I wanted to use some straight away in a dish that showed them off and immediately thought of the marinara sauce that I recently posted about. With its simplicity and few ingredients it relies on perfect produce to really sing. As I sliced into the cloves I recalled the scene from the movie Goodfellas where in jail, the boys with plenty of time on their hands, sliced the garlic wafer thin with a razor blade, so that it almost dissolved instantly in the hot oil. Well my knife work isn't that good, but I sliced it as thinly as possible.
The clove's uniform creamy colour went all the way through as the inner bud hadn't yet formed, so there were no green bits in it and because it was so fresh there were no mouldy old bits that needed excising which is fairly typical of older garlic. I warmed the oil and put in the garlic to infuse and went back to prepare the basil. Normally I leave out the basil because I'm not sure that my six year old daughter M would like it with its confronting flavour, but this time, perhaps selfishly, I wanted the sauce to be the same as it has been for centuries.
In went a couple of tins of crushed tomatoes, the prepared basil and a bit of seasoning. I put the basil in early for I wanted to mute its flavour and I wasn't going to add some fresh at the end either. By this time M had come back from her dancing lesson and asked what was the smell in the kitchen. Thinking it was the basil, I proffered a few leaves under her nose but she said that wasn't it, maybe it was the odour of the new season garlic.
The tortellini went on the boil and a few minutes later everything was ready. M sat with her plate and tasted a little, the moment of truth. She licked all the sauce off the pasta before eating each piece. This went on piece after piece; I wasn't sure what this meant until she reached the end, when she picked up her plate and licked off every last skerrick of sauce. I can't tell you how happy that made me, her tastes are starting to mature, which makes cooking just that little bit easier.
Or maybe it was the new season garlic that gave the sauce such a wonderful depth of flavour. I can feel a garlic soup coming on.
I've always had the feeling that these little devils may be a tad overpriced here.
Speaking of price, we had a tin of smoked oysters the other day. I developed a taste for them when I was young and every so often open up and eat a whole tin. In my trip to Casa Iberica, I bought a tin of them to try and they cost me two or three dollars. When I showed my wife, she said that the Aldi grocery store sold them much cheaper, about $1 a tin. Well I don't feel ripped off at a couple of dollars a tin, but it did start me wondering.
You see, in a tin of smoked oysters there would be about a dozen shellfish. When was the last time you bought fresh oysters? How much did you pay? The going rate for an oyster is about $1 each, depending on the variety. How is it that someone can put a dozen oysters in a tin for less than two dollars? That's buying in the oysters, opening and smoking them, then packing in a tin with some oil.
Someone is making a lot of money.
When we visited Tasmania we went to an oyster farm and in what passed as a showroom was an unattended fridge. In it were plates of opened oysters ready to eat, the same oysters that I could have purchased in Melbourne for about two thirds of the price - this at the farm gate so to speak.
Maybe that's why I buy far more mussels than oysters. Raw mussels are just as nice as raw oysters too. And easier to open, simply pull off the beard and slip a thin bladed knife into one half of the shell and work it around until you have sliced off the tendon that holds the mussel shut. You can serve them with any dipping sauce that works for oysters.
One country that I feel some connection with is Spain even though I've never been. It probably started early for me as we had a family friend who was a painter, Nora Foy, who traveled the world and spent quite a lot of time in Spain painting and bringing back ideas to be canvassed later. The first painting of hers that I came to know was of a Spanish man on a mule loaded up with some goods, on his way to somewhere, maybe a market or perhaps he was changing address, good paintings are like that, they leave you to imagine.
As I got older I purchased some of her works and the Spanish theme never left her or her paintings. Imbued by some of her spirit, in my own way through food I often sought out the Spanish influence, whether through a Spanish ingredient or recipe or wine or sherry. There is something exciting about Spanish cuisine, it has a definite X factor, sculpted as it is by the passage of time. One of the finest restaurants in the world, Feran Adria's challenging El Bulli is tucked away on Spain's Costa Brava.
Even my own little blog has a Spanish influence, as most of you already know that Ximena of Lobstersquad designed my gorgeous header.
I can still remember holding my breath when I emailed her asking if she, the wonderful professional illustrator, would be interested in working with me and how happy I was when she said yes! Then the delicate negotiations over what such an undertaking was worth. We danced around this question until Ximena asked if I would consider sending a food parcel for her. Would I? Absolutely YES!
So off I went collecting various things that I thought would interest her, the longer it went the more things I found that I wanted to send, in the end I had to force myself to stop as the cost of the postage was becoming horrendous. And so our deal was complete.
Or so I thought.
Ximena mentioned that she might like to send something my way, but I really wasn't expecting anything, she had more than delivered on the header. Then late last week when I got home, there was a large yellow envelope with unmistakable Spanish stamps upon it. A food parcel for me!
I wasn't the first to open it, my wife got there first in that wifely way of opening anything that appears remotely interesting. In my lovely package were dried chillies (noras), some packets of flavouring for rice dishes including arroz a la banda one of my absolute faves and another that features either squid or cuttlefish ink. There was a container of saffron that put my Spanish saffron to shame. All the strands were a uniform blood red colour, my little jar contains strands of various hue through to orange. This saffron is the real deal and I can't wait to use it.
Ximena also added one of her favourite things, Cola Cao, a powdered chocolate drink. We tried it both hot and cold and it has the deepest chocolate flavour, which shouldn't be very surprising when you consider that after the Aztecs, the Spanish have the longest history with chocolate.
Then there was the real treasure. If you go to the My Magic Pudding Moment post at Lobstersquad you will see an illustration. I now have the original. The computer just doesn't do it any justice. The colours are all alive and vibrant, the detail is sharp and focused. My daughter M loved it, but I think I love it more! It is shortly going to be framed and hung on our wall.
I love blogging. Thanks so much Ximena.
I mean really wondered.
Check this out.
At M's school yesterday, I manned the barbecue for two hours at the mix & mingle day. Two hundred and thirty snags passed under my tongs.
One comment that kept recurring was how good the sausages were. They were a regular sausage from a major supermarket chain, which started me wondering, so I tried one.
It reminded me of the recently tried Krispy Kreme doughnuts, very fatty, though without the sugar, but definitely some binding agent as no fat at all leaked from them. It's curious how fat gives such a good mouthfeel to foods. It's also wondrous how much fat can legally make its way into a sausage. There is a minimum meat protein requirement (in other words, real meat) of 60% per kilo and to this you can legally add 50% of that weight in fat. So in one kilo of sausage, there must be 600 g meat protein and up to 300g in fat is allowed.
Want that again?
That's 30% fat content and only just over half a sausage has to be meat. The babies I were cooking were straining at this limit. Not to mention a binding agent to hold all that fat together. Yet people were saying they were good. It may be somewhat immodest to say that cooking had something to do with it, but I believe it has. As soon as a sausage is cooked right through, which would equate with a steak for instance being well done, there is no point to any further cooking as it starts to dry the sausage out. What I was doing by removing the sausages from the barbecue as soon as they were cooked was to retain their mouthfeel, leaving them with a certain succulence that people noticed.
I made a supermarket sausage taste good. Two hundred and thirty times.
Oh my, what have I done?
As is the way with families when there is more than one child, we always argued over who should have to clean the cage. On this particular occasion I must have failed to mount a persuasive argument and it fell to me to do the deed.
On picking up the cage from its hook, it slipped and fell. With my hand still underneath I tried to steady and catch it, but the whole thing pushed my hand into the top of the cactus. You know when you eat a very hot chile and for a second or two you think that everything is going to be all right, but then it's not? Well that is exactly what happened with the fine spikes of the prickly pear.
Mum grabbed some tweezers and slowly and painstakingly pulled out the miniature forest that had suddenly taken root in the back of my hand. After a bit my whole hand went numb and it was quite some time before it returned to normal.
So years later when I first tackled the fruit of the prickly pear, I well knew to wear gloves. I recall one time when I was friendly with some Italians who I was helping to bottle tomato sauce one season, they had a huge one growing in their backyard and were delighted that this Aussie boy was keen to eat some. In a display of bravado that some Italians are prone to, the man of the house delighted in picking them without gloves!
I do not recommend it.
The fruit of this cactus is very refreshing, but without a lot of flavour, it is probably more about texture. We sat there peeling the skin off and eating them whole and very good they are like that on a hot day, but they do take on other flavours quite well. You might like to try this, which is my entry to Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by the excellent cook Haalo from Cook (almost) Anything at least once.
1 cup of sugar syrup, made from equal parts sugar and water
1/2 small hot chile
2 slices ginger
2 mint leaves
25 ml Cointreau
juice of one lime
1/2 kg (1 lb) prickly pear fruit
a few mint leaves
Place the sugar and water in a pot and add the chile, ginger, mint leaves, Cointreau and lime juice. Bring to the boil and simmer for ten minutes, strain and leave to cool. Meanwhile, with gloves on peel the prickly pears and slice across into pieces. When the sugar syrup is cool pour onto the prickly pear and leave to marinate in a cool place for three to four hours. Serve garnished with finely sliced mint leaves.
Labels: prickly pear
It was self preservation.
You see, my wife and I have a regular Tattslotto punt with the same numbers every week. Sometimes I forget to put them on, sometimes circumstances don't allow. Whatever, I never say anything to her about it unless she asks. I want to tell a little lie if I haven't got a ticket, but on the off chance our numbers do come up, I never do. Then I get a kind of a look that I wish I didn't have to endure.
The price on the tin was about sixteen dollars, nearly exactly the same as our weekly punt. I looked in my wallet and there was only twenty dollars left. I don't know what you would do in the same circumstance, but to me there was only one option - put them back.
Could you imagine the euphoria that my wife would have if our numbers came up, then the devastation when I said we didn't have a ticket? Could you imagine me trying to console her with my wonderful tin of Ortiz anchovies?
I can't, it would be like reading Jack and the Beanstalk without the happy ending.
Being a world leader in autism education is something to be proud of. But like government departments everywhere our particular department in charge of these things thinks there is room for improvement.....by cutting funding, though they may think of it as spreading the funding more fairly. It's just that everyone knows where those funds are coming from, but no-one knows where they are going. Personally I'm not against putting some stress in the system by making people think about how they are spending money, there needs to be accountability, this is public money after all. But we have made an enormous amount of progress in this State in giving those with autism the best possible education they can have and need to be careful that this progress is not endangered by this process of changing funding arrangements.
Autism Victoria has this to say about it:
All indications in the documents provided are that more is to be done with the same bucket of money. The report acknowledges that the number and support needs of the proposed 'Special Needs' group of students are unknown. The best recommendations and models in the world have no value if there is insufficient resourcing allocated to their implementation and ongoing management.
Specialist schools have small enrolments, especially those schools that enrol students with the highest level of need, for example, the four autism specific Special Developmental Schools. There is a real fear that the proposed funding models will effectively reduce the total funds available to these schools, rendering them less viable. Lost will be not only the best learning environment for these most challenging of students, but also the critical mass of specialist, highly skilled teachers who are best placed to provide effective training and consultancy support to other schools.
SPECIALIST CENTRES OF EXCELLENCE MUST BE DEVELOPED FURTHER, NOT STARVED OUT OF EXISTENCE.
The thrust of Better Services Better Outcomes is for Inclusive Education, with the strong implication that this means generic or mainstream school settings as opposed to specialist settings. Our members do not support the move to generic, non specialist schools as the only available schooling option for students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Why do autistic students consistently make good progress in specialist schools? Why do parents choose specialist schools (each of the four autism schools in Melbourne have extensive waiting lists)? Why do so many people with Autism or Asperger Syndrome experience such a totally miserable time at school?
MANY PARENTS, STUDENTS AND AUTISM EXPERTS EXPRESS A PREFERENCE FOR SPECIALIST EDUCATIONAL OPTIONS, NOT GENERIC ONES
The provision of specialist schools and programs does not mean that inclusion cannot be achieved. For students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, the skills necessary to effectively participate in mainstream educational programs are largely absent. Specialist input is essential, on an ongoing basis, to develop and maintain the communication, socialisation and behaviour skills necessary to participate in mainstream school programs.
SPECIALIST SCHOOLS AND SUPPORT PROGRAMS ENHANCE INCLUSION, THEY DO NOT INHIBIT IT
The model proposed by Better Services Better Outcomes implies 'normalisation', which goes hand in hand with the concept of 'least restrictive environment'. Large, mainstream schools are not the only way of providing a least restrictive environment, especially at secondary level. For a number of students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, the least restrictive environment will be the small specialist school with highly skilled staff and specially designed learning programs.
SQUARE PEGS DO NOT FIT INTO ROUND HOLES
The recommendations do not indicate any level of understanding of the needs and rights of students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Large generic school environments discriminate against students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. The essential elements of a school environment - such as the diversity of opportunities, the encouragement of independence, initiative and success and the complex social structures, are all extremely intimidating to the student with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, and actively prevent them from accessing a meaningful and fulfilling educational program.
AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER STUDENTS HAVE THE RIGHT TO A SPECIALIST ENVIRONMENT IF THIS BEST MEETS THEIR NEEDS.
I'm not really a political animal, but with the State election coming up, if you don't have a fixed idea of who to vote for and wanted to help someone you know whose child or children has autism, you could do worse than vote for the Labour party.
I've managed to write about the big three no no's, sex, politics and religion and agonized over whether or not to tell you about my daughter's autism. I've made lots and lots of new friends - yes, you - and had tons of fun along the way. There is even this whole new look which I'm loving to bits, though strangely my writing which seemed to suit my old blog, doesn't feel quite right for this look....yet.
Since it's my blog's birthday, I've decided to put up my very first post. We recently holidayed in Avoca, a country town in Central Victoria, with some friends. We had cooked the prawn recipe for them sometime prior and they had asked for the recipe. At Avoca they cooked their version of it for us, which had a dollop of honey added. It's a great recipe and I know if you try it, you will love it too.
My First Ever Post
No, this is not about football, this is about a recipe that came into being because of football also about traditions and the importance of being flexible with them.
I've got a mate that follows the same football team as me (go bombers!). We get along to a couple of games every year but the real highlight is our grand final barbecue. Both of us are into wine and food, so about a month out we start our planning. Food is my go and L. organises the wines. Every year, just because I can, I change the menu. Its only fair because we never drink the same wines every year. But there are two items we have to do every year because everyone demands them.
My wife's lamb shashlicks and my spicy barbecue prawns.
I know what your thinking, wine at a barbecue..... at a grand final barbecue, where's the beer? Okay, okay its just what we do. And sure beer would go better with spicy prawns, but this is our tradition.
Anyway, the other day we planned a barbecue for our friends in the run up to xmas. We live in an apartment so we have our barbecues somewhere else, in this case it was the Maroondah Dam park. This place must be Melbourne's best kept secret. They have real wood fired barbecues not those sad electric ones and they supply the wood! And the best walk after having eaten too much. I asked my wife what she would like to have; she smiled sweetly at me, the smile every man knows not to ignore at his peril, and asked for spicy prawns.
Tradition- I have never cooked this dish outside of the grand final- but there was that damn sweet smile.
SPICY BARBECUE PRAWNS
1 kg shelled and deveined raw (green) prawn tails
4 spring onions finely chopped
4 cloves garlic crushed
2.5 cm piece ginger grated
2-3 small hot chillies finely chopped
Half bunch coriander washed and chopped
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
100 mls olive oil
Juice of 2 limes or 1 lemon
Salt and pepper
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl, cover and refrigerate for two hours, no longer or lime/ lemon juice will cook prawns. Heat barbecue plate until smoking hot, oil plate and tip entire contents of bowl onto the plate. Working quickly spread prawns apart and cook for two minutes. Turn prawns over and cook for another two minutes. Remove to a plate and garnish with fresh coriander leaves and quarters of lime or lemon.
Of course with my wife D being Polish, we were always going and arrived early on a glorious Spring day, warm sunshine and hardly a breath of wind. There were thirty or so stalls of Polish produce set out on different levels and a main stage where Polish dance and music was performed as well as a big screen that was detailing the Polish contribution to Victoria.
Some of the stalls had amazing things for sale such as the amber jewellery stall. This amazing gemstone is actually the fossilized resin of ancient conifers that existed mostly 30 to 50 million years ago and is found in Poland in the Baltic Sea. After its collection the resin is cut and polished to a reveal its warm amber colour and is then set into jewellery.
Another couple of stalls featured hand painted, glass, Christmas tree baubles of the most beautiful and striking designs. Several other stalls had merchandise for the homesick but the real action as far as I was concerned was happening on the lower level where all the food stalls were. It was here that I made acquaintance with a kielbasa the polish word for sausage in the form of a kranski in a roll. This one sausage made me feel as if I had never had a sausage before. It was made from pork and a little garlic then lightly smoked. In the Polish way it was gently simmered rather than fried which seemed to increase its natural sweetness. It was so good that I found out the name of the supplier, Barkly Smokehouse, rear 191 Barkly Street, Footscray. They aren't retail but if you ask for Nick, tell him I sent you. He told me that the kranskies come in packs of eight. You also need to ask him for the kranski from the Polish Festival as they do a couple of different types.
We didn't get to try the potato pancakes as a huge line had formed for them which was no surprise, they are very tasty but are a lot of work to grate finely, much better some else making them. A few cake shops were there so we had the obligatory paczki or doughnut as well as some lighter than air cheesecake. There was a separate, fenced off beer stall where I shared a glass of Zywiec, a great tasting beer.
Wandering around we were accosted by a reporter from Polish radio. My wife declined to speak instead pointing the reporter at me, so I did a short interview. I wanted to say how good the beer was using a earthy saying a mate of mine uses, involving angels and bodily fluids, but I couldn't clean it up in time! What I could have said was that it felt like an angel had kissed my lips, a far cry from what my mate says.
We ran into a friend of mine, not from Poland but from Romania. He was having a great time looking around with some Polish friends of his. It was that kind of a thing, Polish people are very friendly and inviting, there seemed to be people from all over in attendance. All in all we stayed for about two hours, which seemed just enough. We'll be back next year a bit early for one of those potato pancakes.
Edited to add: I've just found out the kranskies referred to are called Kitchen kranski and are $7.50 kg. The entrance to the factory is down a sidestreet and in a small carpark behind Barkly Street. It's a little seedy but that's the price you pay for a great sausage.
Invariably, the first seasonal fruits are always a disappointment. In search of a good price for being the first into market, these fruits are never fully ripe, rather, sour and acid, but every year, people longing for their taste buy them, then wonder where their flavour has gone. Not for me these fruits, I wait until the price falls before buying, not because I'm being frugal, it's just that price is the best indicator of ripe fruit. For instance the price of raspberries has started falling as the berries get ever riper and it would seem in a couple of weeks they should be fully ripe.
But at this time of the year I'm contenting myself with cherries as the early varieties are in and are fabulous right now. We bought a kilo and a half last weekend and they were gone in two days! In fact I was lucky to have enough for a cherry clafoutis that I made on Monday, which was inspired in part by Cook Sister, and the fact that I've never made one before. Jeanne, I've always meant to say I was sorry for my suggestion in comments, sometimes I write before I think!
I won't give a recipe here, for Jeanne's is a good one to follow, though I would say I did make it in a tart shell which seemed quite successful and another reason is that I felt that the cherry flavour whilst there, seemed somehow muted. I'm going to wait for the sour cherries to come in and give them a go to see if it gives the whole thing a bit of a lift, but I'll need to be quick as the sour cherry season is quite short, lasting only a couple of weeks. But in the meantime, before the sour cherries start I will give you a recipe for cherry vodka, for I want to whet your appetite for an upcoming event, where you might be able to get your hands on a bottle, so watch out for that.
The other thing worth noting is that in stoning the cherries, the juice is very staining and makes you look like you have murdered someone....messily. But I'm sure I could at least invite Ed around for a piece, because I got every last stone out!
Jancis Robinson has this to say about sauvignon blanc:
"Sauvignon Blanc is a strange grape. It evokes strong reactions. Those who love it, love it with a passion. Those who find its flavours less than subtle, tend to be less than subtle in their criticism of it.
This is a grape characterised by its aroma and its refreshingly fruity acidity. If it is picked too late, it loses both acidity and the all-important pungent, grassy, leafy aroma that can vary from cat's pee to nettles to gooseberries.
The most classical European Sauvignon Blanc comes from the twin appellations of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé on opposite banks of the Loire just east of the centre of France. The best of these wines have a minerality to them which distinguishes them from New World Sauvignon Blanc.
But some of the world's most famous Sauvignon Blanc is grown a very long way from Europe. New Zealand burst on the international scene in the 1980s with an extravagantly forceful, fruity style of Sauvignon Blanc and has never looked back. One region, Marlborough at the north end of New Zealand's South Island has set a benchmark for this style, in which bold flavours are thought by some scientists to have been encouraged by the notorious holes in the ozone layer in this part of the world. Here extremely vigorous Sauvignon Blanc vines seem particularly at home in the dry gravels of Marlborough's Wairau Valley.
Sauvignon Blanc is one of the few grapes with which New Zealand has had more conspicuous success than its overbearing neighbour Australia. But as the vine moves into ever cooler spots in Australia, so increasingly crisp and successful Sauvignon Blanc is made. The Adelaide Hills and such cool parts of New South Wales as Orange and Canberra District are clearly well suited to Sauvignon Blanc, and Western Australia has evolved a distinctively refreshing style of Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blends."
JANCIS ROBINSON, www.jancisrobinson.com
If you are lucky enough to be in Melbourne this weekend, you can try Old World (Domaine Thomas Sancerre, Domaine des Caves du Prieure Sancerre and Jean Reverdy La Reine Blanche Sancerre) vs New World (Shaw & Smith, Dog Point and Cloudy Bay) styles at the Prince Wine Store. Also on the same card is a tasting of Muscadet from one of the regions star performers, Guy Bossard of Domaine de l'Ecu. As if this wasn't tempting enough there will be freshly shucked oysters as well.
Best of all, it's free!
Prince Wine Store, 177 Bank Street, South Melbourne, Saturday November 18th, from 12.oo till 2.00p.m.
I've been looking at it for over a month now and every time I saw it was flushed with pride, just like a new parent.
There was an idea in my head for a children's book and I asked my readers if they knew of any illustrators and Tanna from My Kitchen in Half Cups suggested I get in contact with Lobstersquad, who as you probably all know illustrates her own blog with the most wonderful drawings.
Unfortunately for the book idea, someone else got there first, but I continued to follow Lobstersquad wondering if there was a way we could collaborate on a project. A little while ago, after I spotted yet another blog with the name 'food for thought', I realized that I needed to change the name of my little blog, to give it a better identity.
Knowing that my blog was in desperate need of a makeover as well, I wondered about how best to achieve it. Well, what about a dinner party at my place to which all bloggers and blogger readers are invited! From this point the name 'at my table' came fairly easily, then all I needed was to create the atmosphere of a rocking, great dinner party.
The first guests I thought of were to be in animated discussion, a sure sign of a successful party. Then to represent the different time zones of the blogger world there is the sleeping guest who is also an allusion to a particular person who is a member of my food and wine club, who has been known to fall asleep at the table on more than one occasion! Because I also talk about autism from time to time, one of my daughters is seated at the table doing one of the things that she loves and holding her favourite doll, spot on Tanna.
Where I grew up, my best mates brother was gay as is my own brother, so to say that everyone is welcome at my table no matter who you are or what you believe, I asked Ximena to draw two gays, not explicitly but ambiguously and she achieved that effect perfectly.
As you all know, I tend to write about whatever catches my fancy, even if it's a bit quirky or non foodie, to that end I wanted an animal of some sort and gave four suggestions from which Ximena chose the duck, which made me very happy as a Melbourne boy who has grown up reading our famous cartoonist Luenig, whose depiction of a certain duck has reached iconic status.
So that was all the ideas I had for my dinner party, it was then just a case of deciding how big to make it and the header of Belly Timber seemed to be the perfect size, I hope Mrs D doesn't mind that I borrowed her dimensions!
And that was pretty much it. Ximena then sent a draft and a few different colour schemes to chose from. It was all pretty easy with only some minor changes along the way. If you would like to see the creative process from the other side, go here.
After the header was drawn I got in contact with Susie of Bluebird Blogs who put the whole package together in a stylish way fully in keeping with the header. It was her idea to morph the table into the page of the blog, very clever. I think Susie is quite proud of how it all turned out as she featured the blog on her own site.
So a great big thank-you to Ximena and Susie, a fantastic job, well done.
Thanks must go to Ximena from Lobstersquad who took my ideas and made sense from them. Isn't the header so beautiful? Also thanks to Susie from Bluebird Blogs who put the whole damn thing together in such a great way and patiently explained some computer stuff that I still have no idea about! Like block quotes.
As to the name change I felt it was necessary as food for thought is a popular name for blogs, I know of three others, plus it seemed to be a heading in a lot of side bars. I'm kind of sad to be retiring the name as at the beginning I felt it suited the way my blog was written.
In the header there are a few personal references which I will explain in a future post as I think Lobstersquad would like to post something about the whole process, maybe we will do a linked posting.
Anyway enjoy for now, change your link name if you've a mind to, though the address hasn't changed. Normal transmissions will resume shortly!
So what do you think?
It's the dreaded lumps.
Last night I made gravy from the pan juices from a piece of roasted pork shoulder and I really nailed it, a smooth gravy with plenty of flavour and just the right consistency, not too thick but quite runny. However the time before it was out with the tea strainer and those pesky lumps were pushed right through.
Making gravy is one thing that can't be rushed. The faster you try to add the water, the more likely it is that lumps will form. For what it's worth here is how I go about it.
The first thing is to make sure the roasting pan has sufficient caramelised deposits from the roast. If you are low heat roasting a lesser cut of meat in order to tenderise and keep it juicy, chances are you can forget about gravy. But when you roast from about 170 c (340 f) upwards, lovely dark meat deposits will form and these are the basis of the gravy. Remember we are only adding water, so all the flavour comes from these deposits.
If the roasting tin has sufficient caramelised deposits, what I do next is to tip out all the juice into a container, which is a mixture of fat and meat juice. Then I take a couple of spoons of the fat that is floating on top of the saved juices and place that back in the roasting pan and add a heaped tablespoon of flour, turn on the heat and work the fat and flour into a paste with the back of a wooden spoon and let it cook slowly for a few minutes.
When this roux starts to smell nutty and is well coloured, it's time to add the water. For this I boil a kettle and very slowly pour boiling water whilst stirring all the time, adding more water as it incorporates until a very thin gravy has formed. You do need to add extra water as the area of the roasting pan means that evaporation is high. Season with salt and pepper and leave it to simmer for ten minutes.
At this point spoon off the rest of the fat from the saved roasting juices and discard, then pour the meat juices back into the gravy along with any meat juices from the resting roast. You may need to reboil to incorporate the new additions, then leave to simmer. Check the consistency, it should be on the thin side and serve in a sauce boat.
Of course if you are sometimes like me and get it wrong, strain through a fine strainer, pushing any lumps through and scrape the bottom of the strainer for this thick liquid, put back into the gravy and reboil. All will be well.
At a time when I still had plenty of hair, some twenty-five years ago, I used to visit an Italian hairdresser who looked after it. She was about the same age as me and did some pretty wild things with her hair, all sorts of different cuts and amazing colours, until the day she finally ran out of hair to mess about with.
My hairdresser came from the family farm at KooWee Rup on the top of Western Port, which is on the edge of what was formerly known as the Great Swamp that stretched out through Gippsland until the late 1800’s, when an Italian engineer, Carlo Catani, was employed to dig drainage channels which transformed the area into prime farmland.
Koo Wee Rup originally gained fame as a potato growing district and a potato festival is held in March every year to celebrate the relationship between the town and this mainstay vegetable, but since the 1930’s Koo Wee Rup’s main claim to fame is that it is the centre of Victoria’s and Australia’s asparagus growing industry, that thrive in the rich soils of this former swampland.
My hairdresser may have been a wild at heart, but she came from good Italian stock and we always talked about food and during the asparagus season she would tell me how to prepare asparagus and all the ways she and her family ate this wonderful shoot.
Asparagus is a member of the lily family and as such is related to onions, garlic, leeks and turnips. The part we eat is the young shoot that is sent up from the crown (bulb) each year in early spring, which, when eventually left alone, will form feathery fronds, properly known as phylloclades, that is, delicate branches without leaves.
At the time we were talking about asparagus, the usual method of preparation was to peel back a bit of the tough outer skin from the base and boil it. To this end there were special asparagus pots, tall and narrow in diameter to accommodate it. What my hairdresser told me was that her family simply grabbed a stem at both ends and simply bent it until it snapped. What you were left with was two halves, one to be discarded and the other perfectly tender its whole length. They then liked to fry the stems in butter or olive oil, which at the time was a revelation as it concentrated the flavour, not leaching it out into cooking water.
Nowadays, all television chefs will show you how to bend and snap asparagus, but think about it for a moment. Why would asparagus snap at exactly the point where tender meets tough? If you pick up the stalk to be discarded and eat a little of it from where the break is, you will discover that it’s not so tough, especially if it breaks about half way. The really tough part of the stem occurs near where the stem changes colour from green to white.
Imagine for a minute that you work on an asparagus farm. All day long you have had a bent back as you harvested the vegetable and the last thing you want to do is muck around peeling it. After all, you do have tons of the stuff, so a little bit wasted is of no concern.
If on the other hand you are buying asparagus, you want to get all the value possible from it and really these days with water issues and such like, who wants to waste anything? You might like to try this. Lay all the stalks on your chopping board and with a sharp knife cut through the stalks into the green part just above the white. Then get a trusty vegetable peeler and peel back the skin for 5 cm from where you cut. What you might find is that suddenly a little bit of asparagus goes a whole lot further.
Our favourite way to cook asparagus is simple and delicious. Take the prepared stems and coat them with olive oil and a little salt. Heat a ridged grill pan till smoking hot, place the asparagus on it and turn when the grill marks appear and darken. Repeat on the other side and serve.
So imagine my surprise when noodling around in Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking in which she gives a recipe for Tomato Sauce with Garlic and Basil, with the exact same ingredients for marinara sauce as given by Lidia.
In her introduction Marcella says that this sauce is called alla carrettiera by Romans, after the drivers of mule-driven or hand pulled carts that brought produce from the surrounding hills of the Apennines down into Rome, who fashioned their pasta sauces from cheap and abundant ingredients.
So now we have one sauce with at least two different names and there might even be a few other names as well. Why this is fascinating to me is that the name used for this one sauce would be a fair indicator of where you are from in Italy. It would be not to hard a stretch to say that Marcella is most probably from in or around Rome and Lidia's family probably hails from around Naples.
I wonder if the geneologists are onto that one.
I'd like to say thanks to everyone who responded to my last post - it meant a lot to me. Just to let you all know, I did call the people concerned.
We think of ourselves as lucky with M for she can function reasonably well for the most part and in autism lingo is considered high functioning. Other kids haven't fared so well and are thought of as low functioning with significant speech problems and particular problems with processing verbal information leaving them seemingly unable to comprehend even the simplest of instructions.
These kids can be a lot of work and terribly frustrating to deal with. In any marriage where a crack appears, autism can quickly become a wedge that drives into that crack creating a chasm. Now I know that separation and divorce is a modern reality, but I've always thought it unfair that one partner, usually the man, can just walk away from a difficult situation leaving only one to cope in a situation that it is hard enough for two people to deal with. But as hard as separation is on everyone concerned, there is something worse. I've just heard that the wife of one of my fellow school councilors has been very sick with breast cancer.
K was the first parent I ever spoke to at the school when she approached me after I had had a difficult time trying to get M to wear a jumper one cold morning. Some people with autism don't like the feel of certain types of material against their skin and will refuse to wear a garment made from it. As I struggled to get M to wear her jumper, a teacher made a comment to me about how cold it was, at which point K came over and quietly explained that not everyone understood autism and its practicalities. She then invited us over for an afternoon tea and a chat, which was one of the most illuminating discussions my wife and I had ever had.
Her husband P as well as being on the school council also has a position with Autism Victoria. He is hardworking and has a wonderful sense of humour, but at this moment I am fearful for the both of them. The worst thing for me though is neither K or P has told me about it and as much as I want to reach out to them, I feel I can't say anything yet. I am crying as I type this, fearful of the consequences for their family, but powerless to do anything.
I wonder how much autism has contributed to K's cancer, perhaps through depressing her immune system because of the strains of looking after her son. I know that autism visited depression on our family and no-one can say what the long term cost to our health will be. I know gentle reader that this is probably distressing to read, but I hope you don't mind me sharing with you, for I need to let my vicarious pain out. It's not that I'm railing against the journey we've embarked upon, it's just that the journey can get a little difficult at times.
Now I've always thought of marinara sauce as a seafood combination sauce, but the version Lidia made was simply tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, chile and basil. As is her way, she went on to use the sauce as a basis for three different recipes.
I looked up marinara sauce to see what was going on and Wikipedia tells me that the name comes from alla marinara, Italian for sailor style and its use is confined to the United States, whereas in Italy, marinara sauce does in fact refer to a seafood sauce, with or without tomato. However The Italian Chef says this sauce comes from Naples and was made for sailors returning from the sea. Since just about all the recipes I checked were for a tomato based sauce sans seafood and because the root of the word is Italian, I'm thinking that marinara sauce with seafood is a recent interloper and probably another adaption of this much loved sauce that doesn't seem to complain about whatever ingredients are used, though the simple version that Lidia made stuck in my mind as one worth trying.
I actually made the sauce from memory the other day for the first time, though I didn't use any basil because I didn't see her use it and there was no chile in mine, so that our daughter could eat it. The thing that most stuck in my mind about Lidia's version was the enormous amount of garlic she used and that there was no onion whatsoever. So mine was essentially tomato, garlic and olive oil plus a little seasoning.
If you would like to see Lidia's marinara sauce, try here. Certainly, the next time I make it, I will follow her recipe, especially the part where she thins the sauce down so that the pasta can finish cooking in the sauce, thus absorbing more flavour. What I found with this sauce was that it was incredibly easy to make, taking no more time to cook than the pasta, and it had plenty of flavour.
1 400 g (14 oz) tin diced tomatoes
4 or 5 fat cloves garlic, finely sliced
3 tablespoons olive oil
pinch chile flakes (optional)
salt & fresh ground pepper
Warm the oil in a pot and sweat the garlic until it just colours, add the tomatoes, chile flakes if using and season. Simmer for ten minutes and pour over the pasta.
There are several species of the little beasts, I know that because I read it on the pantry moth trap we just bought. Our species is a small, tan coloured moth with a couple of ivory bars on each wing. The trap is simplicity itself. It is a piece of cardboard that has sticky glue spread on one side to which you attach a scent lure of moth pheromones, then fold up the trap into a triangle tunnel. The moths then fly in, lured by the scent of sex, then become stuck fast to the glue.
The trap works like a charm too. When I checked it yesterday, there were seventeen moth carcasses....but something was puzzling me for I have seen at least three moths nowhere near the pantry since installing the trap.
Might there be gay moths?
I have so much to tell you all.
First up I went shopping at Prahran Market for some goodies for our stay. Found some nice cow's, goat's and sheep's milk cheeses and was looking for anything else that looked interesting. I was lurking outside Cleo's, sort of poking my head in to have a look, when one of the assistants, probably the owner, spotted me and ushered me in by giving me a taste of a falafel, then handed me a container of Turkish delight absolutely free, followed by more tastings. There was some gorgeous looking smoked salmon in the window, so I got to try a piece of that and the taste matched the looks. It was lightly smoked and full of flavour with a lovely moist texture. The assistant explained to me that they had recently changed from The Springs smoked salmon to the Black Rock brand and I would have to say it was some of the best smoked salmon I have ever tried.
I bought a few more things like cornichons and marinated black Kalamata olives that later on got me to thinking about how people perceive food. Just because I was there, I went to The Cheese Shop to pick up some Ortiz anchovies that Reb has been raving about and Ed pointed me at after a long and fruitless search, but my journey is still continuing as they had run out of stock.
After the shopping, we packed the car and headed off so that we could have have a lunchtime barbecue at the cottages. There are two central barbecues that lead to a large deck area that overlooks a golf course and the Avoca River, which because of the continuing drought is little more than a series of connected pools. The deck is shaded by some magnificent Red Gums and is the perfect spot to have a meal or just sit and catch up with a glass or two of the fabulous local wine.
Our friends were well into a liver cleansing diet or detox and weren't eating any red meat, animal fats or products, sugar, oils, wheat or alcohol. Knowing this I made my Mexican Rice Salad, though I didn't know that olive oil was on the banned list. V asked if it was dressed with oil and when she found out it was refused to eat it, but her husband S didn't share her qualms and chowed down. Why I found this part of the diet strange was a little later on V quite happily ate the marinated olives I brought along and the last time I looked, olives are the source of olive oil. Hmmm.
Later on that afternoon we all headed up to Moonambel for the fireworks festival that they hold every year. It is a very child friendly event with all sorts of activities for the little ones and culminates in a fireworks display and a huge bonfire. There were bands, roving performance artists that surprised more than a few visitors. The Second Hand Circus was there as well as pony rides and a jumping castle. Local wines could be purchased and naturally the wineries sponsored the petanque competition which seemed to be the source of much hilarity amongst the competitors.
I never would have expected Avoca to be the first place where I would try Krispy Kreme doughnuts, but my son N brought along two boxes of them. I can now see why people would like them for they are very sweet and moist, the kind of moisture that comes from fat. They were cloying for me and even given all the different flavours, there is a sameness about them. I think I will stick to Polish doughnuts instead.
The next morning saw us back at the barbecue for a fry up. Lest you are expressing concerns about our eating, we barbecued a large variety of vegetables as well as the more traditional bacon, egg and sausages. After breakfast we went to a winery, Blue Pyrenees, for S wanted to get some wines for Christmas as they are having guests from overseas, then we all headed for Maldon, another country town to give the kids a steam train ride to Castlemaine. Maldon is one of the many Central Victorian towns that sprang into existence from the discovery of gold. This quaint town for the most part has been untouched since the 19th century and has a wonderful charm to it. We ran smack bang into their Folk Festival which brought the streets to life with people and entertainers.
We didn't have any time to explore as a wrong turn meant we were almost too late for the train, but we got there just in time; we piled on the wives and kids and the menfolk drove to Castlemaine to meet them. We decided to have a picnic lunch there, so after some very happy kids disembarked the train we made our way to the lovely Botanical Gardens, which had a central lake surrounded by lots of lovely shady trees and spent a very pleasant two hours watching the kids play and chatting amongst ourselves. Our friends then left to go back home and we returned to Avoca.
My wife wanted to return to Maldon so we could explore, so the next morning we headed in that direction. We checked out the old Beehive goldmine workings then headed for the information office to see what was on offer. My daughter M fell in love with the record attempt on the world longest scarf, making off with one of the segments. On putting it back I asked how the attempt was going and was told they had knitted 3.5 kms (2 mls). When I asked how far they had to go, the woman replied they had to get to fifty kms (31 mls)!
My seventeen year old son was getting decidedly grumpy by this stage as he wanted to go home, but we kept at our tour. There was a wonderful chocolate shop with handmade chocolates and when I told the owner about my son's demeanour he just smiled and said he must be a teenager, bang on. A little later on as we were walking down the main street, our daughter was introducing herself to everyone on the main street. Some responded warmly, others ignored her with strange looks, then M came to a table of people outside a cafe. She walked straight up to a woman with dyed bright red hair and said "hello", looked at her hair, then said "nice hair!". We all had a good laugh at that including the woman.
Driving through the countryside, the effects of the drought were evident everywhere. Fields planted out to canola were stunted, paddocks carrying stock were bare with the animals looking hungry. Dams were all low, creeks and rivers weren't flowing and everything was brown, a bad sign so late into spring when good rains should have fallen.
We then left Maldon determined to come back and traveled back through Castlemaine and several other notable gold towns. As I was driving, there was a sign which I'm pretty sure said that this spot was the site of the richest alluvial gold field in the world. It sort of made me wonder why there hasn't been any modern attempts at looking for and mining gold in these old towns. Surely the old miners couldn't have got it all. In Bendigo, which is not too far away, a new mine was established and they are now getting very good gold with the discovery of a rich new seam.
Back in Melbourne we put our feet up, looked through the tourist brochures from Maldon and plotted our next holiday. We reflected on the three days we'd been away.
It had been great.
I was pondering last night what to do with it for dinner. Maybe a fish salad or what about frying some onions and pine nuts, adding some rice and stock, and when that's cooked gently stir in the warmed fish? They were all good ideas, but when searching the fridge, I noticed a small container with leftover chipotle chillies in adobo sauce. Hmmm, what about Mexican? I've never actually had a fish taco, but I have heard of them. No recipe, no problem, I can fake it as good as anyone else.
But then a couple of thoughts hit me, the only photos of fish tacos I'd seen had the fish fried in batter and it was too late for that and perhaps in a taco, the delicacy of the fish would be overwhelmed. Okay, I can work around that, what about enchiladas? If I could come up with a good filling based on the fish and used a mild chile sauce, that could work. Now, a fully authentic chile sauce is unsurprisingly based on dried chillies and little else, but in my case an adaption was called for. To soften the smoky earthiness of dried chillies a companion in the form of tomatoes, a heresy in some parts, would soften and sweeten the sauce.
Usually in a proper chile sauce, I would use a combination of the Mexican workhorse chillies, Guajillos and Anchos with maybe some New Mexican thrown in, to give the sauce some complexity, but by using chipotle chillies in adobo with tomatoes and some judicious spicing, a surprisingly similar result was obtained.
This is what I did.
Chipotle Chile Tomato Sauce
1 400 g (14 oz) tin diced tomatoes
2 chipotle chillies in adobo or other dried chillies
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
salt & fresh ground pepper
Put the tomatoes in a pot big enough to hold a flat corn tortilla and bring to a simmer. If using chipotles in adobo, finely dice. If you are using other dried chillies first toast them in a dry frypan for a few seconds then break into pieces. Add some boiling water and let them soften for about twenty minutes, then finely dice. Add the chillies to the tomatoes with the cumin, coriander, salt and pepper. Simmer for ten minutes.
2 cups cooked flaked fish, picked over for bones
1 small avocado, skinned and diced
1 tomato, diced
6 stalks coriander, finely chopped
1 lime, juiced
salt & fresh ground pepper
6 corn tortillas
1 quantity chipotle chile tomato sauce
In a bowl put the flaked fish, diced avocado, diced tomato, chopped coriander, lime juice, salt and pepper and mix to combine. Heat some oil to just frying temperature, not too hot and place in a corn tortilla and cook for a few seconds, turn over for a few seconds more, drain, then immediately place in the chipotle chile and tomato sauce and then turn over, dip again to coat both sides* then place flat on a worksurface. Place a handful of fish filling on the tortilla and roll up. In a baking tray that will hold the six enchiladas, spread the bottom with some chipotle chile and tomato sauce. Onto this place the enchiladas as you roll them up. when they are all done pour the rest of the sauce over the top and spread it out. Bake in a 220 c (430 f) oven for ten or fifteen minutes to warm the fish through, but not cook it. Serves two.
*Some cookbooks would have you put the tortilla in the sauce first then fry it in the hot oil. If you do this you may be in for a nasty surprise!
If you're not the squeamish type, go on and check it out. The post is well written and has wonderful photos. And George, could you do me a favour and post a little more often?
A quote from Fergus: "If you are going to kill an animal, it seems only polite to use the whole thing"!
A quick search soon revealed an ugly, knobbly, brown root known as celeriac. Upon seeing it I knew instantly what I wanted, celeriac remoulade, that French bistro classic. With its mild taste of celery it was the perfect partner to the white pudding.
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons capers
salt & fresh ground black pepper
To peel the celeriac, place it on a chopping board and slice off the ends. Stand it on one of the ends and with a sharp knife cut away the brown skin. Grate the celeriac into shreds and place in a bowl. The mayonnaise needs to be the consistency of single cream, if it's too thick, whisk in a little water and add to the celeriac along with the parsley and capers. Mix and season to taste.
With the Melbourne Cup long weekend coming up here, there will be no changes until at least the middle of next week.
As with all famous people, Stephanie has her quirks and foibles, most notably the need to put her name to everything. Her name has been attached to everything from humble ingredients through to classic recipes, virtually renaming them in the process. I seem to recall at the height of the controversy over Melbourne chef Robin Wickens, when opinions were called for, Stephanie recounted a tale of when she saw another chef with a menu item of jellied consomme like the jellied rockpool that she felt was her creation and asked that he give her credit for it, which he apparently did. I wonder if she ever asked the Roux brothers for some credit in their version?
Why it's interesting at the moment is that Stephanie has published an article about a former chef, Janni Kyritsis, who has written a book called Wild Weed Pie. In the article she gives credit to Janni as a co-creator of the jellied rockpool dish. I suppose it's fair enough to claim a recipe for yourself if it was thought up in your own restaurant with the input of your employees, but is it fair to dispute in a major newspaper something that he claimed, namely that he hadn't worked with pig's ears prior to Bennelong, which was of absolutely no importance and then turn around and suggest that a dish he gives a recipe for had its beginnings in your restaurant, even though you say it was inspired by Elizabeth David? If Jannis included a recipe for salted duck roll, it was probably because he felt he created it.
If your concerns about these matters were so great, you should have taken up these quibbles privately with him.
It was very generous of Stephanie to write an article that was for the most part full of praise for her former chef and made his book sound like it would be a worthy addition to my bookshelf. But by her own account, Jannis helped Stephanie to where she is today, the article she wrote should have been all about him, not nitpicking so as to cast herself in a better light as a matriarch of the Australian scene - that's an honour she all ready has.
Edited to add: I was talking with my wife about this last night, when it occurred to me that Stephanie's rockpool dish has antecedents, namely the classic English dish of jellied eels. When I mentioned this my wife pointed out that in Europe, fish in jelly is a classic of many European countries. I don't doubt that Stephanie and Janni thought up their rockpool dish independently, but with Stephanie having lived and holidayed in Europe, is it possible that she unconsciously absorbed the seafood in jelly concept? It would be easy to imagine a food historian simply noting her rockpool dish, which is essentially seafood in jelly, as an adaption of these classics.