ~ less than ½ ounce (15g) sugar added
Sec ~ ½ to 1 ounce (17 to 35g) sugar added
Demi-sec ~ 1 to 2 ounces (33 to 50g) sugar added
Doux ~ more than 2 ounces (50g) sugar added
Types of Champagne Bottles
Bottle – 750 ml
Magnum – 2 bottles
Jeroboam – 4 bottles
Rehoboam – 6 bottles
Methuselah – 8 bottles
Nebuchadnezzar – 20 bottles
It’s interesting to note that even today, some still wine is produced under the AOC Coteaux Champenois. They can be red (Bouzy), white or rose (Rose de Riceys). For every bottle of still white Coteaux Champenois that is produced, about twenty of still red Coteaux Champenois are produced against sixteen thousand bottles of sparkling champagne. These wines are generally not available outside of Champagne and it’s thought that the Champenois keep these wines to themselves, to remind them how clever they are for making champagne.
It's a kind of Swiss harvest festival. There is a music program featuring Alphorn playing by Irma Thalman, Lander Music with Kapelle Gruezi Mitenand and folk songs by the Swiss Companion Singers. Also included is a Andacht Service, where thanks is given for the bounty of the harvest, which is a natural for any foodie.
Forget yodelling, if you have never heard Swiss singing, it would be worth the trip alone. Some of it has that spine tingling, mystical Gregorian chant quality about it.
Several stalls of the Trachtenfrauen will be selling their goodies, including home made jams and biscuits, raising funds to help with older people during the year.
Naturally Swiss food will be there, though I can't be definitive yet, there will be veal bratwurst on the barbie, as well as other regional delights, including salads, cakes and drinks. Look out for the coffee schnapps.
There is a children's playground and plenty of space to run around. Plenty of parking and best of all entry is free.
Not that my dream was so weird.
I was in a greengrocers, an Italian one, being served by an old italian nona. There was something needing to be done. Picking up a root of celeriac, I asked the nona if it was all right if I tried something, and she nodded in agreement. Taking a sharp knife, I started to peel it, except that when the peel was off, I just kept going, curling off one long thin slice of celeriac. Having done that, next cut the slice into long noodles, like tagliatelli, popped them into a pot of stock and cooked them. The nona was impressed by my skill, when the scene segued to my front door.
Entering my apartment I found my wife D inside and gave her my pot of celeriac noodles. She tasted some and was enraptured by them, I was so happy. So was D.
In our waking hours, D has started a diet.
And I know that I will bring my dream to life. More later.
There is something about the taste and texture of butter that just can't be replicated. It has a creamy unctuousness that no oil can match. When we want to spoil ourselves, we go to the Queen Victoria Market and buy fresh unsalted butter off a large block, that comes from Warrnambool, on the south west coast of Victoria. We buy a kilo (2 lbs) at a time and freeze it in conveniently sized pieces.
One day I was noodling around in The Essentials Of Classic Italian Cooking, when this recipe popped up, it seemed too easy to be true, but after cooking it once, it became a regular item on our table. It highlights the taste of butter and is ridiculously easy to make.
Tomato and Butter Sauce
(adapted from Marcela Hazan)
1 tin crushed tomatoes (800 g or 1.5 lbs)
1 onion, peeled and cut in half
75 g fresh unsalted butter
Put everything except the salt in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook for 45 minutes, remove the onion, season and mix with your favourite pasta. Is also good with gnocchi (kluski).
How easy is that?
- Long time readers of my blog, would be aware of my shortcomings cooking a decent stir fry. I know that one swallow doesn't make a summer, but a couple of nights ago, out came the wok and I sizzled up what seemed to be a pretty fair effort. It was a chicken and vegetable stir fry, with onion, carrots, bok choy, red capsicum, cauliflower and all the usual suspects. The chicken was cooked but not dry, all the vegetables were crisp and the sauce was nicely thickened. Most importantly, it tasted GOOD.
- At school one time, daughter M's class were being encouraged to talk about their favourite foods. Her classmate W was having trouble deciding what to say, when M approached the teacher and said,
"Excuse me, I can tell you my favourite food."
"What's that M?"
Ah, my daughter the five year old foodie.
- I was reading a post on this site about how to bypass a company's recorded message and talk to a real human. It would seem that if you remain completely silent, the system thinks you may be disabled and passes you on to a person. I decided to leave a comment, wrote one out, then used word verification to enable the comment, when a thought occurred to me. Remaining completely silent to bypass a computer, using word verification so a computer can't find and harass you; maybe the day of the Terminator is not that far away. Hasta la vista, baby.
- Watching Great Food Live the other day, when someone made a treacle pudding. There were a few guests to try it, when one of them said the treacle gave a liquorice flavour. The host Jenni Barnett admonished the guest with, "Stop being a foodie and eat it." Stop being a foodie, how do you do that?
- A salesman is driving in the country along a highway, when he spots a chicken running alongside him. It's not enough that the chicken is running at 100 kmh (60mph), but it also has three legs. The salesman is amazed, then wonders how fast the chicken can run, so he speeds up to 125 kmh (80 mph), the chicken just lopes alongside, so he speeds up even more to 150 kmh (100 mph), but the chicken keeps up. Suddenly an entrance to a farm appears and the chicken heads off in that direction. The salesman pulls the car over, does a u-turn, pulls up at the farm and knocks on the front door. An old farmer answers.
"Look, I was just driving down the highway, when I saw a three legged chicken running alongside my car at 150 k's, then it ran into here. Can you tell me about it?"
"Sure. You see, there are three of us on this farm, my wife, my son and myself. Every Sunday we have a chicken dinner, my wife likes a drumstick, my son likes a drumstick and I like a drumstick. Rather than cook up two birds, I thought of breeding a three legged chicken and as you saw I succeeded."
"Fantastic, tell me what does it taste like?"
"Don't know, we never caught one."
After my recent fishing trip, we had a beautiful King George whiting of almost a kilo, plus a couple of flatheads. King George whiting is one of the premier table fish from the waters of southern Australia. Flatheads are a fish that no one has any trouble catching, they have saved many a fishing trip, and the beauty of them is, despite their ugly appearance, they are also a fine table fish.
My wife D prefers me to cook fish, as she doesn't feel confident enough. I usually just season the fish, no flour, melt some butter over high heat and as it's turning nut brown, place in the fish presentation side down and adjust the heat to stay at a brisk fry. A lot of people say to add oil to help stop the butter burning, but I never do. What burns in the butter are milk solids, adding oil doesn't prevent them from burning, it only dilutes the milk solids, meaning there is less to burn. Heat control is the most important thing. Of course you could fry in oil, but the combination of fish and butter always works a treat.
I had taken fillets from the whiting, but as the flathead were small, left them whole. It's a bit easier to retrieve the fine bones from a flathead after it's cooked, than taking fillets and trying to locate the bones. Also, generally fish cooked on the bone is more succulent.
After the fish were cooked we sat down, D had made a salad, but before I took some she offered to make something else. It turns out that D wanted a yoghurt dressing for the salad and reached in to the fridge for the tub, scooped out some yoghurt, made the dressing and poured it on the salad, then tasted it. What she tasted was sweet with a vanilla aftertaste. D had accidently grabbed the wrong yoghurt tub.
In an effort to salvage the salad, she adjusted with lemon juice. How much would you use? Quite a lot really. We now had a sweet and sour, vanilla flavoured salad. How bad could that be? With the fish on the table, I offered to eat the salad anyway. That offer only lasted until the first mouthful.
Sometimes it's better to throw out and start again.
Well we got our apples, new season gravensteins, unwaxed, aromatic and sharp to the taste. We don't buy apples after December, because after sitting around for so long in a cool store, their flavour and texture has gone. We also don't buy many supermarket apples, preferring to make the trip to orchards, as the quality is better, especially after the picking season has ended.
I was talking to Paul at Farnsworth's Apple & Cherry Orchard, at 26 Paringa Road, Red Hill about this, and he suggested that his apples are picked riper, unwaxed, and stored under better conditions. All I can tell you is that they are definitely worth the trip.
M. also brought a bag of figs and a large jar of Seychelle fig chutney, which I tasted and was somewhat surprised to discover it was closer to fig jam than chutney. One thing I have never had much to do with is fresh figs, for no particular reason, so didn't know much about them. We ate a few, skins and all, thinking they were okay, but nothing special. Because we had a big bag of them, which we wanted to use, I checked up on them.
Figs and strawberries are very similar, not that they are related, but are both "false fruits." When you look at a strawberry, you see what appear to be seeds on the outside. These are called achenes, and each achene is an individual fruit containing a single seed. What we think of as the fruit is actually a swollen flower base. The fig is like an inverted strawberry, with the swollen flower base surrounding rather than supporting the achenes or true fruits. Figs are also valued for there sweetness, amongst the highest of all fruits.
In reading about figs, I discovered why they didn't seem particularly tasty. They need to be skinned. Back I went, skinned one, and the full glory of the fig was revealed. Apparently the skin contains a bitter substance that is also a mild skin irritant.
Later on M. helped me to make dinner. We were having pizza, so while I made the dough, M. cooked the tomato sauce base, using crushed tomatoes, garlic and fresh oregano. Then he cooked some sliced onion until it was soft as part of the topping. While the dough was proving, I sliced some mushrooms and stuffed green olives, tore apart some black olives, cut tomatoes into chunks, added a little shaved ham and some sliced green capsicum, mixed in the softened onions, then rolled out the dough. Down went some sauce, a sprinkle of mozzarella, all the topping, another sprinkle of cheese, then into the oven cranked up to its highest setting.
Fifteen minutes later M. had his first taste of homemade pizza. Did he like it? Enough to say, if I was a girl, he would have tried to have his way with me.
My mate D. works for a wine retailer and has access to some pretty good bottles of wine. Last Christmas, we went over for breakfast and he produced a bottle of Mumm vintage champagne. Very nice first thing in the morning. Very, very nice. Which for me to say, was a major change of heart. In the eighties Mumm lost the plot, and were producing thin, acidic wines, which if you know anything about French champagne, that means something impossible to enjoy.
We hadn't spoken for a while, when out of the blue D. calls.
"Football has started, time to catch up."
Well football had started, the first games of the pre season competition had been played the previous weekend. Both our teams had lost. Strange he wanted to talk about that. We chatted for a while, when out this popped.
"I went to a wine tasting last night, well really a champagne tasting."
"Did you, which one?"
"The store put one on."
"How was it?"
"Not bad, the wines were pretty good."
"What did you have?"
I'm sure D. was waiting for that
"It was a French tasting, let me tell you about the brackets."
"First was Moet et Chandon against Veuve Clicquot, both non vintage, and the Moet was ahead of the Veuve, but in the next bracket, we had a '98 Veuve against a '99 Moet, and the Veuve was the better wine."
D. is very knowledgeable about wine and really enjoys the subject, he was clearly warming up.
"Next was a Veuve Clicquot Grande Dame '97 up against Dom Perignon '98."
I'm starting to slip here.
"Oh God, how were they?"
"Not bad at all."
D. likes understatement
"But I felt the Veuve was better than the Dom, it had more mouthfeel and the length was better."
I'm drooling here, then D. went for the killer blow.
"There was only one in the last bracket, and it blew everything else away."
"Non vintage Krug."
I'm silently weeping at this point, sometimes you have to just take your medicine.
Or your champagne.
My wife D. made a Polish style dish of pancakes filled with cottage cheese and gently refried, they were wonderful. She told me what was in it, but not how much, so here is my version, created from memory.
8 pancakes, 10 " (25 cm) diameter, barely cooked
1 tub cottage cheese
50 g sultanas
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Lay a pancake out flat, combine cottage cheese, sultanas, sugar and vanilla extract and cover one half of the pancake with this mixture. Fold pancake in half then half again, you will have a triangle shape. Melt some butter in a frying pan and gently fry pancakes until golden brown. Serve plain.
As this was from memory, feel free to adjust any quantity.
The Yarra meanders its way down from the foothills of the Great Dividing Range, mountains that run much of the length of east coast Australia. It is dammed in the Yarra Ranges National Park, ninety kilometers to the east of Melbourne and flows through the countryside, then suburbs, which are mostly to the east, becoming saline at Dights Falls before emptying into Port Phillip Bay at Port Melbourne, just south of the city.
Even though Melbourne is in a constant state of flux, as are most growing cities around the world, there is north of the Yarra, which is Mediterranean and Middle Eastern in culture, and south of the Yarra, which is considered more Anglo Saxon. Property values are higher in the south, and when someone asks where you are from, they really mean which side of the river.
Snaking northwards from Melbourne is Sydney Road; it takes you all the way to Sydney in New South Wales, which Sydney people unkindly believe is the best thing to come from Melbourne. Whilst I'm here, there is a long standing joke that Sydney has been playing on us and the rest of the world ~ they never fail to tell you it's always raining in Melbourne, and the joke is, Sydney has twice the annual rainfall of Melbourne.
Enough of the interstate rivalries, Sydney Road is one of the most cosmopolitan roads you could find anywhere. You have not been to Melbourne until you have eaten at a Turkish restaurant along this strip, where there are more than fifty Turkish restaurants and shops. Franco Cozzo, an Italian furniture retailer, made his fortune here after releasing a television ad in both bad broken English and Italian. Halal butchers abound as do Middle Eastern cake shops with their wonderful nut pastries scented with rose and orange flower water.
Sydney Road is not trendy and has only a few pockets of glamour along its extrordinary length. The parking is difficult, tram lines run up the centre of it, competing with cars, if you get stuck behind a tram forget about getting past. For glamour and glitz Chapel Street leaves it for dead, but there is something uniquely Melbourne about it. If you are after the weird or wonderful, chances are you will find it here, at a great price.
I'm not sure there are too many other places around the world that could accommodate so many different cultures in its bosom, that have become such a vibrant part of the fabric of the society from whence they've sprung. Sydney Road is the meeting point for all these differences.
Maybe every country needs a Sydney Road.