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.

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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
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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
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Grab Your Fork
I Am Obsessed With Food
I Eat Therefore I Am
Iron Chef Shellie
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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
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Thyme for Cooking
Tomato
Tumeric & Saffron
tummy rumbles
What I Cooked Last Night
where's the beef
WhiteTrashBBQ
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St Kilda Today

Monday, July 31, 2006
Weekend Report
I should have listened to a couple of comments I had last week, advising to let M and her friend A help put the pizza together.

Picked them up after school on Friday and did the usual rounds of butcher and supermarket. The girls were so helpful that I allowed them one bribe, err, treat of a Kinder Surprise each, then off home. They settled down to watch cartoons and I went to the kitchen to make the pizza base. Isn't kneading dough such a great pastime? All the frustrations of the day magically disappear as the dough comes together and gradually develops that springiness that says 'hey, time to let me rest.', then that meditative state as the yeast asserts itself and causes the dough to rise and expand. Only there was to be no meditation for this batch, as the girls were checking every five minutes or so as the alchemy unfolded.

The girls were on the computer by now, using a wonderful drawing program called Kahootz, so I retreated back to the kitchen with the by now well risen dough to finish dinner. One should always listen to inner feelings, last week I saw a pizza bianca (white pizza) for the first time and I recall thinking that would be good for fussy eaters.

And of course there were those comments.

Rolled the dough out to fit my rectangular tin, no need to have a round one yet as my dough twirling skills are non-existent. It's funny, I can still recall the first time I ever saw pizza dough being tossed as a child; a new pizza shop had opened on the high street, which was a novelty at the time, with a window looking straight in on the prep area. I'm sure that there was more dough tossing than was strictly necessary, for the pizza maker had an audience, as people lined up to take a peek at what was going on.

Fitted the rolled dough to the tin and laid the cheese out in thin slices, then slopped the tomato sauce over the top. I found this to be better than having the cheese on top of the sauce, for in my domestic oven, unlike a pizza oven, the heat comes from all around, rather than mostly from the bottom, and in an effort to simulate the right heat to cook the base properly, I turn the heat up to flat out, which tends to burn unprotected cheese.

When the girl's pizza was ready, I took it out to rest and cool and made a second one for myself and wife D, for when she came home later. Popped that one into the oven, sliced the first pizza and served it to the girls. A's first comment was 'yuk, I don't like tomato.' I knew she didn't like sausages from the last time she was over, but I don't recall she complained about the sauce on the hot dog. Perhaps the complaint about the sausage was sufficient in her mind and I should have known better. Sheesh, kids.

Well there was no convincing A to try any, but I kind of think maybe she wasn't hungry after a couple of glasses of Milo, as she didn't ask for anything else. The next morning there were muffins for breakfast and in an ironic touch, A helped herself to M's, whilst M helped herself to the leftover pizza.

Regular readers would recall that M has autism as does her friend. So what's it like when they get together? It's exactly like any other pair of young six year old girls that get together. They played dressups, watched a movie together, squabbled over computer time, didn't sleep for over an hour after they went to bed, talked about who was friends with who. Everything they did was so wonderfully ordinary.

Ordinary - it's such a great word.
 
  posted at 10:27 am
  8 comments



Friday, July 28, 2006
A Sleep Over
Daughter M is having a friend from school sleep over tonight, she is so excited and has told everyone she knows. Even the principal at her school mentioned it to me.

Of course the food order is in. Home made pizza, with just tomato sauce and cheese. Hope it's good for her friend. Last time she visited, I found out the hard way she didn't like sausages. But I reckon pizza will be fine.

I'm really looking forward to it.
 
  posted at 1:56 pm
  6 comments



Weekend Herb Blogging # 43
I don't think that I have ever given any recipes for preserving, even though it is one of the cooking things that I like to do, so I thought that I would share with you a particular favourite of mine. It's based on prunes so I guess it's rather like a preserved preserve. With everyone sweltering in the Northern Hemisphere and not looking to cook much, this could be just the thing, for it's really great when made into an icecream, mixed into softened icecream or just put on top of icecream, adding an adult dimension, which means more for you and less for the kids!

Plum trees under the right conditions are usually quite fecund, producing far more fruit than can comfortably be eaten. There are two traditional ways to deal with the surplus - jam making and drying. In common with many chillies that change name when dried, when plums are dried they are referred to as prunes. In this form they have many uses around the kitchen, both in savoury dishes such as a tagine, and in baking and sweet dishes, prunes are also quite nice just to snack on, though one should be careful not to eat too many as they are a good cure for constipation!

For some dishes prunes need to be rehydrated and this brings me to the subject of this week's herb blogging being hosted by the redoubtable Kalyn from Kalyn's Kitchen. For in this particular preserve, the prunes are rehydrated in tea, giving an extra flavour dimension.

Tea is made from the dried leaves of a shrub, Camellia sinensis, that is native to Southeast Asia. The earliest record of cultivation is in the 4th century A.D. in China and the methods used to infuse tea evolved slowly over six or seven hundred years from about the 8th century A.D. Initially tea was formed into cakes and then boiled, then came powdering the leaf and whipping it in hot water. During the Ming dynasty from 1368 to 1644, steeping sprigs of tea in hot water became the norm and this was how the West was introduced to tea. Tea became part of the spice trade and eventually came to England, where it displaced beer as the preferred breakfast drink. Don't laugh, for the reason beer was so widely drunk was that it was safer to drink than the water, which at that time had become contaminated through a lack of understanding hygiene. How quickly it caught on can be shown through trade figures. In 1700, England imported 9,000 tonnes of tea, by 1800 this had jumped to 9,000,000 tonnes.

The tea shrub grows best in the tropics and subtropics, with the best teas grown at high altitudes. After the tea is picked it is then treated to produce four different types - green tea, black tea, oolong and scented teas. In the West, we are most familiar with black tea. This is produced in four different stages beginning with withering to remove some moisture then rolling the leaf to crush the leaf cells and mix the many chemical components, this is what gives all the colour, flavour and astringency in the finished tea.

Next comes the fermentation. While it's not a fermentation in the true sense of the word, for there is no yeast or other microbes involved, it has a transforming effect, changing the leaves to a coppery brown and the colourless, flavourless phenolic substances into pigment molecules that are also astringent. This transformation is caused by polyphenoloxidase, the same enzyme that causes browning in many fruits and vegetables. After this fermentation, the leaves are then 'fired' or dried at about 93 c (200 f) until the moisture content is about 5%. The tea is then graded.

Far and away the greatest use for tea is as a beverage, but it also has some other uses around the kitchen. It can be used for smoking, as in tea smoked duck and it can also be used as a flavouring, as it is in the following recipe, where it is used to rehydrate prunes. It is a lovely combination of prunes with brandy, where both the prunes and the liquid are used up in whatever form you choose to serve them. It keeps very well in the pantry and can be turned into a dessert with ice-cream in seconds. If you happen to have an ice-cream maker, you can chop and add the prunes and some liquor near the end of churning, or you could soften some ice-cream and mix this in. Heaven.

PRUNES IN BRANDY

1 kg (2.2 lb) prunes
1.7 l (3 pt) water
4 tea bags
350 g (12 oz) sugar
500 ml (18 fl oz) brandy

Bring the water to a boil in a pot, take off the heat and add the tea bags, infuse for five minutes. Add the prunes, cover and leave overnight. Meanwhile put the sugar and 100 ml (3.5 fl oz) water in a pot and bring to the boil, cool and refridgerate.

The next day, strain the prunes and put them into a glass jar or jars. Mix the brandy with the sugar syrup and pour over. Leave for a month before using. Keeps indefinitely
 
  posted at 7:53 am
  4 comments



Thursday, July 27, 2006
Cuppa Anyone?
I am not what you would call a tea drinker. My usual poison is a strong cup of instant coffee, black, no sugar. One of my mates and I have a private joke about this, for we both drink the same brand of coffee. Once, when he was visiting after our gruelling, regular Thursday night tennis grudge match, that has been sadly abandoned, I made a cup of coffee for him, from what was then a relatively new brand on the market, that promised a superior experience. Unbeknownst to me, D had already adopted this brand as his preferred cup.

One of the things that happens at my apartment is that I try out new foodie things on visitors and ask for their opinions. That's the price you pay to be my friend. On the whole it works out well, except maybe that time I introduced my kids to black pudding. It's amazing how complimentary they were until they found out what was in it.

I served D a cup of coffee and asked his opinion of it. "Not bad, maybe a six out of ten." he replied. He was rather shocked when I revealed his favourite brand and to this day we both refer to this brand as the six out of ten coffee, whenever we offer each other a cup.

Coffee is a wonderful beverage, but sometimes I hanker for something a bit lighter, which is mostly a cup of tea, so I keep a box of teabags at work as well as at home, where my wife prefers it to coffee. It's not something that demands a lot of attention, just boil the water, dunk in a tea bag and wait for a few minutes - remember I'm a coffee drinker, so the tea has to be strong. If you asked me to describe the taste of a tea, I would be hard pressed, it's not something that I've really considered, but I'm sure there is a whole liturgy to accompany it.

The other day I noticed we were out of teabags at home, so the next time at the supermarket I grabbed a box of teabags, not my wife's usual choice, for life is too short to contemplate the joys of only one brand and took them home. After dinner that night I went to the kitchen, switched on the kettle and opened the new box which was tightly sealed. As the cellophane was breached, a most distinctive aroma of tea pervaded my nostrils, smooth and mellow. This was interesting, it was not the first box of teabags I'd ever opened, but it was the first time I'd ever noticed the aroma. It was gorgeous. I stood there inhaling like a crackhead. Eventually I stopped sniffing and managed to place the teabags into cups and brewed them up.

Wandered back to the loungeroom and passed a cup to my wife. After a couple of sips I asked her what she thought. She said it was one of the better ones she's had. When I tasted, it was like drinking tea for the first time. This sounds stupid but it tasted like, well, tea. It was deep and smooth with so many notes to it, full and rich. The next day I bought another box and made a cuppa for my partner at work. He raved about it as much as I did.

I looked in the box and there was a small pamphlet which I read. It was mostly a rant about the evils of large multinational companies and the damage they have done to the third world countries where tea is grown. There were also some paragraphs on a charitable foundation that this company has set up to give sustenance to the survivors of the 2004 Asian tsunami that killed 40,000 people and left only devastation in its wake.

Now I don't spruik anything on my blog, but I want to alert you to a great cup of tea, and this from a coffee drinker. I am certainly not getting paid for this. It may be that I don't know much about tea, but I do know about flavour and I recognize when there is something flavourful in my mouth.

Here are a couple of paragraphs from the pamphlet.

'Demand for a quick brew from tea bags changed the traditional method of making tea. A new CTC (Cut Twist and Curl) method to obtain quicker colour was introduced. That colour was at the expense of the real character of tea! Bowing to commercial demand, big brand names abandoned the authenticity and centuries old traditions in making tea. And tea lost its soul.

Dilmah brought back Single Origin 100% Pure Ceylon Tea that you had enjoyed some years ago. Now better and fresher because it is packed at the source, unblended and refreshingly fresh. What's more it is authentic and traditional in manufacture, which guarantees the true character and taste of tea. Tea the way it was made for several generations.'

Amen to that.

I know it's marketing spin, but there are a couple of interesting points. If we consumers can't wait for the colour and associated flavour by brewing a cup of tea for at least a few minutes, then the tea merchants have helped us by employing a method (CTC) that allows the colour of the tea to arrive almost instantly, but without the flavour.

Secondly, Dilmah talks about 100% single origin Ceylon (Sri Lanka) tea, packed at the source. To use a wine analogy, that is the equivalent of an estate bottled wine, from grapes grown in their own vineyard versus a wine made from many different vineyards from several different countries. Consider that just about all the most famous wines are estate bottled, single vineyard wines and you start to realize what they are on about, tea with flavour.

Try some, I think you will like it, if not, at the very least you have helped a charity.
 
  posted at 7:35 am
  10 comments



Wednesday, July 26, 2006
He Who Has No Sin
From another blog.

Sinful. Unless it refers to torturing chickens to save a few cents off the price of an egg (and I'm not sure that actually is a sin), it's a naff word to use in regards to food.

(well I'm sure it is)

I do understand that everyone wants to get the cheapest price in everything that they buy and eggs are no exception. It's pretty easy to say or think that an egg is an egg after all, only it isn't. There is a huge difference in the quality of free range vs battery farmed eggs. For a start, battery farmed eggs always have a tendency to spread on cooking as the white has little viscosity. On one visit to a battery farm, I had this discussion with the farmer who suggested hot weather was the culprit. Well at this time it wasn't hot, the eggs couldn't have been any fresher and still they spread.

Then there is the taste. You probably wouldn't think that eggs, regardless of their source, taste different from each other, I know I used to think like that. Until the day I served up free range eggs against battery eggs. Okay, that's only me. Rick Stein did it too. He devoted a segment on one of his shows to cooking up different types of eggs and served them to people like you and me. The verdict? Free range eggs won hands down for taste and flavour.

It's not just the eggs either. Free range roasting chickens taste better than their anemic battery cousins. We regularly roast a 1.5 kg (3.5 lb) free range bird and it is quite enough for two meals for the three of us. The meat has an almost gamey quality with a firm bite and little fat. Contrast this with a battery bird. When we used to roast one, we would invariably get almost a cup of rendered chicken fat and the bird was good for only one meal. The meat is soft and greasy, with no pronounced flavour.

So why does this blogger think that it isn't a sin to keep chickens under battery conditions?

It's probably because it is difficult to empathise with the chickens. After all, they are kept in huge barns sheltered from all the elements. Food and water is in constant supply and there are no predators to worry about. Sounds kind of ideal, right? Well lets slip ourselves into their shoes, so to speak.

Imagine that you have a relatively quiet upbringing until the day you are capable of going to work. From that day on, you are unceremoniously shoved into your office, a steel mesh cage, just one cage in long rows of such cages, with other workers just the same as you. The cage you are in gives you just enough room to stand up, but not enough to lie down, however there is enough room to turn around, just. You stand there on the steel mesh with no shoes, in constant pain as your feet slowly deform from the wire. Your neighbour is never more than an armslength away; whether you are bored or just irritated by him, you start to throw punches. The boss sees this and in an attempt to stop it cuts your hands off (debeaking). Across the row from you, another worker is pulling his hair out, he loses his hands too. If you become sick, you die, because you are not worth the money to treat, it's cheaper to replace you.

Every day you eat the same gruel, it never varies, just as your job is unchanging. It takes a minute or so to perform, then you have another 23 hours and 59 minutes to think about doing it again, because the light is never switched off. When you do manage fitfull sleep you dream of whales that swim the wild oceans for years, free as a bird, until the day they meet a whaling ship, then suffer a short painful death and you wonder would it be better to be a whale, for the only release from this living hell is when you are no longer efficient at your job and your head is cut off.

Battery farming is considered so cruel that two countries have all ready banned it. The only reason it exists is because it is the cheapest way to produce eggs and chickens, but there is something you can do about it if you want. Don't buy battery eggs or chickens. These farms can only exist because they make money at the expense of animal welfare. If you don't buy their product, it will force the switch to more humane methods of farming. Put another way, every time you buy a chicken or eggs produced by a battery farm you are supporting this method of farming, whether you mean to or not. It may only be the power of one, but if enough people say no to battery farming through their shopping choices, things will change for the better. You only need to ask yourself would you want to live like these chickens, if the answer is no, make the choice.

Say no to sin.
 
  posted at 7:34 am
  7 comments



Monday, July 24, 2006
Mum's Scones
Had my mum over for supper a couple of nights ago.

That doesn't sound too strange at all, unless you knew that mum has been dead for a few years. No, Whoopi Goldberg's Oda Mae Brown from the 1990 movie Ghost wasn't there either, channeling her heart out. But mum was in the kitchen with me, helping to make supper.

Mum wasn't the greatest cook going around, she was a meat and potatoes kinda' gal, who was in the habit of overcooking meat of all descriptions. It was from her that I devolped a taste for the fatty end of a loin lamb chop, for whilst the meaty part was dry and chewy, the fat end having had a good part of the fat rendered out, was left crisp on the outside, with wonderful juicy meat inside. She was into molecular gastronomy when Ferran Adria was still in shorts. Not for her something as heavy as a foam, mum preferred the ethereal lightness of smoke, for on more than one occasion, turned a family sized piece of corned beef into nothing more than smoke and a tiny piece of charcoal through her theory of long slow cooking. There was nothing wrong with the theory, but if you forget about the long, slow cooking part before you go to bed....

It was the smoke that did mum in. She loved her fags and had a two pack a day habit. The scent of cigarettes always hung around the house. In winter you could always tell when mum lit up, where ever you were in the house, for we had central heating and the smoke was sucked in to all the ducts. Eventually mum became very sick and lung cancer was diagnosed. She went onto chemo and radiation therapy, lost all her hair but beat the cancer, whilst still smoking. Cancer doesn't always give up so easily and a year or so later, mum was diagnosed with bowel cancer. Despite an operation and further treatment, plus giving up the fags, cancer took her in its final deadly embrace.

On this particular day we had had a late lunch/early dinner and by seven o'clock we were feeling peckish. Obviously a cooked meal was out of the question, but something warm and comforting would be nice. All of a sudden I had a flashback. On Sunday nights when I was a kid, we would have a soup, followed by scones with jam and cream. Despite what I have told you about mum's cooking, she was a really excellent baker, with her sponges as light as a cloud and her scones as tall as skyscrapers. My brother and I plus our two sisters eagerly anticipated the scones, which we slathered over with jam and placed scoops of chantilly cream on top, heavenly.

One thing that I have never been able to do, is to cook someone else's signature dish and serve it back to them. When I shared a house with a married couple, the wife prided herself on spag bol. I felt that my version was pretty good too, but in the whole time I lived there, never did I cook it. It feels like you are saying that mine is better than yours, even if you don't mean to. So it was with scones. Perhaps I was intimidated by mum's perfection, for I have never tried to cook them before and I'm ashamed to say I didn't even have her recipe. The only part I played in their construction was to whip the cream and flavour it.

But on this night, I felt like homemade scones, so searched out a recipe, went to the kitchen and started getting everything needed. It was about this moment that I sort of felt mum in my fingers as I rubbed the fat into the flour. It was like that I knew exactly what the texture should be and it was the same when I added the milk, preternaturally I knew exactly how much was enough and when the dough felt exactly right. However mum hadn't taken over my body completely, for when it came to patting out the dough and cutting the scones, I simply cut them out with a knife, rather than using a special round glass just for the job as mum did. The reason I did this was that mum would have leftover dough that she reshaped and cut again. These scones would always be the runts of the litter, never destined to rise as high as their brothers and sisters because of the extra handling.

I popped my little batch of scones in the oven and fifteen minutes later, mini skyscrapers emerged. Took them out, placed them in a basket wrapped in a tea towel just as mum did and served them with some jam and cream, and we all tucked in. Were they as good as mums? Well it has been some years since those childhood days, I felt that I could taste the baking powder, maybe I could back then too, but what I can say is that I felt mum smiling down on us.

Mum, scones, jam and cream, yeah, it was pretty good.
 
  posted at 8:08 am
  12 comments



Friday, July 21, 2006
Weekend Herb Blogging # 42
Eeek, I've just realized that my last two posts were not food related at all. I don't mind one to break things up a little, but two's pushing it, so I'd better get back on topic right now.

A few years ago, I used to knock around with P who was the Executive Chef at the World Congress Centre, which was Melbourne's biggest convention centre. Wanting to try the cooking life, P organized a part-time job for me there. The whole kitchen was divided into sections and each section would handle only one task, I was assigned to the Baking section. It was here that I met D, a very fit French pastry chef who ran to work every day. He was one of those peripatetic kind of folk that could never really settle down and used to regale us with stories of his treks through Central America battling huge anacondas and giant leeches and I believe he also wrote a chapter for the Lonely Planet guide book.

It was fantastic for me to be working amongst food professionals, though like all industries there were those chefs that were absolutely dedicated to their jobs and those for whom cooking was the only job they knew and were trapped by it. D was probably the latter and he coped with it by making frequent changes to his employment, kind of like doing stages. Once he tired of a kitchen he was off.

D loved having me in his section, not for baking skills which compared to those wearing the white toque were non-existent, rather he liked the habit I had of trying out my cooking projects on him. When I made a fish soup in the French style (soupe de poisson), D sat there in a kind of revery, like he was communicating with God and when he finished simply told me it was very good. Another thing he liked and asked for was my Hazelnut Gateau. It is a very easy cake made with butter and sour cream topped with skinned, roasted hazelnuts. D was so taken with this cake that he wanted to put it on the Bakery menu and ordered a large bag of hazelnut meal. When I saw the bag I guessed that he wanted to make this cake, so I asked him why he had bought the hazelnut meal. D told me that it was so we could make the cake and turned white when I told him there was no hazelnut meal in it at all!

From time to time I would invite my mate P and his wife the lovely N, over to my apartment. Plenty of people would be overwhelmed inviting not just a chef but an executive chef for dinner, but I never cared about it. I love to cook and wanted the feedback. P loved the fact that I could cook and wasn't overawed by his reputation, for sadly people find it difficult to invite chefs for dinner, scared that the food won't be up to standard, but the reality is chefs don't mind at all (within reason) what is served up to them. One dish that I remember serving up was Cassoulet de Castelnaudary. There are a few variations of this dish, some with different meats, some with tomatoes and some without, each village likes to claim theirs as the only rightful version.

I don't think that P had had this dish in some time, because I could have sworn that I saw a tear in the corner of his eye as he ate it, maybe it was the homemade confit, I don't know. But I really slayed him with another dish, for P is a cheese lover who taught me to appreciate good cheese. Through the Congress Centre he had unrivalled access to the very best cheeses from around the world and so I decided to serve a cheesecake to him with a twist - it would be made from fresh goat's cheese. It has a lovely light texture that is best appreciated the day it is made, for it sinks down on keeping. The taste is only mildly goaty and it's a wonderful finale for a meal. And a great entry for WBH, which is kindly being hosted by Chef Paz.

Goat's Cheesecake
adapted from the Roux brothers

Shortcrust Pastry

250 g (9 oz) flour
1 egg
5 g (3/4 teaspoon salt)
10 g (1.5 teaspoons) sugar
150 g (5 oz) butter, diced and slightly softened
1 tablespoon milk

Place the flour, sugar and salt on a work counter, make a well in the centre and put in the egg and butter. Gradually rub in the flour and when everything is almost mixed, add the milk and knead the dough two or three times to combine everything. Try not to work it too much or the dough will shrink back later. Leave to rest in the fridge for an hour.

Filling

300 g (11 oz) fresh soft goat's cheese
75 ml (3 fl oz) milk
200 g (7 oz) sugar, plus a pinch
6 eggs
1 vanilla pod, split
85 g (3 oz) flour

Firstly, generously butter a 24 cm (10") cake tin, then roll out the pastry to a thickness of 2-3 mm (1/8") and line the tin, trim excess pastry and then pinch up a frill all around. Preheat the oven to 180 c (350 f).

In a bowl, mix together the soft cheese, milk and sugar until very soft and smooth. Separate the eggs, being very careful not to get any yolk in the egg white and beat the yolks one by one into the mixture. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod and beat them in. Finally mix in the flour. Whisk the egg whites until soft peaks, add the pinch of sugar and whisk until firm. Using a balloon whisk fold in one third of the eggwhites into the mixture, then with a spatula fold in the rest. Do not overmix, better a little eggwhite not completely mixed in. Pour this mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake in the oven for about 45 minutes until the top looks almost burnt.

Cool and serve with a fresh fruit compote, pears would be a good choice.

BTW, my link for WHB is the vanilla pod in case you were wondering, only I've run out of time to talk about it. Suffice to say it is the seed pod of an orchid that grows in tropical climes and is one of the most important flavourings in baking. It is available as a pod (expensive), extract (mildly expensive) and essence (cheap). I've used all three, but tend to mostly use the extract, which if you read carefully is not only extract of vanilla, it's also padded out a little bit, however the flavour is still superior to the essence. Sorry Kalyn, I got carried away with the storytelling, next time I will be more focused, promise.
 
  posted at 7:26 am
  7 comments



Thursday, July 20, 2006
Flying High
Here in Australia we are very proud of our national carrier, Qantas airlines. Not only is Qantas the only word with a q but no u, it is also the only international carrier never to have had a plane crash, well that's what an autistic Dustin Hoffman said to Tom Cruise in Rain Man when Tom wanted to choose a plane flight for the both of them. Maybe if they read the following, they might have had a rethink.

Subject: Qantas Good Ones

It takes a college degree to fly a plane but only a high school diploma to fix one: a reassurance for those of us who fly routinely in their jobs.

After every flight, Qantas pilots fill out a form, called a "gripe sheet" which tells mechanics about problems with the aircraft. The mechanics correct the problems, document their repairs on the form, and then pilots review the gripe sheets before the next flight.

Never let it be said that ground crews lack a sense of humor. Here are some actual maintenance complaints submitted by Qantas' pilots (marked with a P) and the solutions recorded (marked with an S) by maintenance engineers.

By the way, Qantas is the only major airline that has never had an accident.

------

P: Left inside main tire almost needs replacement.
S: Almost replaced left inside main tire.

P: Test flight OK, except auto-land very rough.
S: Auto-land not installed on this aircraft.

P: Something loose in cockpit.
S: Something tightened in cockpit.

P: Dead bugs on windshield.
S: Live bugs on back-order.

P: Autopilot in altitude-hold mode produces a 200 feet per minute descent.
S: Cannot reproduce problem on ground.

P: Evidence of leak on right main landing gear.
S: Evidence removed.

P: DME volume unbelievably loud.
S: DME volume set to more believable level.

P: Friction locks cause throttle levers to stick.
S: That's what they're for.

P: IFF inoperative.
S: IFF always inoperative in OFF mode.

P: Suspected crack in windshield.
S: Suspect you're right.

P: Number 3 engine missing.
S: Engine found on right wing after brief search.

P: Aircraft handles funny. (I love this one!)
S: Aircraft warned to straighten up, fly right, and be serious.

P: Target radar hums.
S: Reprogrammed target radar with lyrics.

P: Mouse in cockpit.
S: Cat installed.

And the best one for last.

P: Noise coming from under instrument panel. Sounds like
a midget pounding on something with a hammer.
S: Took hammer away from midget.
 
  posted at 10:02 am
  12 comments



Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Eat & Drink
I just so love the internet.

A while ago, several months actually, I did a post about a question my daughter asked me, "Dad, do whales drink water?", and I posed the question for my readers. This morning when I checked my emails there was this.

Just stumbled across this entry because I imagined being asked exactly that same question (I'm supposed to know about whales).

The quick answer is no ;)

Those that feed on fish (dolphins and some of the large whales) can derive most of their water from their prey. If a dolphin in captivity stops feeding, it has to be given fresh water through a stomach tube.

However, whales that feed on salty krill and squid have to break down fat to obtain water. By the way, this is also what camels do in the desert.

All whales have extremely large and efficient kidneys and pass highly concentrated urine.

Denni

Thanks Denni for that, I never thought that I would get an answer, and now I will pass it on to M. So now I have a different question for the internet community, does anyone know what next week's lotto numbers will be?
 
  posted at 8:26 am
  9 comments



Monday, July 17, 2006
Double Up Pasta
Exactly how large is large?

Over the weekend, I decided to make some pasta from scratch. It's not something that I do very often, so it's not second nature to me. Pulled Marcella Hazan's book, The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking from the shelf and followed her recipe. Well not exactly, for she doesn't call for salt in her pasta, maybe she thinks that the salted boiling water used to cook the pasta is sufficient, but to my mind, fresh pasta doesn't absorb as much water as dried pasta, so I added a good pinch of salt.

But that wouldn't account for what happened next. Marcella gives the ratio of flour to egg as 115 g (4 oz) flour to one large egg. Three of us for lunch, so I multiplied that quantity by three. So far so good. Weighed the flour out and placed it on the work counter, went to the fridge and took out two egg cartons of free range eggs. One carton said the eggs weighed 50 g, the other said 60 g. Well 60 g is larger than 50 g, so they must be large eggs. Cracked three in a bowl and whisked them with a fork and poured them into the centre of the flour, which I gradually drew in to form a dough which I started to knead. The only trouble was the dough was still sticking to everything, like the work counter and me. More flour, a bit more kneading and it was still sticky. More flour again and again and again. Eventually it came right.

It must have been in the order of 25 to 30 g (1 oz) flour that was added in extra, which is a whole lot if you consider that the recipe said that you might not need all the flour called for in the first place. I didn't have time to ponder as my wife D was going to work and I needed to finish the sauce as well as roll the pasta, dry and cut it. M wandered in and asked to help, so we set up the pasta machine and I put M on the crank. Crank, crank, crank and our first pasta sheet came through. Then another and another until it was all rolled out, all a lovely soft golden colour from the free range egg yolks.

A tip for those of you with young kids wanting to help. Watch out for little hands that grab greedily for a taste of the dough during the rolling/cutting and if the dough suddenly stops going through the rollers, check which direction they are winding in!

We hung the sheets over cupboard doors and proceeded to make the sauce. A simple tomato sauce with just a bit of bacon for interest seemed the thing, so as not to overwhelm the lovely silken texture of hand made pasta. Then D wandered in and asked if she could take some pasta to work for her dinner. I seriously doubted it as there was really only enough for the one meal. But all was not lost, as there was some leftover tortellini that needed to be used up, but I would need to make another sauce.

So after lunch, back to the kitchen.

I didn't want to make the same sauce again, so something creamy seemed in order, only there wasn't much cream in the fridge, only about 50 ml. No problem, there was some full cream milk. A bit more of a search revealed some lux ham. Imagine a slice of bacon, lux ham is made from the eye end so there is no fat at all. There are two versions of this treat, cooked and raw, both cured and heavily smoked, with the raw being the more flavourful, with a lovely moist texture; it is the porcine equivalent of smoked salmon. When it's cut properly i.e. thinly, you can see right through it and is wonderful on light rye bread with fresh creamy butter. This ham had been in the fridge for two weeks, so it was time to use it up. The pantry cupboard gave up some dried porcini mushroom and that essentially was the sauce. It was so good in fact, I wished I'd made it for the fresh pasta. I really love my wife.

After D went to work, I picked up Marcella's book again to see if there was any guide to what constituted a large egg, unfortunately there was nothing. But what I did find when reading about the best sauce for fresh pasta, Marcela noted that a creamy bacon and mushroom sauce was ideal. I still love my wife, but was a teensy bit jealous.

Creamy Ham & Porcini Sauce

1 small onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, finely diced
25 g (1 oz) butter
100 g (4 oz) raw lux ham, sliced into strips
1 level tablespoon flour
2 cups milk
50 ml (2 oz) single cream
10 g (1/2 oz) dried porcini, soaked in boiling water for ten minutes & finely chopped, soak water reserved
2 tablespoons grated parmesan
salt & pepper

Sweat the onion and garlic until translucent and soft, add the lux ham and fry until it just changes colour. Add the flour, cook another minute, then add the milk, cream, diced porcini and soak water. Bring to the boil and simmer for ten minutes, stirring often. If not thick enough, cook a little longer to reduce. Add the parmesan and season, careful with the salt. Serve with your favourite pasta.

Later on when we went to bed, D told me that she shared her dinner with her workmates. She said they liked it and wanted to know what mushroom I used. I told her porcini and asked her if she told them that her husband had made it. She said she did and I asked her if they said I was clever to be cooking such nice food for my wife. D answered they didn't, so I said they couldn't have my food again. D laughed and went to sleep.

I really have to find a way to sound serious.
 
  posted at 9:07 am
  7 comments



Friday, July 14, 2006
Weekend Herb Blogging #41
I'm really going to invite Ed from Tomato around for a game of cards.

Over at Kalyn's Kitchen she has posted a few rules about weekend herb blogging. There was Ed in comments asking if he could post about mushrooms. Ed, you have to play your cards closer to your chest than that! Right at the top of my site it says that mushrooming is one of my hobbies.

So without further ado, my entry to WBH #41 is a post on morel mushrooms.

Over twenty years ago, I was knocking around with a couple of Swiss blokes. One of them had some friends that owned a country pub up in the gold country. One day, one of the owners was out walking the dog in the forest, when all of a sudden she was overcome with shock. Right there in front of her was a group of morel mushrooms. Not many people at that time knew they grew in Australia, so she happily picked them.

Unlike overseas, there seems to be only one type of morel that grows here, Morchella elata, the black one. In Europe, Asia and North America it's possible to find as well, Morchella esculenta and Morchella vulgaris. Unlike its European counterpart, our morels don't have that deep mushroom aroma when you smell them, but what it lacks olfactory wise it more than makes up for when you cook it. It's like if a field mushroom is a single musical instrument, the morel is the whole symphony orchestra. The taste is so refined and deep that it's considered one of the holy trinity of mushrooms, along with truffles and porcinis. With a price to match. Last time I looked, dry morels were selling for $750 a kilo ($375 lb), however for that money you do get an awful lot of mushrooms, for morels are hollow. Overseas, morels are a lot more affordable as there is a greater supply. They can even be bought on eBay.

Morels belong to the ascomycete group of fungi, one of the most important groups to man. From this group are all the yeasts and the fungi responsible for penicillin and most of our other antibiotics. Without the yeasts there would be no bread as we know it, nor would there be any alcohol either. All ascomycetes produce asci at some stage in their life cycle. This is rather like a pea pod and the spores lie inside until they are expelled. Morel's asci are in rib like structures on the outside rather than in gills underneath. These spore are then shot out to disperse.

You need to be careful if you know where to pick them, as they can be confused with a poisonous mushroom known as Gyromitra esculenta, or brain fungus, though it's not too difficult to distinguish between them, and I should point out that in Eastern Europe the Gyromitra esculenta is eaten after repeated boiling and discarding of the cooking water. Not that I'm advising you gentle reader to do this, I kind of like your company. But I must point out you should never eat raw morels either, they must be cooked.

I believe that morels and truffles are similar, in that they both seem to pass on their flavour to other foods, rather than cooking and eating them as themselves. Some people who have eaten a bunch of morels by themselves have reported they didn't see what all the fuss was about. For me, I love to drop them into stews or goulash, but far and away the best use for them is to make a morel sauce.

Morel Sauce

As many dry morels as you can afford, say 50 g (2oz) *
3 shallots, finely chopped
50 g (2 oz) butter
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons brandy or cognac
1 l (2 p) homemade chicken stock
200 ml (7 fl oz) double cream
salt & pepper

Soak the dried morels in boiling water for twenty minutes. Melt the butter in a frypan and sweat the shallots until almost golden, add the morels (save the soak water) and continue to fry until all moisture is gone, add garlic and cook two minutes more. Raise the heat, pour in the brandy or cognac, stand back and don't worry if it ignites. Reduce until the brandy has gone, add the chicken stock, morel soaking water and cream and leave to simmer until a sauce consistency is reached. Season and serve with any roast meat.

*It isn't strictly necessary to use this amount, though the result is extremely good. Half a dozen dried morels mixed with ordinary field mushrooms that you get from the supermarket, will give a great sauce too. Simply chop or slice the field mushrooms, say about 100 g (4 oz), and fry them at the same time as the morels.
 
  posted at 1:25 pm
  7 comments



Thursday, July 13, 2006
A is for Autism
Hello, my name is Neil.

I'm about to write a post that I've thought about for a long time.

One of the things that I decided to do when I started this blogging caper, was to use a nom de plume. It wasn't because I didn't want anyone to know who I am, rather there was an issue in my life whereby I preferred to be anonymous. However the more eagle eyed amongst you all ready know my name from email contacts I have made.

What is causing me to publicly reveal myself is twofold.

The first reason is that it seems to me that there are two kinds of food blogs. The serious ones that are all about the food, like Stephencooks or La Tartine Gourmet or the more personal ones like Orangette or Mattbites that give the story behind the food. As much as I would like to be serious, it's just beyond me, so my blog is more the personal account. Because its personal, I need to reveal things about myself to draw you into my world, so that some of the things that I write about make sense to you.

The second reason is that I'm the father of an autistic child.

One of the reasons I so enjoy blogging is that it gives me a voice. There are times in everyone's life when people need a voice, to give an outlet to inner feelings. When I started to blog I needed to talk about food, I could of just as easily started an autism blog, but that wasn't for me. It's not something that I could easily post about with the same frequency as I do with food, but there are times when I really want to say something about it.

Like now.

The other day I was over at Culiblog where I saw a post entitled Autistic Chocolate. Naturally I had a read of it; basically it was about a designer who was working with autistic people. There were also some quotes from autistic people, one in particular whom I could not agree with and said so in comments. So I thought that I would like to share with you a little of what its like to live with a person with autism.

First a poem.

I posted this not so long ago, many of you probably had no idea what I was on about. My mate pentacular, helped me to bang it into shape, so it's different to its first outing. It's a first hand account about what its like to discover that your child has a disability.

CRYSTALLINE

From earth's deep womb,
in oozing amniotic lava
a gem crystallized,
heat, with pressure of everyday life.
Apprentice jeweler sets to,
carefully grinding, polishing,
to reveal its faceted form.
She holds to the light, this wondrous prism,
and from its depths
a sweet diaphanous rainbow explodes,
cacophony of colours swirl and merge
in secret ways,
witness to the flaw within,
disturbed arrangement of tiny molecules.
No tissue stems her salty tide,
rainbow colours turn to blackest night,
bewildered,
wondering which cut next.
Mirror shine pierces her soul,
illuminates dark places
holding scattered cobwebs
where forgotten memories lie,
helplessly trapped.
Gazing at the sun leaves blindness
with crippling anguish,
unable to see,
the perfection lying in her hands.

The memory of that day is burned into me, the sombre faces that led us to a room full of boxes of tissues. My wife's uncontrolled tears as the diagnosis was revealed. The trance like state we worked in as we desperately tried to access services. A black dog came to live with us*. We had to learn as much as we could as quickly as we could about this condition, in order to understand our child.

Autism Spectrum Disorder to give it its full name has two major characteristics, one is major difficulties with social interactions, the other is problems with language. There are varying degrees of affectedness, ranging from near catatonia to individuals that can function independently. The world's richest man suffers from a form of autism.

As a parent you have to quickly learn to ignore others when your child does things that may not appear normal. This can lead to sticky or funny moments, depending on your view. One time we were in a country pub and a very young M decided that the cutlery on the surrounding tables needed rearranging. The publican told us in a stern voice that it meant a lot of extra work for him. I explained to him that she had autism and we would tidy up, he replied that he knew that, just make her stop. That was the last time I publicly said anything about her condition.

Even when we shopped at Prahran Market. Autistic kids quickly pick up rituals and M was no different. First was yoghurt breakfast, then off to the children's playground followed by a visit to the toilet, the girl's toilet of course. What would you do if you were a man and your three year old autistic daughter headed straight in to the ladies? You go straight in too. I wish to applaud all those women who never said a word about my intrusion, but what I can tell you is what a powerful symbol is that women on the door. The first time I almost couldn't follow her, but I did.

M is six now and doing pretty well. She has attended the early intervention program at Southern Autistic School since she was two and has made great progress from not being able to speak at all to someone that is considered to be a bit of a social butterfly. She now attends a mainstream school two days a week.

So what is the point of me telling you this?

Well recently there was a segment on A Current Affair about fish oil and how it could help with problem behaviours amongst a range of conditions, including a form of autism. My sister-in-law was straight on the phone to tell us and I checked out the story on the net. It was nothing other than an advetorial for a fish oil supplement, squarely aimed at people who are desperate to try anything to see if it helps. There was no claim that it in fact did help, only that it might help. Nice, huh?

I don't blame my sister-in-law for wanting to help, but the thing is that autism is a life long condition for which there is no cure. Every time someone tells us about a new *treatment* for it our hopes are raised a little bit, only to be dashed further down the track. We could have spent any amount of money on various treatments, up to $20,000 on a particular one, with no guarantee of success, but what we have discovered along the way is that early intervention was the absolute best thing that we could do for M. So if you want to tell someone about a new treatment for a permanent condition, maybe do a little research first.

But if you really want to help someone who's child has a disability, any disability, from where I'm standing the best thing to do is to invite them to your home, or visit at their home. Engage with them, read to them, talk to them, play with them, make them feel included. Don't be put off if your first attempts are rebuffed, it can take a long time to get to know them. Don't worry that you don't know how to handle them, their parents didn't know at the start either, you can learn.

Would you like to meet M? She's here.


*black dog is an Australian expression for depression.
 
  posted at 8:54 am
  19 comments



Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Cooking Flu
In my previous post, I related how I watched telly with my daughter on a cold Sunday afternoon. Lest you think we are just couch potatoes, it wasn't the only thing we did all day. It must have been the weather for I was in a cooking mood right from the word go.

For breakfast nothing seemed better than a plateful of Huevos Rancheros, only I didn't have corn tortillas or masa harina, nor did I want to go shopping, so after a look in the fridge there were some leftover boiled spuds, perfect. I made a cooked salsa using that workhorse Mexican chile, the guaillo, fried the spuds in some oil, then fried the eggs and plated everything up. Despite the lack of any tortillas, the dish stood up well. Just in case you are wondering, there was no hangover involved at all.

Later on I grabbed a free range Glenloth chicken from the fridge, sectioned it and made a stock with the carcass and used that to make a sauce after frying off the chicken pieces, then braised them in the sauce for twenty minutes. The pieces were then removed and the sauce was quickly reduced over high heat to intensify the flavours. Whilst that was reducing I made some rice pilaf - nothing better to soak up the chickeny juices. The traditional accompaniment to chicken fricasse is baby mushrooms and onions, but I was toying with the idea of adding in either porcini or morel mushrooms instead. But after a taste of the sauce I decided to keep it simple and concentrate on the chicken flavour alone.

This cooking bug that I had contracted was contagious.

Whilst we were watching telly, my daughter M wandered off for a bit. Suddenly she reappeared and in her six year old excitement announced that she had made a cake and I should come and have a look. In some trepidation I went with her to the kitchen, hand in hand, looked around but could see no cake.

"Where's your cake, darling?"

"Over there."

I looked over there and could see a bowl with what looked like a whole bottle of milk in it.

"Is that a milk cake, honey?"

With a look reserved for simple people, she said "No, there is flour in it."

There was too.

I explained to her that she must always cook with an adult. What else was there to do, but back up my statement? Out came the scales, flour, butter, sugar and sour cream. M rubbed the butter into the flour, cut out a parchment circle, mixed the wet and dry ingredients, greased the tin and licked the bowl. Clean. The next day when I caught up with my wife D, I asked her if M had told her about the cake.

"Yes she did, she said it was delicious."

Sometimes I think there is no better job in this world, and the bonus is that M calls me dad.
 
  posted at 10:14 am
  1 comments



Monday, July 10, 2006
The Gross Factor
Settled in with daughter M on the couch. Outside it was dull, overcast and very cold. The wind was picking up before a new low pressure system arrived, maybe some much needed rain and snow is on the way. We flicked across a few channels and came across the National Geographic channel. When I was a kid, I used to wait with eager anticipation for each new edition of the magazine. The lovely glossy photos, well written text, the exotic far away places with barely imagined stories, nirvana for a curious boy from a far flung continent at the bottom of the world.

So it seemed a natural place to stop and have a look at our amazing planet.

There was the usual quota of wildebeest eating giant crocs, monkeys snatching their babies from the very jaws of death, killer whales surfing up to a forlorn and windswept beach, grabbing unsuspecting baby seals to eat before one unforgettable scene, when one of the whales gently brought a seal back to the shore and gently deposited it there unscathed.

Then all of a sudden there was a program about some of the unsavoury things we like to eat, kind of like extreme eating. It started innocently enough with what appeared to be witchetty grubs in what looked like Papua New Guinea. The natives had collected enough for a feast and proceeded to pop live, uncooked grubs into their mouths. Just in case this wasn't enough of a gross out, one of them ripped a grub open to display the viscera, before consuming his little protein snack. I probably need to confess here that there wasn't too much ewww factor for me, as when I used to split wood for the fireplace, quite often there were witchetty grubs present in the red gum. What better snack for a hungry woodchopper?

The next segment ratcheted the ewww factor up several notches, when we were shown Sardinian maggot cheese. In this next piece of entomophagy, it seemed the locals favoured wheels of cheese that were deliberately infested with maggots and consumed the cheese, wriggling maggots and all. Apparently as the maggots work their way through the cheese, eating and defecating, it gives the cheese a wonderful creamy texture, so what the Sardinians are really eating are maggots and maggot poop.

By now M and I have started joking together and I said to her maybe we should have a big bowl of the eyeball soup that featured in Indiana Jones and The Temple Of Doom. "No way!" she said.

Lastly the program headed off to Korea for some octopus eating. Well that doesn't sound too bad, until you learn how they like to eat them. With the smaller ones, they wrap them, alive, tightly around two chopsticks, dab them into some dipping sauce and pop them into their mouths. Apparently the charm of this dish derives from the interplay of the sauce with the wriggling death throes of the octopus. With larger specimens that won't fit whole into ones mouth, the Koreans simply chop off the tentacles, then chop them into bite sized pieces that still have plenty of life left in them. However there is a bit more risk attached to the consumption of these larger sections. Not only do the tentacles still wriggle but the suckers also still work. If you do not chew them properly, like you are in a hurry to get the whole damn mess down your throat, you are in danger of asphyxiation if the manic tentacle attaches itself to the inside of your throat and chokes you to death.

Nice bit of Karma that.
 
  posted at 7:23 am
  7 comments



Thursday, July 06, 2006
Weekend Herb Blogging #40
I've noticed a few of you in the Northern Hemisphere have been saying lately how hot it is. Here in Oz we are just about in the middle of winter and in Melbourne its been particularly cold, but unfortunately with no real rain, and the mountains have no snow, so it looks like our ten year dry spell is still continuing. I'm praying for rain on my morel spots, as in the last few years they have been a bit scarce.

Anyway I can imagine that those of you enduring a hot summer would not have too much interest in recipes that celebrate cold weather. Indeed looking back on what I've been serving up lately, it is exclusively cold weather food. I don't want you to think that I'm ignoring my Northern Hemisphere readers or anything like that, so today I will give a recipe that goes great with a barbecue and is not your usual run of the mill salad.

It will also be my entry to Kalyn's Weekend Herb Blogging, kindly hosted by Gabriella from My Life as a Reluctant Housewife

I'm quite proud of this recipe, as it is the first ever recipe I thought up myself and have been serving it for more than twenty years. Everyone who tries it usually falls in love with it. It is based on wild rice, which went through a bit of a phase here in the eighties. What I found with wild rice is that it tends to dominate with its nutty flavour, so I teamed it with some other strong flavours and found that it went well with barbecued meat. Even though Mexicans would have been unlikely to have wild rice, as I believe it grows much further north, all the other flavours are Mexican, so it seemed natural to call it......

MEXICAN RICE SALAD

1 cup wild rice*
1 green capsicum
1 red capsicum
2 cobs corn
1 or 2 bird's eye chilies, finely chopped
1 or 2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 bunch coriander, washed and chopped, leaves & stems
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
salt & pepper

Put the wild rice in a pot, cover with salted water and simmer for about 40 minutes or until tender. While the rice is cooking, char the skin of the two capsicums, place in a covered bowl for 10 minutes to loosen the skin, then peel and cut into dice. Cook the corn cobs your favourite way, I simply place the unpeeled cobs in the microwave and blast them for about 5 minutes on full power. When cooked peel the husks, remove the silk and standing the cob on your cutting board, cut the kernels off. Whisk or shake the olive oil and red wine vinegar to emulsify.

When the wild rice is cooked, drain and place in a bowl while still hot. Add the diced capsicum, corn kernels, coriander, garlic, chile and dressing, then season and thoroughly mix. Cool to room temperature and serve.

* a friend of mine uses half brown and half wild rice to great effect.
 
  posted at 3:14 pm
  10 comments



Wednesday, July 05, 2006
Comfort Foods
I wanted to write a post about a particular dish that I think of as comfort food.

Now I'm troubled, as I don't know exactly what comfort food is. Is it food we are comfortable with because we grew up with it, or is it something that we eat that makes us feel comfortable? Perhaps it's more like an old friend that you haven't seen for a while but the conversation picks right up where you left off, your feelings towards them are unchanging, and that's so comfortable. Is it a food that can change our mood from down in the dumps to happiness, because we enjoy eating it so much? Maybe it's a combination of all these things.

I don't think things like caviar and truffles are comfort foods unless you consider the happiness that derives from being able to afford them in the first place. One thing I do know, is that comfort food is usually rich and heavy, suffering a surfeit of calories and cholesterol. So why do we call it comfort food when we know it's probably not the best thing to eat health wise?

Why isn't there a salad that could be considered comfort food, apart from Caesar Salad, which is no paragon of virtue, more the slutty harlot, with all that fatty bacon and fried bread croutons, oily mayonnaise dressing flavoured with high fat cheese along with little chunks of fish flavoured salt? I can just imagine all these guys laughing to themselves when the lettuce is added, in the manner of a hardened criminal asking a new jail inmate what he's in for and the reply is a parking ticket.

All these leads me to ask, is it possible to have comfort food with a modicum of good health?

The answer is I think so, at least the other night it seemed so. I cooked up cauliflower and broccoli with a cheese sauce, and baked it in the oven with a scattering of breadcrumbs. Our six year old M was having none of anything else that was on offer, but lapped up this particular dish.

As I watched her eat, it occurred to me that she was getting a few different food groups without necessarily ingesting huge amounts of calories.

M happily helped herself to an extra serving and I knew that besides the two different vegetables, there was some dairy, carbohydrates and protein. So what appeared to be comfort food for her, was surely a comfort to me.
 
  posted at 1:36 pm
  6 comments



Monday, July 03, 2006
Portuguese Dreaming
Over the course of the weekend, I was obliged to work around our big stock pot that was on the stove, containing about two litres of stock. Asked my wife D what was in it and she told me it was pork stock and if I liked, I could use it. 'If I liked' is not an idle throw away line in our household, it's more like a command, so I strained it to remove some celeriac and bay leaves, along with a residue of solidified fat that doesn't pass through the strainer, then reboiled the stock to have a taste and get an idea of what to do with it. It had a lovely porky flavour with a slight stickiness to the broth, yum.

Now pork stock is not all that common in many kitchens, and until I married D, it was certainly a stranger to my kitchen. So what to do with it? D uses it for her Eastern European soups, a good starting point. A quick scout of the fridge revealed some fresh borlotti beans, a green and red capsicum, some smoked pork belly and a quarter of a cabbage. Hmmm, what about something Portuguese?

Don't ask me, I've never been to Portugal, don't own a single Portuguese cookbook, so long as you don't count the Portuguese chapter in my Konemann Culinaria, so why I felt so inspired is a mystery even to me. Maybe it was because of the world cup, an omen of sorts. Anyway I dragged out the Culinaria to check it out and indeed the Portuguese do use these ingredients, as do half a dozen other nations. But after a quick vote of one, I decided this soup was definitely Portuguese inspired. It probably just needed the addition of a few clams to make it fully authentic.

The end result was a soup that had felt like it had done time, quite a lot of time....in Biggles smoker. There were a few different smoky flavours in it - smoked pork belly, char roasted capsicum and just to be sure, some smoked paprika. The smoked flavour wasn't over the top, rather it was alluring and nicely set off the creaminess of the beans and earthiness of the cabbage, a real layering of flavours that was rich and deep.

From time to time, food writers will flag a recipe as one that you should really try. That is how I feel about this one. Maybe because it is different to the soups I normally make, but it was completely satisfying to eat and tasted so good.

PAPRIKA & PORK SOUP

2 tablespoons lard or oil
250 g (1/2 lb) smoked pork belly or bacon, cut into small lardons (strips)
1 large onion, peeled and diced
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 heaped teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 litres (4 p) pork or chicken stock
1 cup cooked borlotti or other beans
1 green capsicum, skin charred and peeled, cut into dice
1 red capsicum, skin charred and peeled, cut into dice
1/4 cabbage, remove core and shred leaves
salt and fresh ground pepper
a few coriander leaves, roughly chopped

Melt the fat or oil in a large pot and gently fry pork belly or bacon until soft, do not crisp. Remove with slotted spoon and sweat the onion in the fat until soft, then add garlic. Sweat another minute and add both paprikas and stir over gentle heat for another minute. Pour in the stock, add the pork belly, beans, capsicums and cabbage. Cook at a simmer for twenty minutes, season, go heavy on the pepper and serve in bowls garnished with coriander leaves.
 
  posted at 11:13 am
  3 comments



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