It's funny, whenever I go to someone elses kitchen, I always check out the equipment. E just has the usual run of the mill stuff that most kitchens would have, nothing as exotic as a truffle slicer (yep, I've got one) or even mundane like a mouli or a wire whisk. But still I can get by.
However E has one piece of equipment that I find hard to work with and that is her frypan. It's just a commercial variety made of stainless steel and not a particularly thick guage at that. Really, I'm not fussy about kitchenware and ordinarily would have no problem sauteing in her pan. It's just that the frypan is not flat, there is a hump in the midddle that causes the oil or fat to migrate to the edges of the pan. This convex pan is my bane. No matter what you do it's impossible to get an even, thin smear of fat all over the bottom, with the consequence that anything in the middle of the pan has a tendancy to stick.
Does this drive me mad? YES!
So about twelve months ago, we went out and bought E a new non stick frypan, a Tefal, you know the one with the red spot in the centre, that disappears when the pan is at the correct temperature for frying or whatever. The one Jamie Oliver is pushing. So it's a pretty reasonable frypan, we have one ourselves. So problem solved, or so I thought.
Over Easter we had Sunday lunch with E and family. Helping out in the kitchen, I needed to fry something. Grabbing the pan I put it on the glass stove top, the type that has an electric element underneath. I put some oil into the pan and all of it ran to the edges of the frypan. The hump was back! Now this was curious, as my wife says "Once is an accident, twice is on purpose."
At home we have a gas stove and all of our frypans are flat. Could it be something to do with an electric cook top? Flowing electicity has two properties - heat and magnetism - both of which have been harnessed to cook with. Could it be that magnetism was having some effect on the frypans? I rang the Essential Ingredient, who stock a wide range of cookware, to find out.
I spoke to a very helpful person, but they were unable to say whether or not my theory was correct. What they did say however, was that non stick frypans should not be subjected to a lot of heat. How much is a lot? She suggested omelettes or crepes were fine, but frying a steak was not. Apparently the non stick coating breaks down at higher temperatures, and eventually the pan jumps the shark and sadly food starts to stick.
The best frypan we have at home is twenty-five years old, weighs a ton and is made from cast iron. It is non stick, but in the old fashioned sense. It has been seasoned by having hot oil in it for a few hours and is never washed, only wiped clean. If the pan starts to stick, we simply repeat the seasoning and all is well again. If you look in any commercial kitchen, the most common frypans are made from black steel and would have been seasoned as described. Look at woks, they are made from steel and properly used and maintained, food never sticks.
There is always a place for a non stick pan in the kitchen, but if you want one to last, be careful and don't overheat it.
One of the things that happen when you start a new blog, if you don't have a hit counter you wonder just who, if anyone, is reading you. You visit other blogs, pluck up your courage and leave comments, but comments aren't always returned. In an effort to see what other people are doing and saying, you press the next blog button on Blogger dashboard. Wow, it's all there, life in every conceivable permutation and then some. Mostly, the content you find is not up your alley, but sometimes you strike gold, like the time I found St Kilda Today , a photographic journal of my very own suburb, run by the estimable Michael Blamey.
Sometimes people find you, like Angela of Seriously Brilliant Stuff . We had started our blogs pretty much together, and shortly after, she hit the next blog button and 'food for thought' popped up on her browser. Liking what she had read, Angela left a comment, which prompted me to check her out (in a nice way) and liking what I read, left a comment as well. From there we became blogging buddies, supporting each other in the early months. Like its been a whole six months since I started! Things sure move quickly on the net.
Anyway, Angela is always finding interesting things and lately she found a meme that requires revealing six weird things about yourself, or rather six things you didn't need to know about me.
I'm not as brave as her, so I will tweak it a little and give it a food focus. So here goes.
- Angela revealed she is always up for it. Well so am I. There is never a time when I don't feel like cooking. Maybe I run out of time to do it, so some takeaway comes our way, but not very often. I've got a knife bag and will cart my knives over to friends' houses on the slightest pretext to indulge my passion. When I'm not slicing or sauteing, I will be reading cookbooks, magazines, surfing food blogs or watching food programs. Yeah, I've got it bad.
- Okay, so when I don't have time to cook, there is a favourite takeaway - fried chicken. Not just any fried chicken, it has to be the Colonels. Nothing can make me happier than sitting down with his fried chicken and a big tub of potato and gravy. I don't care much for their chips or coleslaw, just let me dunk a tender chicken piece into that gravy and I'm as happy as a pig in...well you know what. Of course being the guy I am, I'm working on the recipe. So far the closest texture wise is a mix of breadcrumbs and flour. As to the eleven secret herbs and spices, spice wise I'm pretty sure of three - salt, pepper and monosodium glutamate, and I suspect tumeric. The herbs must be ground up to a powder because nothing is identifiable, but I'm guessing would include oregano, marjoram and thyme. Of course the one thing the Colonel doesn't use that I do, is a good free range chicken.
- When I was reading Jeanne's Cook Sister one time, she revealed that she never makes mayonnaise, ever. Well I'm revealing that I've never bought mayo, ever. I know that everybody else uses store bought, for you can always taste a certain sweetness with it. But ever since I learned how to make it, there has been no other way. I'm a bit of a gun at it, always pushing to get the oil to emulsify at a rate that invites the dreaded split, mostly it comes together, occassionaly in goes another yolk and start again. A couple of things I've found is that a good spoonful of quality Dijon mustard makes the emulsion more stable and less likely to split and Spanish sherry vinegar gives the nicest tang, unless you are making aioli, where lemon juice is the best choice.
- I love my knives. German engineered Dick. They are like my own children to me. Not a day goes past when one or another is held in my hands. Purchased some thirty years ago, they are all as sharp as the day I bought them, though one is not quite as long, a consequence of being pressed into oyster opening service and the tip busting off, then it was off to the knife hospital and a new tip was ground on as well as a new oyster knife being purchased. Wooden handled, they require a bit of linseed oil every six months to keep the wood in good shape. Don't believe everything you hear about knife sharpening machines, I've had one for twenty years and there is no discernible effect on my knives, other than being razor sharp. Not that I use the machine very often, only when my steel fails to bring them up to standard. This probably sounds stupid, but I feel like a butcher when I slap my knives across the steel in that rhythmic motion a good butcher uses. The only time I've been scared of my knives is when I taught my kids how to use them, after you demonstrate hand on hand what to do, then you have to step back and let them go at it. I read one chef saying he lets his kids use slightly blunt knives, I couldn't disagree more. When the knife is not so sharp you have to exert more pressure to get it to cut, this extra force makes the knife more likely to slip and to do some damage than a properly sharpened knife that cuts with ease. Just teach your kids how to keep their fingers out of the way.
- I cannot bring myself to buy supermarket eggs produced by caged birds. Maybe I'm kidding myself, but I believe free range birds have a higher happiness quotient. Whatever, it's cruel to keep any animal caged up and unable to move around. I've blogged about this before, as have several other bloggers. Our kitchen only has happy eggs from happy chickens. We only eat happy chickens - maybe the chickens aren't happy to know that.
- I can't stand to watch somebody else barbecuing, especially when said person doesn't know much about cooking. It should be a crime to stab or pierce a sausage, hey, what did the poor sausage do to deserve that. Or how about people who turn the meat over and over and over et al, just relax will you, turn the meat once only. Some don't understand how heat works, just because the chicken pieces are nicely blackened doesn't mean they are properly cooked through. Long and slow when on the bone. Or the other side of the coin, there are some who believe that all meat should be cooked to death, just to be sure. I want to slap their heads onto the grill just so they know how it feels. Did you know pork is safe to eat at 59 c (138 f), which equates to medium rare? Okay, I understand we are too conditioned against eating pink pork, but leave it juicy please.
So there you have it, part of my dark side. As always, anyone who wants to have a go, off you go.
First up, on Saturday we went down to our mushroom spots on the Mornington Peninsula. Our very first forage yielded up one box of slippery jacks (suillus luteus). These are always up before saffron milk caps (lactarius deliciosis) which are the autumn mushrooms we prize above all others. The mushrooms that we picked were only just up and extremely fresh, which is very important, especially when you want to preserve them.
Driving around we had one of those magical moments when we saw a sign for free range eggs at Billabong Bed & Breakfast. Stopping off, we had a pleasant chat with one of the owners. We told him we were out mushrooming and he invited us to check out his property. It is a large and rambling place with paths throughout the extensive gardens and one of the paths led past a spring fed lake and up into pine trees. The lake was breathtakingly clear, but there didn't appear to be any fish in it. Later on the owner told us he had stocked it with trout, but because of his properties closeness to the Coolart Wetlands, water birds had had a nice time feeding on the fingerlings.
Up into the pines we found a large patch of slippery jacks, which we picked. The owners dog, Bindi, accompanied us, and our daughter M and Bindi were soon close mates. Wife D showed me a different form of the slippery jack that was growing there. It looked a lot like a porcini (boletus edulis), but sadly it wasn't. If it was, I sure wouldn't be telling you about it, as it would be the first recorded instance of them growing in Australia. Apparently there are some porcinis growing in Kings Park in New Zealand, amongst the oaks, but because everyone is on to them, they never get much bigger than a champagne cork.
After we had finished picking we offered some of the mushrooms to the owners, but they politely declined. It's not unusual amongst Australians from an Anglo Saxon background to do so, as they are unsure about them. However, anyone from Europe would be more likely to accept. The owners then produced a loaf of bread and led us to to a paddock with a resident horse which M was delighted to feed.
After this pleasant interlude it was of to the apple orchard for new season cox's orange pippin. It's an English apple that I've heard so much about, but had never actually eaten one, or for that matter cooked with either. Several chefs have gone on about the cooking qualities, apparently it becomes light and fluffy upon cooking. We wouldn't know yet, for we almost ate two kilos (4.4 lb) of them raw over the weekend, they were that delicious. But I'm plotting to make my deadly apple tart with them. There is a post in the offing, but briefly, the apples are sliced into eighths, softened slightly in some sugar and butter and placed into a blindbaked shortcrust tart case. The remaining sugar and butter that is now mixed with apple juices, is cooked down to a caramel and then mixed with some cream and poured onto the apple slices and baked. Heaven indeed.
The next day was the hunting part of the weekend when I was off for our last fishing trip of the season. The weather was decidedly cool, with wind and showers coming up from the Antartic. Our target species, King George whiting had vacated the estuarine system that is Western Port, leaving only flathead to catch. They weren't biting freely, but eventually we ended up with two dozen with a few good sized ones amongst them. Most Aussies love flathead, not only are they a great eating fish, but they bite freely and anyone can catch them. I love them not only for their culinary qualities, but they have a large head which makes for great fish stock. If they were a Mediterranean species, they would doubtless be a part of the mix for making bouillabaisse, the classic French fish soup.
I saw some being cooked on the weekend on the telly and I can tell you the small fish were not gutted prior to cooking, and I saw a secret ingredient, powdered roasted lobster shell. My flathead are all gutted, but that won't stop me from making a reasonable facsimile of this classic soup, with the flavours of garlic, saffron and olive oil with a concentrated fish flavour. It was a soup born of leftover fish and was once considered to be cheap food, alas no longer. It is also the dish from whence saffron mashed potatoes sprung. A chef was eating some one day and idly crushed his potato into the saffron flavoured juices in the bottom of his bowl and voila, a new dish was born.
Photos courtesy of Parks Victoria
Just a quick heads up for the Melbourne locals. The St Kilda Pier Cafe is up and running again. It looks remarkably like the old version that was sadly barbecued. If you want to have a quick tour, try here.
For those of you who don't know of it, the cafe has long considered a landmark of St Kilda. Originally built in 1904, it was destroyed by fire in September 2003. There was a bit of controversy over the rebuilding as some wanted a change in style but Parks Victoria after a bit of "community consultation" decided rebuilding an almost exact replica was the best option.
A Sunday stroll after the market on the Upper Esplanade to the cafe for a cup of coffee is a quintessential St Kilda experience. The views from here are superb, looking as it does across Port Phillip Bay to Williamstown and the skyline of the city of Melbourne.
List three recipes you have recently bookmarked from food blogs to try:
Kalyn's kitchen beautiful looking roasted carrots and mushrooms with thyme. Wonderful flavours that are also healthy too. If truth be told, I should spend a bit more time at this blog.
Chili & Vanilia fully authentic goulash recipe. We make gulyasleves (goulash soup), but sometimes yearn for something a little more substantial.
When I have enough time on my hands, The Unemployed Cook's Cuban Sandwich looks like a goer. Right from scratch, with an ingenious way of overcoming a lack of a panini grill or sanwich press. Even if I didn't want to make the sandwich, the bread looks delectable. And with a name like that, who wouldn't want to try one.
Do you know of another food blog in your vicinity:
I know several. Melbourne has a vibrant community of food bloggers, which includes Tomato, Vicious Ange and My Favourite Plum. If you want to get into a good food fight, Ed from Tomato is your man.
A food blog located far from you:
I think Pille from nami-nami is about as far away from me as you can get and still be on the same planet. However the quality of the food would make a trip most worthwhile.
A foodblog, or several, you have discovered recently and where you found it:
Other blogs sidebar links are the most fertile grounds to discover new foodblogs. I particularly like Stephencooks sidebar, but always check out everyone else's sidebars. Ones that I have recently bookmarked include An Obsession With Food, Seriously Good and Hungry In Hogtown.
What's the best thing about food blogging?
Sharing with like minded people thoughts on all things culinary, also being able to have conversations about my hobby without the peculiar looks.
What's the worst thing?
Not being able to type fast enough to keep up with my thoughts. Not having enough computer skills to make my blog a bit nicer.
Any people or bloggers you want to tag with this meme?
Not really, I tagged a few people a while ago for a different meme, so anyone who wants to have a go, here's your chance.
We've cooked till we dropped - again. After all the cooking we've done lately maybe we are on the cusp of opening a restaurant. Then I would get to yell at my suppliers. My whole lamb shoulder was not what one could call a prime example of lamb butchery, and from one of my favourite butchers too. So I selected the better of the two sections for rolling and roasting and the other section was turned into spring lamb stew.
The butcher had kindly left ALL the fat on, so it took some time to trim up both pieces into something that wouldn't leave that woolly lamb fat taste in ones mouth. It's always a bit tricky trimming fat from meat when the two are interwoven, but after a bit managed to get two hills, one of fat and the other meat; sadly the fat hill was bigger than the meat hill.
Anyway on with the stew. Brown the meat, check. Soften the carrots and onions, check. Add flour and cook out, check. Add garlic, bouquet garni, white wine, chicken stock, tinned tomatoes and season, check and pause. Say, I'm not making Osso Bucco am I? If there was some added chopped celery and besides the different meats, up to this point the recipes are identical. Yet garnishes aside, the results are completely different. However there is one garnish I never add to Osso Bucco as it overwhelms the delicate veal taste, that I would be prepared to add to spring lamb stew, and that is gremolata, the savoury blend of earthy parsley, spicy lemon zest and pungent garlic, all finely chopped together.
It's always interesting to see how people react to new tastes. My older kids were over on Saturday night and they had the lamb stew. One of the vegetables to go with it are turnips. I asked one of my sons what he thought of them and he looked blankly at me.
"The ones you ate."
"I didn't eat any turnips."
Looking at his clean plate, "Yes you did."
It sort of didn't surprise me as I recall years ago, I served up turnips to my mum who was very much a meat and potatoes kind of gal. When I asked her how did she feel about not having poatoes, she indignantly told me she had had them, until I pointed out what she ate were turnips.
Next year though I must make more of an effort to go to the blessing of the eggs. Every year my wife D dyes hard boiled eggs all different colours and applies pretty transfers to them, then takes them to the church in a basket along with some bread, kielbasa (sausage) and salt for blessing by the priest. On Easter Sunday morning we then have an egg cracking competition to see whose egg can last the longest before eating them and all the other blessed food.
This year because I was busy in the kitchen, D took our daughter M. D was not very happy with me and it looks like someone else wasn't happy either, for on the first crack my egg collapsed, turning it around for my revenge shot, the other end also went out with a whimper.
Oh well, there's always next year. And maybe a whole suckling pig too.
After the raging success of the flourless chocolate birthday cake, we've decided to make another one for Sunday lunch, which leads me to a request. When I was purchasing the chocolate, there on a shelf were bags of light and dark Muscovado sugar from Mauritius. Never having seen it before, but hearing a lot about it, I purchased a bag of the dark. Apparently it is sugar before the molasses is taken out. After a taste I swooned, it was sweet and full of the most amazing flavours, a fresh molasses character full of different notes. It was all clumped up into little balls and I can't wait to cook with it.
In my blog travels, I recall that one of you wrote about Muscovado sugar and also gave a recipe. If anyone knows who it was, could you let me know?
Now if anyone out there is thinking of making a cup of tea or coffee and is thinking to boil some distilled water in the microwave to do it, don't. The boys did it on Mythbusters last night, maybe they had been watching Steven Segal movies or something. Anyway, they boiled a cup of tap water first, no problem. Apparently impurities in the water cause it to boil normally, but when they went to distilled water, it didn't boil, only becoming superheated i.e. hotter than 100 c (212 F) and as soon as they dropped some sugar into it, the water exploded.
I know another fact, you can't kill an ant in a microwave.
Here's an Easter joke for you. Stolen from Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans. Who stole it from someone else.
Jesus is on the cross and calls to John.
"John, John come here."
"Yes, my Lord I'm coming."
John tries to make his way up the hill to Jesus, but is pushed back down by the Roman guards. Jesus calls him again, so again John tries to get up the hill, but is repulsed once more by the guards, who threaten him with their swords. So John works his way to the other side and makes his way up to the back of the cross.
"Yes my Lord, I'm here."
"Is that you John?"
"Yes Lord, it is I."
"John, John I can see your house from here."
Anyway, hope you all have a happy and safe Easter, may all your eggs or bunnies be solid Lindt or better. Take care.
M with friends and a very large and luscious flourless chocolate cake.
Edited to Add:
Flourless Chocolate Cake
200 g (8 oz) dark chocolate
100 g (4 oz) butter
100 g (4 oz) caster sugar
100 g (4 oz) almond meal
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or
2 tablespoons brandy
5 eggs, separated
Place the chocolate and butter in a bowl and place bowl over a pot of simmering water, don't let the bowl touch the water. Stir until melted. Add caster sugar, almond meal, flavouring of choice and the egg yolks into the chocolate/butter mixture and stir to combine. Whip egg whites until soft peaks, then fold one third into chocolate mixture with a metal spoon, then fold in the rest of the egg whites. This helps to ensure greater volume in the cake. Take an 200 mm (8") diameter springform tin and line the bottom with baking paper and butter the sides. Pour in the mixture and bake in a 160 c (320 f) oven for 45 minutes or until the cake starts to crack.
Get in, find what I want and get out. Man shopping if you will. My wife is a different story. D will go in and it's like another world for her, all these things to be looked at, checked out and thoroughly examined.
We don't shop well together.
There is one incident that has passed into family lore when we had been shopping at Prahran Market. We had essentially finished our shopping and were walking to the car, which was in a timed parking spot and said time was about to expire. A new Aldi supermarket had opened up next to the market, one of those cut price jobs where they don't even bother to unpack items from the box, just slash and display, with very limited choices.
As we walked past D said we needed lemonade and she would duck in and grab a bottle. I pointed out our parking time was about to expire in 5 minutes, but she assured me she would be quick.
Half an hour later D made her way back to the car. I asked what she had been doing, fortunately we hadn't been booked, she replied that she needed to have a good look. To add insult to injury she had no lemonade!
There are two things I'm crap at in a supermarket, finding a trolley that wants to go straight and getting in the right checkout line. I always seem to get in the line just as they announce a price check, which of course there is no-one at the service desk to take, or another time I was in a 12 items or less queue when the checkout chick refused to serve the women in front of me because she had a few more items than 12. Normally I would cheer for the checkout chick for drawing her line in the sand, but sadly for me the situation created a stalemate that stopped the line dead.
Why is it that trolleys don't go straight? Why do they so often have a gammy wheel?
I don't know, but on the weekend I finally lucked out. There was along line of trolleys and right at the start was one trolley which was not chain latched to the others. Normally this would raise my suspicions, not needing a coin to unlatch it, but I grabbed it anyway. I pushed and it went straight, no sticking wheels, it was like a dream to manouver. It even felt like it had springs. It was like a Porsche amongst Korean cars. I wanted to shop forever with my beautiful trolley. Even the checkout line I found had only one other person in it. Then came the price check.
One out of two is not so bad.
Regular readers would remember a couple of weeks ago, I asked for ideas for good food for my daughter M's birthday party. Thank-you to all who responded, but I feel I let the side down a bit by not doing more. We did a couple of the suggestions, but despite my good intentions, literally ran out of time to do much more. You see the social secretary booked three parties for that weekend, three parties that WE held.
The first party was a combo. I have two daughters who were both born prematurely on the exact same day, twenty years apart. So we had all the kids over on Saturday night. Wife D wisely made a big pot of gulyasleves (goulash soup), which was the entree for two of the parties. What do you think Tankeduptaco has for a main course to feed his offspring? Tacos, of course! My 22 year old son amazed me by eating ten of them, but we're not talking supermarket tacos here, we're talking homemade - okay with a couple of cheats, namely the shells and I bought a jar of taco sauce which I mixed with fresh chopped vegetables, but all the rest was homemade right down to the spice mix. For dessert we had a homemade Black Forest cake, which was just scrumptious.
The next day we were at The Brighton Recreational Centre where Daughter M does gymnastics. We had tried to get a gym party, but being so popular they were booked out, so we booked a couple of rooms, one for the food and the other for organized party games with the centre's staff. So while the 15 odd troops were off being entertained, we set up the food. There weren't any party pies, we really wanted to avoid them, but there was no getting away from chicken nuggets. We also served saveloys (small frankfurters), not the smoke injected ones dipped into red dye, but proper continental ones. Homemade pizza got a look in, which apart from the cake, was the only homemade things the kids got. The parents actually fared better than the kids, with several homemade appetisers - or is it amuse bouche these days? There was a baguette filled with roasted red pepper and anchovies, sliced into portions and little bread rounds covered on both sides with a savoury spread to which the same sized rounds of salami were pressed on and topped with a marinated green olive. The cake was a flourless chocolate made with 400 g (1 lb) dark Lindt chocolate and about the same of almond meal. Do kids have a taste for dark chocolate - you bet! And so do the parents, one was a celiac who probably never eats cake, but happily put away his portion.
So after we cleaned and packed up there, I had to go to work for a couple of hours, while wife D went home to prepare for her sister, brother-in-law and nephew. We had the gulyaseves for the entree, followed by pot roasted pork neck served with Polish style carrots (braised in butter) and homegrown potatoes along with a salad. The cake was a babka that D added plenty of raspberries to.
And that was it.
And I'm knackered.
Polenta is one of those things that seem deceptively simple, it's just polenta, salt and water, but the truth is if you don't pay attention all the way along, it doesn't always turn out right. The first thing to know is that not all polenta is created equal. As in all things there is good quality and the not so good. You wouldn't think that something as simple as corn, dried and ground could vary much, but it does. I can't say why this is, my suspicion is that the quality of the corn and its subsequent handling as well as the milling process have a lot to do with it.
We have tried a few different brands, starting from a supermarket brand called Tasty, through to organic, stone ground from Essential Ingredient in Prahran Market. But the one we like best is Belmonte Polenta Traditional, an Italian brand, which I first found in Coles, but now it only seems to be stocked by the Essential Ingredient.
The next thing to look at is the recipe. All packets of polenta will have instructions on how to prepare it, but I want you to avoid that. Early on I made polenta with these directions and it always had a stodgy quality about it, as well as being hard to cook. It's normal in polenta making for a crust of corn to form on the bottom of the pot, how thick this becomes depends on how well you stir the pot. When you make polenta that is quite thick, it is not only harder to stir, but the crust is thicker as well.
This brings me to my recipe, well Marcella Hazan's recipe which I've adapted. She maintains that instant polenta can be improved by extending the recommended cooking time to as much as twenty minutes. But if you want really good polenta, the traditional one will yield a far better result. The first time I cooked traditional polenta to her recipe, is the first time I really enjoyed it.
Marcella says for instant polenta you will need 1.5 l (2.6 p) water, one tablespoon salt and 255 g (9 0z) instant polenta, and cook for about twenty minutes. For traditional polenta you need to increase the water to 1.75 l (3 p), and cook for up to 40 minutes. By comparison, the Belmonte packet directions state 2 l water to 500 g polenta, which works out to 437 g polenta per 1.75 l water, quite a difference.
The next step is to bring the water to the boil in a thick based pot, add the salt and slowly pour in the polenta whilst stirring with a whisk. Marcella says to pour the polenta like rain, this way you will avoid lumps. Now this is where I vary from Marcella, she advises to change from the whisk to a wooden spoon, adjust the heat down and keep stirring until done. Because this polenta is thinner than most, you can put the pot onto a simmer mat, adjust the heat until there is just an occasional plop, plop of molten polenta and give it a stir every now and then still using the whisk. You can walk away!
When the polenta starts to come away from the sides of the pot, it is ready. You can taste to verify this, it should have a silken texture. Now there is another decision to make, you can serve it as it is, or you can add a knob of butter and a grating of cheese, which is the way we serve it. The butter and cheese add a creaminess that is divine. We use grana padano which is about half the cost of parmigiano reggiano and the flavour is not all that different, in fact I suspect that more grana is used in Italy than parmigiano for this reason.
Pour the cooked polenta into a bowl, this quantity should serve six. The choice of what to serve with it is important for polenta loves wet food. Any choice of stew or casserole would be ideal, it can also replace Risotto Milanese in Osso Bucco. If by some miracle there is polenta left over, it will have firmed right up. There is no need to throw it away. Store it in the fridge and when you want to use it, cut it into cubes any size you like and fry them in a non stick frypan until golden, you can also cut them into tile shapes and use them to cover a shepherd's pie instead of mashed potato for example.
This system brings typical winter weather here, cold and wet with snowfall on the alps, and the one that is hovering over us now has signaled the end of fine autumn weather. Which is making me rather happy.
You see cold, wet weather + autumn = mushrooms.
We were out and about last weekend, and our travels took us to Red Hill on the Mornington Peninsula, where we stopped off at an apple orchard to get new season apples. Bags of the aptly named golden delicious, red delicious, gala, the lovely old timer, snow apples as well as packham pears made their way to our car boot. I was talking to Elsie at the orchard and she was telling me in a couple of weeks they will have cox's orange pippin and johnogold apples as well as all the other varieties.
While we were in the area, we stopped off to stretch our legs in a picnic area. As we wandered we saw signs of someone already picking, then we found a couple of slippery jacks, a bit old to be bothered with, but there they were. Mushrooms.
Funnily we don't often pick field mushrooms (agaricus spp.), mostly we get slippery jacks (suillus luteus) and saffron milk caps (lactarius deliciosus) and we have a couple of secret spots where we find birch mushrooms (leccinum scabrum). We also have friends who have planted silver birch trees just to get birch mushrooms, which they do every year.
Usually we dry the slippery jacks for use in stews or pirogies later on. With the saffron milk caps, we eat as many as we can before we get sick of them, or we bottle them up for a nice addition to a salad or just as a snack with maybe a shot of vodka. Our favourite way to cook them is to flour them and fry quickly in oil, they don't taste strongly of mushroom and have a crunchy texture. We have been known to have nothing else for dinner except saffron milk caps.
A couple of years ago, we had only one chance in the season to look for them, as we were pretty busy with other things. So we drove to our spots for a look. Our daughter M was with us, she was three and a real handful at the time. Looking around and chasing after M, we didn't find much, so we decided to go to one last spot. On the way M fell asleep, we turned off the main road and there before us was a green patch of grass that had been recently mown. It was completely covered with saffron milk caps, none was bigger than 7 cm (3") in diameter, the perfect size for eating. We filled a fruit box with them and just as we were finishing, some mushroomers came from the other direction. These mushrooms were meant just for us.
Now for the warning. Never pick and eat mushrooms you don't know and recognize. The death cap (amanita phalloides) looks a lot like a field mushroom and didn't get its name for nothing. We commonly call poisonous species toadstools, from the German todesstuhl, meaning death's stool, and there is no rule of thumb for differentiating between mushrooms and toadstools. Even for experts identification can be tricky. Some friends of ours picked a mushroom on their farm and brought it to me for identification. After a search I managed to find the genus but not the species, so I took it to a mycologist at the Royal Botanic Gardens and he narrowed it down to two types, one was poisonous, the other edible. The only way to tell the difference was to leave the mushroom on some paper and inspect the resulting spore that fell out, if it was yellow it was poisonous, if it was white we could eat it. I threw it away.
My wife made the aforementioned savoury pierogies and after the last piece of pastry was stuffed, still had ample cabbage and mushroom filling left over. It's such a great filling made from sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), fresh cabbage and dried wild mushrooms we have gathered ourselves, mainly slippery jacks (suillus spp.), which give an earthiness that works so well with cabbage.
This leftover mixture was sitting in the fridge for a few days, okay it was more than a week, mainly because I couldn't think what to do with it. It has strong flavours so it wouldn't work well as a side. There was a leg of lamb that could of been boned and stuffed, a kind of Aussie/Polska marriage, but my feeling is it would work better with roast pork as cabbage loves lard (pork fat).
Then my wife came to the rescue.
She made some crepes, covered them with the cabbage mixture, rolled them up into tight cylinders, dipped them into beaten egg, then breadcrumbs and lightly fried them. They were incredibly tasty, even our five year old liked them.
Just how bad is what he did?
If we were talking art or literature it would be very bad indeed, so bad he would find himself facing the law. But we are talking cooking here and chefs have been borrowing from each other to a lesser or greater extent since Apicius was a boy. Indeed, it is a convention amongst chefs, and not one could honestly tell you he or she has never cooked another's recipes. Rick Stein summed it up pretty well when he was talking about how chefs 'acquire' recipes and pretty much said "....we rip them off really." He actually went to the trouble to put on one of his shows the creator of saffron potatoes, a dish that Rick had put on at his restaurant and this guy was banging on about provenance, not getting the fact that this was his chance to set history straight.
Signature dishes are being knocked off all the time. I can remember eating at Jacques Reymond's restaurant here in Australia twenty odd years ago, and ordering pig's trotters stuffed with morels and sweetbreads, which was the signature dish of Pierre Koffman at La Tant Claire. Was I troubled by this? Not at all, I wanted to try the dish, but I didn't want to fly to London to have to do it. Another person not troubled by this is Marco Pierre White. In his cookbook White Heat, he gives a recipe for this same dish, naming it Pig's Trotters Pierre Koffman, but if you didn't know who Pierre Koffman was, you would naturally believe it was Marco's dish. Very clever.
Steven Shaw, aka the fat guy, at eGullet tries to make the point about attributing, giving the example of the molten chocolate pudding as a dish that has passed into common knowledge therefore not requiring attribution, but the signature dishes, featured by Robin Wickens, because they are cutting edge, need to be attributed. The problem with this is, who decides what and when to attribute? When is the exact point something becomes common knowledge? Does the maker of the shrimp noodles give a nod to the ancient Chinese noodle makers upon whose idea he built? Where does it all end?
I think a few people should get a grip. Chefs borrowing, stealing or ripping off is a convention and a very long standing one, there is no need to become precious about it. It is the means by which cookery moves forward. Personally I like the idea that I can have a taste of a signature dish here in my home town. By all accounts Robin Wickens didn't claim the recipes as his own, he just cooked and served them.
It's time a few people got off his back.