About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

My Complete Profile

Recent Posts
Hashed Potato Pancakes
Easy Tomato Soup
A Matter of Opinion
Ruby Blood Navel Oranges
Chicken Cacciatora
Goulash Soup
Fennel, Guanciale & Fontina Quiche
Soup aux Bernard Salt
Polenta with Cavalo Nero & Borlotti Beans
Sorrel Sauce

Links
1001 Dinners 1001 Nights
A Few of My Favourite Things
Abstract Gourmet
Apellation Australia
Becks and Posh
BurgerMary ATX
Cook (almost) Anything at least once
Cooking Down Under
Cook sister!
Cooked And Bottled In Brunswick
David Lebovitz
Deep Dish Dreams
Chef Paz
Chubby Hubby
Eating Melbourne
Eating With Jack
essjay eats
Food Lover's Journey
Gosstronomy
Grab Your Fork
I Am Obsessed With Food
I Eat Therefore I Am
Iron Chef Shellie
Just Desserts
Kalyn's Kitchen
Kitchen Wench
Lobstersquad
Matt Bites
Melbourne Gastronome
My Kitchen in Half Cups
Nola Cuisine
Not Quite Nigella
Nourish Me
Seriously Good
Souvlaki For The Soul
Stone Soup
Sunnybrae
Syrup and Tang
Steve Don't Eat It!
That Jess Ho
The Elegant Sufficiency
The Perfect Pantry
The View From My Porch
Thyme for Cooking
Tomato
Tumeric & Saffron
tummy rumbles
What I Cooked Last Night
where's the beef
WhiteTrashBBQ
Vicious Ange

Food Blog Resources
Food Blog S'cool
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Food for Thought
Autism Victoria
Autism Vox
forget me now
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MOM - Not Otherwise Specified
St Kilda Today

Wednesday, May 31, 2006
The Claw
One game that most Dads like to play with their kids is the Claw. You know, the one where you make your hand into a claw shape and chase the kids while shouting "Here comes the Claw!", and the kids run away squealing with delight and terror, before you lunge at them with the Claw and everyone dissolves in hysterics. I don't know if it's related to the arcade claw game, where you pay your money for the chance of manipulating a mechanical claw into a position over some prizes, before it plunges down and hopefully latches onto something, then drops whatever it has into a chute from where you can retrieve it.

In the movie Toy Story, Woody and Buzz found themselves in a Pizza Planet restaurant, and Buzz desperate to get home climbs into a claw game shaped liked a rocket ship, full of little plastic aliens who happen to worship the claw as something that would take them to a better place. The local bully Sid plays the game and manages to snag Buzz with Woody holding on to his leg for dear life, only in this case our heroes aren't going to a better place, far from it.

Maybe that is how Maine lobsters will feel too.

I came across Dan Carlson's business site the other day, and he was spruiking a brand new claw game. It is an aquarium filled with live Maine lobsters, inside a claw game and you get to manipulate the claw and hopefully win yourself a lobster dinner. Now wouldn't it be nice for the lobsters to fight back?

Claw to claw fighting, so to speak.
 
  posted at 9:34 am
  4 comments



Monday, May 29, 2006
Herb Me Up Scotty
I must be in a herb phase. After my first entry to Weekend Herb Blogging, it seemed that all weekend, herbs were somewhere or another. Last Thursday, my wife D asked me to bring a bunch of parsley home after work. When I got home she asked me to make Aglio E Olio sauce; well actually she didn't use the beautiful sounding Italian, rather the more prosaic parsley with garlic and chile sauce. It is one of our favourite quick sauces that can be made in the time it takes to cook the pasta, traditionally spaghetti.

Put 500 g (1 lb) spaghetti to boil in salted water. If your pasta pot is not too big, it's very important to stir and separate the spaghetti in the first couple of minutes, otherwise it clumps together and doesn't cook properly. Take half a bunch of parsley, strip the leaves and finely chop or process, finely chop one clove of garlic, then warm, oh maybe four or five tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a pot with the garlic; no frying, only warming. Turn the heat off and add the parsley and as big a pinch of chile flakes (peperoncino) as you like, season with salt and pepper. When the spaghetti is cooked drain and reserve a cup of the water. If like us you have young kids that don't eat hot foods, set some pasta aside and mix with butter and parmesan cheese. Place the rest of the spaghetti in the pot with parsley and oil and mix through. If it's a little dry, add some cooking water.

On Saturday herbs featured again in our very Polish dinner. I had bought some Polish white sausages from Gruner Meat & Smallgoods in St Kilda. Why they are called white sausages I'm unsure, certainly a German weisswurst is white as the name implies, but the Polish white sausage looks more like a bratwurst. It is strongly flavoured with majoram and this is what gives it a Polish identity. D decided to precede the sausages with a soup course right out of the Polish cooking manual. Zurek is the Polish name for the liquid made from fermented rye bread and also the generic name of a soup, otherwise known as White Barszcz. The fermented liquid is a common ingredient throughout Eastern Europe and gives a pleasing sourness, not as strong as vinegar. Another feature of the soup is that it's also flavoured with marjoram, but after that anything goes, with the two most common versions containing either mushrooms or kielbasa (sausage).

Sunday saw us out mushrooming. Mushrooming seems to bring out either the best or worst in people. At one spot we were picking, a man was walking his dog. I felt he was watching, so gave him a friendly hi. He responded, so I showed him what we had got, then we exchanged recipes and he told us of another spot not too far away. He said there were some field mushrooms (Agaricus spp.) in the area where we had just picked. I had seen them, but when they are young there is no difference in the colour of the gills between them and death caps (Amanita phalloides), discretion is definitely better than valour!

Later on, at a different spot, we parked our car on a grass verge in front of a property, being careful not to block anyone's access. After picking for five minutes, I felt we were being watched, and sure enough a women was looking at us from near our car. Rain was threatening, so we were making our way back and the women walked off a little still watching, so I said hi. She started to complain about our car being parked badly. I asked if it was in her way and she said no, that it was just a bad spot and walked off without another word. Sheesh.

Anyway we got home rather late with no particular idea about dinner. I looked in the kitchen and saw the leftover bunch of parsley from Thursday, looked at D, D looked at me, Aglio E Olio it was.
 
  posted at 10:18 am
  5 comments



Saturday, May 27, 2006
My Mate Frank
A few posts ago, I mentioned something about two Swiss guys that I met in a place called Woods Point. Both were called Francois, but in a pragmatic Australian fashion, we called one Frank and the other Francois. Frank was an ever smiling, bushy bearded itinerant, that had lodged for the moment in this gold mining town, before the last remaining mine, the A1, was closed. Woods Point was a once thriving town, born from the discovery of the Morning Star reef, one of the richest ever discovered in Victoria. At its height it boasted a post office, a police court, a hospital, a school, three churches, three banks, two newspapers, three breweries and numerous shops and hotels, servicing a population of some two thousand people, that lived in three suburbs that somehow fitted into the narrow valley where Woods Point was located.

Frank lived in a large, old, rambling weatherboard, in what was probably one of the original suburbs, a short walk down a dirt track, overlooking the headwaters of the Upper Goulburn River. The house was like a rabbit warren with rooms on several levels. At one point part of the house was converted into a restaurant that Frank and Francois ran together, an amazing achievement in a town that had a permanent population of about 45 at the time, but was augmented by tourists, mostly four wheel drive enthusiasts and trail bike riders. I had friends who owned a holiday house there, and we enjoyed many a meal at the restaurant Diggers Delight, where we became firm friends of the two Swiss.

Francois despite no formal training, fancied himself as a chef and was in charge of the kitchen, which really meant he was in charge of himself. Very often he would pop out and sit at the table with us, drinking our wine, which no-one really minded, as it was part of the ambiance of this improbable restaurant. Bats were known to fly in, searching for moths, do a couple of laps of the dining room and just as quickly exit. Sometimes, some of our party would help out in the kitchen; it was a laid back kind of place. On some nights it would turn into a poker place, when the locals would turn up and play cards into the wee hours, drinking the local white lightning, which I can report is not all that much different to drain cleaner.

It was at Diggers Delight where I had my first experience of a number of European dishes such as choucroute and fondue, where Frank wickedly served up a meat dish to us and a few of the locals before asking what we thought of the meat, in such a way that we knew something was up. After a few local girls had left, he informed us that it was horse meat from a horse that the girls knew well, but was not as forthcoming as to the circumstances by which the beast had met its fate.

Frank loved to ramble far and wide and brought back to the restaurant wild foods such as stinging nettles and mushrooms. A particular mushroom that he found up there was a member of the boletus family and was probably a Phaeogyroporus portentosus, which is one enormous mushroom, with a cap that can be over 100 cm (39 ") and weigh many kilos. Frank used to slice them up and dry them in onion bags over his fire place. He once gave me a large jar of them all dried out and it was to last me many years. He also found morels there as well, only a few, as it was far from their favourite habitat.

One time he discovered a very prospective gold claim which he managed to onsell to a gold mining company. Another time a group of us decided that we could find a gold mine, I can't say that we had been drinking at the time, we might have been, but we were definitely convinced of our prospecting abilities. After a drive, we dashed off into the bush, down the side of a mountain, directed by Frank. After half an hour of walking we found an outcrop of quartz, oozing from the ground, so we continued on until we came to the head of a small creek where we started to pan. Bugger me, after a bit of digging the loose gravel we started to get colour! We panned and swapped stories for a while, before starting the ascent up the mountain. By the time we got to the top, we were so worn out, that all thoughts of becoming gold miners left us.

Frank used to travel a lot and spent a lot of time in Guatemala and I think Honduras, always prospecting. Odd things would turn up in the post, like chile seeds that he thought I would like, though I never planted them. Another time, on his return from Switzerland, he packed his favourite cheese into his sleeping bag. It was around the time of the first troubles with Iran and airport security had been stepped up. Customs were going through everything and Frank realizing the game was up told them where to find it. Later he told me that he talked customs into letting him eat as much of the cheese as he could. Eventually he went to court and the magistrate was so amused by Frank and his stories that he fined him only thirty dollars.

There is a type of person that can never quite settle down in life, and Frank was from that mould. He loved volcanoes, had books about them and had traveled to see them; even in Woods Point he was close to volcanoes, as the gold deposits had been formed by their action. The last time I ever saw Frank was at the airport, going back to Guatemala to live amongst the natives in their huts with dirt floors, chickens wandering in and out, lizards on the walls. I think he met someone there, but in his quiet way he never said much about her.

Life is funny in that when you say goodbye to someone, you never really know that you will see them again, even though the expectation is that you will. I guess that when you say goodbye to someone you know and love, you should say goodbye like it will be the last time, or at the very least make it heartfelt. I hope that I did that for Frank. The call came about ten years ago at two in the morning. It was Francois calling from Switzerland, Frank had died from a stroke.

Vale Frank, I miss you.
 
  posted at 2:36 pm
  3 comments



Thursday, May 25, 2006
Weekend Herb Blogging
Welcome to the clean, green site of tankeduptaco. I'm doing a bit of recycling today, of an old post that I decided to use as part of my entry to the Weekend Herb Blogging road show, hosted by Ilva at Lucullian Delights, giving the ever hard working Kalyn from Kalyn's Kitchen a well earned break. The original post didn't contain a recipe, so I have added one in.

The original post arose one weekend after I bought a bunch of coriander for a particular dish. Not needing it all, I cut off the roots, which definitely helps to keep it longer and placed the stalks in a glass of water on the kitchen bench. Sound familiar? So you know what happens next too. After a few days of keeping its lonely vigil, the once vibrant green colour is slowly replaced by a mottling yellow, the stalks become slimy and you sigh inwardly, consigning the herb to the bin, vowing not to let such a waste happen again.

Until the next time.

Well this had happened to me once too often, so with this particular bunch of coriander that was leftover, I decided come what may, it would not go to the bin. My main use for coriander is in Mexican food, mainly in salsas and guacamole. Yes, you read that right. In our guacamole. I know, I know, there are as many versions of this simple dish as there are days of the week and them some, and all of them claiming to be the original, authentic recipe. I have some sympathy towards the version merely consisting of avocado, lime juice and salt being the mother of all others, but I will say this, anyone, anywhere making a sauce with avocados and whatever else happens to be handy, is being true to the spirit of Mexican cuisine, and whatever comes to the table as guacamole, will be authentic regardless of what is in it.

However, that is not what this post is about, rather how I used up that leftover coriander.

What I had in the fridge was a big bag of rocket (arugula), which is probably my favourite salad herb of all time. Now when we make salads, we sometimes throw in a big handful of whatever herbs happen to be handy. Today it was coriander. Not knowing or expecting what it would be like, I chopped up the coriander and mixed it with the rocket.

When you're painting with different colours, a rule of thumb is that you should use the same shades together and I think the same when using herbs. Lighter tasting ones such as chervil go well with the gentle taste of fish, slightly stronger tarragon with chicken and so on. Well here are two assertive flavours, could they combine well? What follows is the original post, inspired by a culinary experiment, as well as an added recipe.

Rocket, or Arry (short for arugula) as he was sometimes known, was a bit lonely. Hanging around the salad leaves all day long, was leaving him with the feeling that he would like to find someone special to spend some time with. Sure all the other leaves were nice to him, even welcomed him for the pepperiness that he brought to their lives, but Rocket felt like he was the one that was always giving, always the life of the party, and hanging around the others was like listening to a soft rock station, the music is okay, but not edgy enough. So one night he took off for the clubs, to check out the scene.

Down some winding alleyways, Rocket discovered a dimly lit sign, Zarzuelas. The security person on the door was as large as a bull, and looked just as ornery. Carefully making his way around, Rocket entered the club. Flamenco music was in the background, and plenty of people were at the bar. He spotted La Gitana, the sherry, who was a long way from Sanlucar de Barameda, her home town. Rocket liked her for her dry sense of humour and her ability to mix with a diverse bunch, a bit of a flirt really. At the moment she was talking to the Anchovy Stuffed Olive, they seemed to be getting on well together.

Over in one corner was the brooding Pole, Wodka. He was getting it on with Marinated Mushrooms, which was lifting his spirits. Rocket went to the bar and ordered a drink, an olive oil martini with a splash of lemon, shaken not stirred. Taking a sip of his drink, Rocket gazed around the club. La Gitana had already moved on, and was looking very familiar with Tortilla, and standing next to them was her friend from Portugal, Porto, who was looking pleased to be chatting up Blue Cheese.

At that moment the door opened and in came a very elegant couple, the bubbly Champagne and her escort for the evening, a dapper Swedish chap by the name Gravlax, a salt of the earth type. They made their way to a corner table, and Rocket noticed that La Gitana, in search of meatier conversation, was now talking to Albigondas. That girl had no shortage of admirers. Sensing that this was not the place for him, Rocket made his way back to the street in search of more adventure, and perhaps a partner.

Looking around he spotted another club called The Glasshouse and ventured in. Everyone was on the dance floor, there were a lot of familiar faces, Rosemary with Lamb, Tarragon with Chicken, Parsley trying to dance with everybody. There was a fun vibe to the place, like anything goes. Making his way to the bar, he spotted the beautiful Coriander making her way there too. She had been dancing a Salsa with some Chiles and Tomatoes. Rocket walked over to her.

"Can I buy you a drink?"

"Sure, big boy."

They walked to the bar together, Rocket could smell her pungent perfume, it was intoxicating. He ordered two olive oil martinis with a dash of lemon and they sat and chatted. After a while he realized they had a lot in common, two spirits that had strong personalities. After her dancing, Coriander was a little frayed, and pieces of her were falling onto Rocket. Suddenly, somebody bumped them and their drinks spilled onto each other. Their strong personalities merged into a very pleasing whole and Rocket realized that marriage was a distinct possibility.

THE MARRIAGE OF ROCKET & CORIANDER

Rocket, one large bunch or bag
Coriander, 1/2 a bunch chopped, stalks as well
3 tablespoons olive oil, the best you have
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
salt & pepper

Mix the rocket and coriander in a large salad bowl. Whisk or shake in a jar the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt and pepper, then pour over salad and serve.
 
  posted at 9:29 am
  6 comments



Tuesday, May 23, 2006
The Missing Link
I'm not saying my kitchen is anything like that of say E Bulli or The Fat Duck, but occasional experiments are performed. Not on any molecular level, it's more like when something hasn't gone completely according to plan and intervention is called for. Sometimes nothing can be done, like early in the ambitious phase of my cooking career when I thought that scallop quenelles with truffles sounded absolutely fabulous. Never mind that I had never made a quenelle before or ever handled a truffle and it was only a small trifle that I didn't actually have a recipe, not to mention that it was for a dinner party that same night, I had supreme confidence in my abilities. So the scallops were pureed and seived, then amalgamated with egg and cream, formed into lovely quenelle shapes, placed in the baking tray, hot water poured in when tragedy struck, Right before my eyes, everyone of them behaved like the polar ice caps during global warming - they sadly melted.

Little bits of truffle floated in the warm creamy sea of dissolved quenelle mixture. There was no way to save the situation for if the egg and cream hasn't incorporated properly, it can't be stabilized. Maybe if I started over again and properly chilled everything and very slowly added the mixture back into another batch of pureed scallops, but there wasn't time. What I can say is that the uncooked mixture tasted divine and when I confessed to one of my dinner party guests what had happened, we quietly consumed the leftovers, kind of like quenelle sushi.

In the kitchen on the weekend I decided to make that British classic Toad in the Hole. In my childhood when I first heard of it, I thought it sounded disgusting. The thought of little toads peeping up from their little burrows was repellent. Until I tried it and was hooked. Puffy batter enclosing a quality pork sausage, served with onion gravy is an elementally winter dish that warms the soul and even better is not too hard to make. A simple Yorkshire pudding batter poured over some lightly browned snags and baked in a hot oven whilst you make the onion sauce. Even better, there were some leftover baked onions, extra flavour and no tears. Too easy.

So long as you have everything else that you need.

With the sausages and batter in the oven, I chopped the onions and browned them off in some butter, added some flour, then looked for some liquid to add. No stock on hand, but that's okay, some secret sauce and water would be fine. When I first met my future wife D, she knew I could cook. One of the first meals she cooked for me was a meat casserole, which I thought was quite tasty. Of course I asked what she had put in, D told me it was a secret. After we were married I was to discover what the secret was. Gravy granules. The only problem at the moment was that we were out of them. How could I boost the flavour and colour of the onion sauce now that it tasted completely watery?

Worcestshire sauce is an onion sauce ingredient that adds both colour and flavour, but too much overwhelms a dish. What about some soy sauce? Okay, in that went. Still thin. Some quality Dijon mustard, check. A dash of red wine vinegar, essential to balance the sweetness of the onions, fine. But it still wasn't right. I racked my brain, always a painful process, searched the cupboards for inspiration, nothing seemed right. Then I saw it, the bright red squeeze bottle that probably graces every home, tomato sauce. I was desperate, so grabbed the bottle and gave it a good squeeze right into my fledgling onion sauce.

And you know what? It came up a treat. Not classical onion sauce, but good enough to eat.
 
  posted at 7:22 am
  2 comments



Monday, May 22, 2006
Not Really Cooking
Do you ever have a day when you feel to lazy to cook? Sunday was my day. It's not that I didn't want to cook exactly, rather I didn't want anything complicated. Having forgotten to bring home this which seemed easy and tasty, it looked like tinned and packet soups would be getting a run. I've never had a problem with keeping a few tins of soup in the pantry cupboard; when the weather turns colder and rainy, and when you come home wet and tired, a quick bowl of soup is the perfect restorative. We also have the odd packet of instant soup powder, specifically the Knorr brand, from Poland, which are more than passable. If you are in Melbourne, you can get them from the Polish importers, BJP International P/L, 21 Elma Road, Cheltenham, who stock a wide range of Polish foodstuffs. A dehydrated Knorr soup was recently discovered on the ship of Roald Amundsen, the world-famous Norwegian explorer. End of ad.

So there I was with a packet of instant mushroom soup (made with porcinis), just enough for two. Only there are three of us. Maybe it could be bulked up with some noodles, so a dry noodle packet was fished out and cooked up and what was two bowls of soup became two generous bowls of soup, still not three. I wasn't too worried because daughter M was no mushroom lover, so a tin of minestrone soup would do for her. Until she discovered the noodles in the mushroom soup that is, so then it was minestrone for dad!

After the soup it was kind of like, what next?

A quick look in the fridge revealed a treasure trove of eggs. Lovely free range eggs straight from a farm in Mansfield. The kind that when you crack them the white stays together, gelled up around the saffron yellow yolk, but more importantly they taste like real eggs, not some tasteless pap masquerading as eggs that comes from poor, caged birds. What about a frittata or tortilla? That was more cooking than I wanted to do, besides after the soup, something light was called for. A boiled egg, not quite right. An omelette, that's it.

Now I know that I wrote earlier that I didn't want to cook, but an omelette is barely cooking; crack two eggs into a bowl, give a season then a light whisk, pour immediately into a frypan with a small knob of butter, then about a minute later perfection on the plate.

The thing with omelettes is that such a simple process can go awry. I've heard of chefs that in order to test a new applicant for a job, ask them to make an omelette. It has only one ingredient, but requires attention to detail such as not overbeating the eggs, perfect timing to ensure a moist, gooey centre and the outside tinged with gold flecks, hand skills to fold the eggs into a neat crescent shape, seam down, then slid neatly out of the pan onto a warmed plate. What could be easier or harder?

In the days before teflon or non-stick - yes there was such a time - home cooks often approached omelettes with some trepidation. People who knew kept a seasoned steel pan just for this job. The pan would be treated with reverence, for even a scratch to the seasoning would cause sticking and it was never washed, only wiped out, for without this non-stick surface it's impossible to make an omelette. Then along came teflon and suddenly omelettes were within reach of everybody. But even with a non-stick pan it still better to reserve one just for making omelettes as repeated frying at high temperature eventually degrades the non-stick properties of any teflon or associated non-stick coatings. You will need a small frypan of about 125 to 150 mm (5" or 6") with a shallow rim to allow the omelette an easy slide from the pan.

Take two eggs, preferably at room temperature and crack them into a bowl. I season mine at this point, but some say the salt toughens the egg proteins and they season the nearly cooked omelette, the choice is yours. Lightly whisk the eggs together, it doesn't matter if there are still little globs of unmixed egg, because overbeating does toughen the eggs. Melt a small knob of butter about the size of an unshelled hazelnut, over medium heat, in your non-stick pan and when it foams pour in the eggs. Working quickly, with a spatula or something you are comfortable with, but definitely not something that will scratch the pan, drag it from one side to the other and work your way around the pan dragging through. Once you are satisfied that enough runny egg has been set, leave it alone. The object now is to cook the omelette base but leave enough egg that is not set to make it creamy, this happens very fast, so don't be distracted. At this point if you like a fancier omelette add any filling and with your spatula fold over one third towards the centre and lightly press to make it stick. Now roll over the omelette from the centre towards the other edge so that the seam is now on the bottom and the omelette is sitting at the edge of the pan and leave like that for a few seconds to seal the seam. Tilt the pan towards the serving plate and with the spatula ease the omelette onto the plate seam side down. Don't worry if it doesn't fall neatly onto the plate, it will still be delicious.

For M's omelette I grated some parmesan cheese on it before folding over, with ours I cooked some kaiserfleisch that was cut into lardons until soft and added them along with some cheese, a sort of egg and bacon omelette. Very satisfying it was too. And quick, three omelettes were on the table in five minutes.
 
  posted at 8:53 am
  3 comments



Friday, May 19, 2006
Gigi's Chicken
I've had a complaint, well a sort of a complaint. In my post about a fondue we had recently, gigi left a comment...

'...I've just been trying to catch up on your pages but had to stop and get something to eat ~ you always make me so hungry. I share your weakness for the Colonel's chicken, by the way, although I seldom can afford to indulge the calories. There must be millions...hey, maybe that's the missing ingredient! ;D '

Okay gigi, I hear you. We pride ourselves on being a full service blog here and if my food chat and recipes are causing you to leave the browser, and by default me, then something has to be done. You want something tasty and low calorie, that will enable you to stay at your browser reading me. Consider it done! After a quick scan of your blog, inspiration has struck. Your love for the Colonels chicken plus a very funny post about your Valentine's Day jaunt gave me the perfect idea and so I present for your eating pleasure...

BREAST OF CHICKEN GIGI

2 skinless chicken breasts, preferably free range
chicken stock, about 2 cups
1 small onion, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium carrots, diced
200 g (8 oz) green beans, topped and tailed, cut into 1 cm (1/2") lengths
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
pinch cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon tomato paste
salt & pepper
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted in frypan
4 leaves basil shredded + 2 sprigs for garnish

Place the chicken breasts in a pot small enough to hold them snugly and pour over enough chicken stock to just cover. Bring to a slow simmer and cook for 10 minutes or until done to your liking. Remove chicken from pot and keep warm. In another pot gently saute the onion in the olive oil until lightly touched with gold, then add carrots, green beans, garlic, cumin, coriander and cayenne and cook for 2 minutes more. Add chicken stock from the breasts and tomato paste then cook at a rolling boil with the lid off until the vegetables are tender and the stock is reduced to a sauce. If the vegetables are cooked and the stock is not reduced enough, remove the vegetables and continue to reduce the stock. When everything is to your liking add the shredded basil, pine nuts and seasonings.

To serve, spoon an equal portion of vegetables onto each plate. Cut the chicken breasts on the bias into slices and fan out to one side of the plate. Place a sprig of basil overlapping the chicken slices. If you feel the need for some carbs, prepare some packet cous cous according to directions, place in a small ramekin or glass and unmould onto the plate before the vegetables. Enjoy.
 
  posted at 7:13 am
  5 comments



Thursday, May 18, 2006
A Double Yolker
What do you call Bob The Builder after he retires?

How many vegetarians does it take to eat a cow?

Answers in comments.
 
  posted at 7:04 am
  4 comments



Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Afterbirth
What is it about car crashes that causes us to slow down and take a look? What is drawing us to examine the wreckage? 'Cause that is what happened to me last night, when D sensibly went to bed, where I should have gone, but no, I had to watch transfixed at the unfolding program.

It was TV Dinners presented by Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall, where he goes to people's homes and looks over their shoulders as they go about preparing a meal, usually for some sort of occasion. Dinner parties, backyard parties, going away parties, wedding parties, Hugh has done them all, helping out in his inimitable way. This particular show was a welcome the baby party, innocent enough, where the mother, grandmother and another women whom I was unable to ascertain whether family or friend, had invited assorted family members and friends to their bash to welcome a new baby.

Fair enough. Only the centre piece for the repast was to be the newborn's placenta.

There it was on a plate, wine colured, flopped in a puddle of its own blood, umbilical cord still attached, while these three women explained why they were going to serve their guests this extraneous organ.

There was some explanation of wild animals eating their newborn's placenta to gain vital sustenance, and what should have been a joke about everyone sharing in their gene pool, only they were deadly serious. Well these three extemely well nourished ladies had no need of extra sustenance and as far as I'm concerned there is only one way I would like to contribute to the gene pool and certainly not to theirs.

Next they dried the hapless organ, before slicing it into pieces for a quick saute. Whilst it was cooking, they retrieved a piece, placed it on the chopping board, cut it into chunks and proceeded to a tasting. All three ladies had a go at it, but Hugh didn't venture a taste at this point. Normally he is into everything and for that matter so am I. There is not any part of an animal I haven't tried, heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, sweetbreads, whatever. Some strange wildlife has passed my lips too, all manner of insects, but no placenta and that is not about to change anytime soon.

Eventually the placenta was turned into a pate and spread on slices of bread. The guests arrived, the food was served and blow me down if the guests for the most part tucked right in! There were a couple who said they would never try it, but in the biggest irony they served some to a vegetarian, who ate some. I always believed that when vegetarians lapsed it was for a nice piece of bacon. Now we can add placenta to the list. Even Hugh eventually succumbed but it must be said without his usual enthusiasm.

I went to bed shaking my head.
 
  posted at 7:05 am
  10 comments



Monday, May 15, 2006
Repeat Performance
On Saturday our daughter M hosted her friend A from school for a few hours. A had missed out on M's birthday party due to prior commitments and so we invited her over for a few hours. I made the flourless chocolate cake from M's party and the girls asked to decorate it. We still had tubes of different coloured icing from her previous cake, so what the heck and the two girls went at it. After five minutes of delighted squeals, plus a handful of fairy sprinkles, there was a cake to make Jackson Pollock or our very own Pro Hart proud. And you know, in a naive sort of way the cake really looked good.

We sang Happy Birthday all over again and we all had a big piece of cake. A really liked the cake and asked if she could take a leftover piece home. "Sure", we said knowing that she has five other brothers and sisters. Good luck there! Kids sure can have funny ways about them, when A's dad dropped her off, I told him we were having hotdogs for lunch and asked if there were any foods that she couldn't eat. He replied that A didn't like sausages but she would eat a hotdog. Hmmm. What I discovered was that A in fact would not eat a hotdog, she felt the roll was too onerous, but could she have it in some bread instead? Sure thing, back to the kitchen, popped the frankfurter into a slice of whole grain bread and back to the table. A turned the bread over and informed me that she didn't like the seeds and started to pick them all out of her slice of bread, after prising a few loose, A gave up after she 'remembered' that she didn't like sausages after all!

On the Friday I decided to make a big pot of chicken stock, for no other reason than if you cook it, they will come. The chicken pieces consisting of two frames, a half kilo (1 lb) of necks and four large chicken wings cost me $3. Well they (the ideas) didn't come, so I asked my wife D if she wanted to make something with it. She wasn't falling for that one, so the stock was mine. What to do? If you have leftover Parmesan crusts in the fridge, how do you use them up? Leftover celery from the stock making, where's that going? Some really old bok choy lurking in the back of the fridge? Minestrone soup of course. No matter that there were no green beans or zucchinies or that bok choy is Asian not Mediterranean, minestrone is primarily a vegetable soup and so long as you have a couple of primary flavours right, the rest will take care of itself.

MINESTRONE SOUP - LEFTOVER STYLE

2 large onions, diced
3 medium carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
150 ml (5 0z) olive oil
2 large white (starchy) potatoes, diced
2 bok choy, diced
3 l (6.5 p) chicken stock
parmesan crust
1 400 g (14 oz) tin canellini beans
1 400 g (14 oz) tin diced tomato
3/4 cup small pasta shapes
salt & pepper

In a large saucepan, saute the onions, carrots and celery in the olive oil until bits of gold start to form. Add the potatoes and bok choy and saute 2 minutes longer. Add chicken stock, parmesan crust, canellini beans and tomatoes and cook for about 40 minutes. Season and add pasta and cook until pasta is cooked, stirring all the time. Serve. It also better reheated the next day. Some recipes will have you cook the soup for hours to get the vegetables to merge together, but I like to differentiate between them.
 
  posted at 8:14 am
  2 comments



Thursday, May 11, 2006
Stinging Nettles
Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall would have been proud.

There I was in the garden, having surruptiously crept out of the house armed with gloves and scissors and carrying a plastic bag. The big, old vegetable garden was lying fallow for the winter after everything had been harvested. Except the garden wasn't really fallow. Weeds had sprung to life in the rich soil that had been assiduously worked over during the growing season, providing ideal conditions for them.

Initially I was checking for birch mushrooms under some silver birches planted for that very reason, but was soon diverted by a glimpse of a weed that I had been waiting for. The last time I saw it here, I told my wife D, who disdains them, that I was going to pick it, but the plant mysteriously vanished before that happened. This time I told no-one. In no time the bag was filled with the weed, except this was no ordinary weed.

It was stinging nettles.

Stinging nettles have a long culinary history, having been eaten since Roman times. They have many properties, including being richer in iron than spinach with the equivalent amount of vitamins A and C as well as a good amount of minerals. Herbalists recommend drinking nettle tea for your health, and recent research on nettles shows that they can interfere or block a chemical process in the body that has been linked to prostate disorders. As men age, free-floating testosterone becomes bound to albumin in a process called human sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), removing its bioavailability to the body. This chemical process is now believed to be linked to prostate disorders. In several clinical studies, nettles have demonstrated the ability to block this process which may well explain its documented effectiveness in the treatment of many prostate conditions. Since testosterone is a natural aphrodisiac, and nettles makes more testosterone bioavailable for the body's use by blocking SHBG, this may also explain why nettles have recently been regarded as having aphrodisiac properties.


Another use for nettles is Urtification. This is the process of deliberately stinging the skin with nettles. Roman soldiers, chilled by the cold, often rubbed their feet and hands with nettles to bring back their circulation, whilst convicts were punished by lashing large nettle bushes across their bare backs. Urtification has been used successfully for treating rheumatism and arthritis by tricking the nervous system into overlooking the deeper pain. Some people have even used it for sexual arousal.


The first time I ever tried eating nettles was in a place called Woods Point, an old gold mining town in the sub alpine region to the east of Melbourne. There are plenty of small creeks and disturbed ground through gold mining activities, both of which provide ideal conditions for this plant, Urtica dioica, to grow.

Woods Point was founded on the back of the now closed Morning Star gold mine, one of the richest this state has ever seen, rivaling the fabled Long Tunnel mine at Walhalla. There were several other mines in the district which included the A1 mine a short drive out of Woods Point, which was the last to close. We used to holiday there in a friend's house, which is how we met the two itinerant Swiss, both named Francois. They both worked for the A1 mine and one of them opened a restaurant called Diggers Delight in the others large and rambling house. To avoid confusion, in an Australian touch we called one Frank and the other Francois.

Frank was the best mushroomer I have ever seen. He used to forage far and wide and come back with an incredible array. One time we went for morels, Frank was up at first light and came back with an armful of them, from spots that no-one knew about, including him. We spent weekends driving around in the morel season, and it was largely due to Frank that we found the spots we did.

One of the other things that Frank picked on his rambles was stinging nettles, which was how I first tried them, served in a soup in the restaurant. It's funny, I can't actually remember the taste of them, only that I really liked the soup. Since then, nettles have been rather hard to come by. Until I saw them growing in my sister-in-law's garden. Well now I had a whole bag of them, and what I wanted to try was a nettle risotto I saw prepared by Armando on one of Neil Perry's shows.

Nettle Risotto

nettle leaves, stripped from the stalk, about a medium pot full
1 onion, finely chopped
100 ml (4 oz) olive oil
2 cups risotto rice (we used Ferron's Vialone Nano)
3 l (6.5 p) chicken stock, simmering on stove
salt & pepper
25 g (1 oz) butter
25 g (1 oz) parmesan cheese - optional

Soften the onions in the olive oil, then add the nettle leaves and cook until they collapse. Add the rice and saute for another two minutes. Add a ladleful of stock and stir until absorbed, then keep adding stock a ladleful at a time, continually stirring until the rice is cooked. If you run out of stock add some boiling water. Season and stir in butter and cheese if using and serve.

The reason the cheese is optional is that it overwhelms the delicate taste of the nettles. What you will have is a beautiful lime green risotto streaked with the darker leaves. It's delicious.
 
  posted at 7:34 am
  8 comments



Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Bacchanalian Feast
In olden times in many parts of Europe, November was the time, at the end of the harvest, for certain important jobs to be done to ensure food for the winter months. Root vegetables and some fruits such as apples and pears would be stored in the cellar, cabbage would be sliced and salted for sauerkraut, confits prepared and knives would be sharpened in readiness for the pig slaughter, for it was the pig that sustained people through the cold, hard winters.

There are always various feasts at this time and the Swiss are no exceptions. With the pig slaughter getting into full swing, a glut of sausages are produced, fuelling festivals such as die Metzgete, la Saint martin, la grillade, la bacharia and la mazza. It was common for families to own a pig and friends and neighbours were invited to help with the butchery, as it is such a big job, and in return they would be treated to a feast. Also helping would be the Stormetzger, a sort of freelance butcher. This person not only butchered the pig, but came equipped with a store of spices such as pepper, coriander, nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger in order to produce bratwurst and liverwurst sausages as well as black puddings.

These days hardly any families own a pig and the tradition of the feasts that derived from the pig slaughter are being kept alive by the innkeepers from the country villages. They have also taken over the production of sausages and it is easy to see if they are producing their own Hausmetzgete (home made sausage) for the ends of the sausage will be tied off with string not the metal clips that a butcher shop uses. The innkeeper would also provide all the accompaniments for the feast, which varied according to the region, but could include potatoes, sauerkraut, beans, lentils, chestnuts and polenta (remember, parts of Switzerland are Italian speaking).

Up in the Ajoie region of the Jura around Porrentruy, the Metzgete meal is called La Saint Martin and occurs between the dates of November 1 to 11, which coincides with All Saints day and Martinmas. A menu tout cochon, which could be said to mean pig out menu, starts off innocently with a clear broth which was used to cook a piece of fresh pork, then comes some head cheese (brawn), followed by the fresh poached pork with salads of radish and carrot. Then the eating gets serious. Next up comes black puddings made with cream, leeks and onions, seasoned with nutmeg and marjoram, served with beetroot salad and apple puree. A roast of pork with spatzli is next - keeping up? - a full choucroute with ham, bacon and smoked Ajoie sausages follows. But just in case you are not completely full, a rich yeast bread, heavy with cream known as a touetsche is served. All this is washed down with copious quantities of beer, wine and fruit spirits. Jacques Montandon notes in his book Le Jura a table, sobriety is not considered a virtue in Ajoie.

The people of the region must have been hard workers, or climbed the mountains all day to be able to eat like that. Indeed walking around Switzerland does give one an appetite. I visited the mainly French speaking part with my mate F, a native of the area. When we went to visit his friends they would all natter away in French, which I didn't speak a word of, but they would kindly make sure my wine glass was always full and there was always food on my plate. After a couple of these reunions, convinced I would be unable to fit back on the plane, I took to walking the countryside whilst F caught up. It was pretty easy to do as there aren't many roads and they all go to the next village. You get a real feel for a place when on foot, everything reveals itself slowly to you.

One enduring memory I have is of the fog that went for days and days. We were staying with F's family at Yverdon around Christmas and one day we drove up to St Croix just to see the sun. Another thing I remember is a little chocolate shop in the town where I had my first experience with champagne truffles, they were the most magical chocolate I had ever eaten. We also went to see some stones that had been erected by prehistoric men. There was an explanation that these stones had originally been by the shore of a lake that was now some kilometres away. Maybe climate change is a lot older than we think.
 
  posted at 7:54 am
  3 comments



Monday, May 08, 2006
The Fondue
Had all my older kids over on the weekend for birthday celebrations.

Last Christmas my older daughter bought us a fondue set. Cool. We had never used it in the interim, not because I don't like fondue, rather I wasn't sure that my wife D would. Ever since I met her, she hasn't liked gruyere cheese. Tastes and smells like vomit she says. That's a tough one to get over, there is no room to manouvere. "Tastes like vomit and smells like old socks eh, suppose you didn't notice the nutty character?"

For me a fondue is not a fondue without gruyere cheese.

Something else D didn't like was red wine. That's quite a bit easier to deal with, for in fact all wine starts out white; squeeze a grape of any colour and the resulting juice is clear. The colour of red wine comes from contact with the grape skins after pressing. I've now seen two programs which showed how easy it is to confuse white and red wine if you are blinfolded, take away the visual cue and all you are left with is taste - you can't taste the colour red. There would be some wines easy to pick, perhaps an Australian Barossa shiraz with plenty of blackberry character and a certain jaminess that is hard to miss, but take a French Beaujolais made from gamay that has minimal skin contact and hardly any tannin due to carbonic or semi carbonic maceration, whereby the wine is fermented before the grapes are even crushed, producing brightly coloured, fruity red wines and you have a whole other story.

What I did to see if D could like red wine, was to slowly work our way up the flavour spectrum. We started with sweeter white wines, then moved on to aromatic whites that had no wood treatment such as riesling and gerwurztraminer. The next step proved problematic, we moved on to wooded whites such as chardonnay and D didn't like the taste of oak, so we meandered around unoaked and lightly oaked wines until she got used to the flavours. Next step was lighter reds such as Beaujolais and some Chiantis made from sangiovese. Then came pinot noir, especially Australian ones as there is a touch of sweetness about them, before arriving at the heavyweights shiraz and cabernet sauvignon. This whole process took more than a year, but at the end D came to appreciate all wines for what they were and now enjoys a good red as much as anybody.

If only getting her to like gruyere was that easy.

I always thought there was a chance, as D likes both goat and sheeps' milk cheeses. Anyone who knows goat cheese will attest there is a lot of aroma associated with them and if the cheese is getting on a bit, a lot of pungency as well. But if someone says they just don't like a certain thing, it is difficult to get them to shift.

Then I discovered comte.

I was standing in my favourite cheese shop bemoaning my poor fortune in having a wife that didn't like a good piece of gruyere when the saint who was serving me and putting up with my complaint, suggested a nice piece of comte. For those not familiar with it, comte is the French version of gruyere but without that spoiled milk odour and a very nutty finish. I tried some and it was lovely, so purchased a piece and took it home for D to try. Excitedly I shaved off a piece and gave it to her. She tasted and pronounced it was okay, faint praise but after six years it was progress. Every time I went to the cheese shop I would purchase some along with the other cheeses we liked and placed them all on the cheese board together without saying anything unless asked. Eventually D started to cut pieces of comte for herself and a silent hallelujah floated heavenward.

So there I was in the cheese shop on Saturday, to purchase cheese for the fondue. I asked for comte, but the assistant explained the wheel wasn't ready yet and all he had was Swiss gruyere. After an explanation of my problem, he suggested a piece of morbier and a piece of tilsit along with some gruyere. That sounded and tasted okay to me so off home I went with the cheese. I explained to D why I had to buy some gruyere and asked if she would like to try some to which she agreed. If she couldn't stand it, there was time to make an additional course for her. She popped some into her mouth and after a bit of a taste pronounced it all right. More hallelujahs went heavenward, actually it wasn't a hallelujah but I'm sure God understood my intention.

Cheese Fondue
(serves 4 to 6)

200 g (7 oz) gruyere cheese, grated
200 g (7 oz) morbier cheese, grated
200 g (7 oz) tilsit cheese, grated
300 ml (10 oz) dry white wine
1 clove garlic, crushed (minced)
juice of half a lemon
1 tablespoon corn flour, slaked in water
2 tablespoons kirsch (optional)
grating of nutmeg
fresh ground pepper
1 loaf country bread, cut into 2.5 cm(1") cubes

Place everything except the bread in a thick bottomed pot, place on the stove and slowly bring to a low simmer, stirring all the time. This is the time a fondue can split, so care must be taken, do not boil and constant stirring. It should be the consistency of thick cream, if too thin add more corn flour, if too thick add more wine. Simmer for ten minutes then pour into fondue pot sitting over a burner set to low. Explain to your guests to spear a cube of bread onto their fondue forks and give the fork a good stir in the pot, this is important to keep everything mixed and preventing the cheese from splitting. You also need to explain the penalties for dropping your cube of bread into the pot, traditionally ladies would have to kiss the nearest gentleman and a gentlemen dropping his bread would have to provide the next bottle of wine, which can all lead to interesting places, so some penalties of your own devising might be in order. You may also need to adjust the burner down as the level of fondue drops. Of course the choice of cheeses can vary, raclette and emmenthal are good options. Aromatic dry white wines such as riesling or gerwurztraminer to cut through the richness are good choices. Also extra fresh ground black pepper and caraway seeds in separate bowls handed around make a nice addition. Everyone sprinkles some onto their plate and dips the cheese coated bread into a spice.
 
  posted at 7:52 am
  8 comments



Friday, May 05, 2006
Homesick
I can always tell when my wife D is a bit homesick; she starts cooking traditional recipes from Poland. It might be bigos - similar to sauerkraut, kasha (grain) usually buckwheat, or kluski, the generic name for all things dumpling. However when the longing for home calls longest and loudest, a big pot of golabki (pronounced go-wom-key) is sure to make an appearance.

Simply put these are cabbage rolls which are central to the cuisines of Central and Eastern Europe, combining the two most common of ingredients, cabbage and pork, though sometimes other meats are used. Every region has their own twist on the theme, it might be a pinch of paprika here or a bit of onion there, the sauce might be tomato based or sour cream, but no matter what the variation, cabbage rolls provide a strong elemental tug to those who were brought up with them.

In Polish, the name means little pigeons. In Hungary they are called tolltot kaposzta, Russia, golubtsy and in Bulgaria, surmi. No matter what they are called, they are always tasty. The combination of earthy cabbage and sweet pork merges in a yin and yang harmony, that despite its simplicity provides a healthy and satisfying dish.

When D first made them for me, the rolls were quite big, with a large meat to cabbage ratio, but over the years she is making them quite a bit smaller, which gives more satisfaction. The cabbage is just not a wrapper to hold the meat together, it's an integral part of the dish, providing a counterbalancing flavour to the sweetness of the pork.

Cabbage Rolls - Polish Style (Golabki)

1 head of cabbage, Savoy is good
chicken stock or good quality powdered stock
2 onions, finely chopped
50 g (2 oz) butter
1 kg (2 lb) minced ( ground) pork
2 cups half cooked rice
1 egg
salt & pepper

Cut out the core of the cabbage, remove tough outer leaves and reserve and place cabbage in a large pot with the chicken stock and simmer for several minutes. Remove all tender leaves and place cabbage back in the pot and repeat until all leaves are done, including leaves that are too small to roll. Trim the large central vein of the leaves. Reserve chicken stock. Soften onions in the butter and when translucent mix with the pork, rice and egg, season to taste. Take a cabbage leaf and place a handful of meat on the base of the leaf and start to roll, tucking the sides in as you go. When all the meat is used up take some of the unused or tough outer leaves and place in a pot big enough to hold the rolls snugly. Place the rolls on top of the leaves and stack them in layers, no more than three deep, until they are all in the pot. Pour in 2 or 3 cups of the reserved chicken stock and cover the rolls with the rest of the unused leaves. Bake in an oven heated to 180 c (350 f) for 2 hours and leave to rest for thirty minutes before serving with tomato sauce.

Tomato Sauce

2 cups reserved chicken stock
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons potato or corn flour
salt & pepper

Place chicken stock and tomato paste in a pot and add potato flour which has been slaked in a little water. Bring to the boil stirring constantly and season. Simmer for fifteen minutes.

Edited to Add: This post came about because of some chat between Reb at CucinaRebecca and myself. Reb has done a sister post at her site, giving a Mediteranean spin to the theme. I've just eaten a big potful last week, but after looking at her version, I'm lusting after them all over again. Great job Reb!
 
  posted at 9:26 am
  3 comments



Wednesday, May 03, 2006
Palm Tree Blues
Keith Richards falling out of a palm tree. Nice one Keith.

If you want to have a laugh about it, check this out. Whatever you do, don't forget to open up the comments and read what deek deekster had to say, I'm still falling about laughing.
 
  posted at 11:22 am
  3 comments



Cheesed Off
So people in Chicago think they have problems. The good city aldermen have banned the sale of foie gras within the city limits. Skillet doux and kiplog have had something to say about the issue. Briefly, in Australia the production of foie gras is banned but in a nice piece of hypocrisy, not the sale. But the thing that is bugging me at the moment is cheese, or more precisely Roquefort cheese.

Will Studd, our preeminent cheese man, who fought long and hard to have the ban on Roquefort cheese in Australia overturned, has been forced to bury not one but two tonnes of Roquefort cheese because it failed to meet a bacterial contamination standard for E. coli, which is said to have been set ridiculously low. It appears Australians are far more delicate than anyone else in the world and desperately need protecting from the evils of this cheese that is freely available anywhere in the world. I feel sad for Will, whose joy at having the ban on Roquefort overturned is so shortlived. He must have spent a small fortune fighting for this cheese and now the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service have found another way of banning it. The retail value of the destroyed cheese is $Aus 130,000.

I was kind of looking forward to a piece of Roquefort on the weekend, it's my birthday today and my older children are coming over on the weekend for a fondue. Guess I'll have to settle for some gruyere and raclette instead. Maybe next year.

My mate from the country rang yesterday and said he had some mushrooms for me. B is of German origin and has retired to a small property in Gippsland, east of Melbourne. He likes his hunting and fishing as well as foraging for mushrooms. B has planted silver birch trees on his land just so he can have birch mushrooms. This season has been excellent for them, so he set some aside for us.

When I arrived we walked down together to the birch plantation as he wanted to show me how many mushrooms he was getting. There were so many that B had been standing on some in order to show me his crop. There were other mushrooms as well, in particular, the toadstool fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) was on full display with some trees completely surrounded with them. Everyone is familiar with this species, it is the red one with white spots that is commonly drawn in children's books. B told me this toadstool was poisonous, I told him not really, it's hallucinogenic. There is a recorded death due to this mushroom whose common name, fly agaric, was due to the practice in the middle ages of breaking the cap into platefuls of milk in order to stupefy flies. Don't ask. I don't know why.

The Lapps observed their reindeer herds would eat this mushroom and then appear intoxicated, so the Lapps themselves tried it. What happens initially is the central nervous system is affected and the muscles of the affected person start to twitch and pull convulsively, followed by dizziness and a death like sleep. During this stage the mushroom is often vomited but the drunkenness and stupor continue. Whilst in this state vivid visions occur and upon waking there is a sense of elation along with intense physical activity due to the nerves being highly stimulated.

I know gentle readers that none of you would try this, remember there is a recorded death.
 
  posted at 6:51 am
  10 comments



Tuesday, May 02, 2006
The Cut Away
A few weeks ago I came across a new cooking program called Thirty Minute Meals, hosted by a pocket dynamo called Racheal Ray. She was enthusiastic and energetic and her promise was a meal prepared in thirty minutes. That's great, there are always times when we need to get the food on the table in a hurry. In this program Racheal was preparing three tapas style dishes in real time. Over to the fridge she went to retrieve all the ingredients and started to cook.

All was going well and then Racheal moved onto Spanish meatballs, mixing up the mince with all the other ingredients, forming it into small ball shapes and immediately placing them in a hot frying pan. So far so good. Then something happened that greatly troubled me. A cut away. When we returned to the frypan, all the meatballs were nicely browned. I know it doesn't seem like much, but in a show that has a thirty minute slot and the promise is a meal in thirty minutes and the cooking is being done in real time, magically browned meatballs leave me feeling a bit cynical.

I wasn't going to blog about this other than the other day I came across a blog called Everything Racheal Ray run by a women called Madeline. The site is giving Racheal's recipes as well as all the low down on her as well. Nothing wrong there, other cooking celebrities have their own sites, it's just that the site is set up like Madeline is a great fan of Racheals, but when she advises that "All things Racheal Ray can be found here including recipes, news, appearances, upcoming shows and cookbooks.", it sounds like you are a little bit more than a fan. If Racheal Ray is behind the site, come out and say it, nobody will mind.

And please, no more cut aways.
 
  posted at 7:16 am
  4 comments



Monday, May 01, 2006
Autumn Braise
D had to go out for a few hours on Sunday.

"Can you cook dinner, I feel like some potatoes and maybe a frankfurter."

It was one of those cold, rainy days. We had been to our daughter's school fete earlier in the day and had come home completely soaked. Comfort food was what was required, but for some reason my brain had stopped working, maybe it was waterlogged. M and I amused ourselves with drawing and colouring, in between we watched cartoons. I flicked onto a cooking show, it was David Rocco, a hip American/Italian living in an apartment in the old country.

David was doing that Jamie Oliver thing of inviting some mates around and feeding them, before going out to a soccer match. He prepared a few dishes when one of them caught my eye. It was a fennel dish that was cooked in the oven. First the fennel was blanched, then placed in a baking dish, then some herbs, rosemary and sage, were chopped with garlic and strewn over the top. A good drizzle of olive oil was followed by some breadcrumbs and another good splash of olive oil, then baked in the oven until the breadcrumbs were brown.

There was my dinner!

I had been making fish stock earlier in the day and had a fennel bulb leftover, not enough for dinner but a start. Naturally potatoes would be included, taking care of the request. A quick raid of the fridge yielded up a bulb of celeriac and some carrots. This is what I did.

BRAISE OF AUTUMN VEGETABLES

1 large or 2 small fennel bulbs
2 or 3 large potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 bulb celeriac, peeled and cut into chunks
3 or 4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
1 long sprig rosemary
6 stalks thyme
handful of parsley
3 or 4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
breadcrumbs
olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 220 c (430 f). If using large fennel, discard tough outer parts, trim stalks and root, cut in half through the root and cut each half into three, keeping some root on each piece. If using small, trim up, cut in half and then half again. Place fennel in a large pot with potatoes, celeriac and carrots, add water and salt and simmer for 8 minutes. While vegetables are simmering, strip the rosemary and thyme leaves from the stalks, place on a chopping board with the parsley and garlic and roughly chop everything together. Drain the vegetables and place in a baking dish, season with salt and pepper, then scatter chopped herbs over. Give a good drizzle of olive oil, making sure every vegetable gets a hit, then sprinkle on breadcrumbs then another drizzle of olive oil. Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes or until nicely browned.

D came home to the glorious smells emanating from our oven.

"I'm not hungry, I had some salad."

I knew that if I served some to her, she would not be able to resist. The roasting sweetens up the vegetables, but the killer blow as far as D is concerned is the breadcrumbs. Vegetables Polonnaise style are simply cooked vegetables covered with breadcrumbs fried in butter, something that D absolutely adores.

And so it proved, nothing was left.
 
  posted at 8:29 am
  2 comments



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