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

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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
Gosstronomy
Grab Your Fork
I Am Obsessed With Food
I Eat Therefore I Am
Iron Chef Shellie
Just Desserts
Kalyn's Kitchen
Kitchen Wench
Lobstersquad
Matt Bites
Melbourne Gastronome
My Kitchen in Half Cups
Nola Cuisine
Not Quite Nigella
Nourish Me
Seriously Good
Souvlaki For The Soul
Stone Soup
Sunnybrae
Syrup and Tang
Steve Don't Eat It!
That Jess Ho
The Elegant Sufficiency
The Perfect Pantry
The View From My Porch
Thyme for Cooking
Tomato
Tumeric & Saffron
tummy rumbles
What I Cooked Last Night
where's the beef
WhiteTrashBBQ
Vicious Ange

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Food for Thought
Autism Victoria
Autism Vox
forget me now
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St Kilda Today

Monday, April 30, 2007
The real reason is...
A mate of mine started dating a woman with a couple of kids. Everything was going great, they were talking on the phone all the time, texting each other, the L word was starting to get a workout, they seemed happy together. Until my friend asked if he could meet her kids, then everything went cold. He came to see me for some advice, partly because he needed someone to talk to and partly because I have a daughter with autism.

You see his new friend also has a child with autism.

Now I'm not saying this is the reason she went cold all of a sudden, after all meeting the children is a natural part of getting to know someone who has a family. It can be daunting, but if one of those kids has special needs, it can be terrifying for both. Many years ago I was in the same situation as my friend and I well recall the day when I met my girlfriend's son, who was visiting from the institution where he lived, as she was unable to cope with him at home. Her nervousness at introducing her son to me must have sent her stress levels off the scale for all sorts of reasons, number one being the possibility it could have been the end of the relationship.

I explained all this to my mate and counselled patience as this women may have been going through a few emotional hoops of her own. He was bewildered that something so good could abruptly end, but I wasn't really surprised; as parents of an autistic child, it's something we go through every day as we negotiate life - exactly who do we tell about our daughter and how much to say? Those that have followed this blog for a while know something of her, but it's only what I choose to show you, usually it is something nice or a bit funny, but there is also another side that I'd rather keep to myself, though astute readers would have glimpsed it.

It was easy for me to imagine what his new friend must be going through and was brought into sharp relief yesterday at a family day organized by the autistic school my daughter attends. We met at a central point in a large park and fanned out from there, following our kids, depending on their whims. A small group of us found ourselves over at the children's playground that was being rebuilt after recently being burnt down by someone who got their amusement by destroying someone elses, so much of it was fenced off.

Our daughter M was happily playing on a roundabout, when in talking to her we mentioned her name and a couple with three children who were standing nearby shyly introduced themselves as they knew of M. We weren't wearing anything to identify ourselves to each other as parents of autistic kids, something that will probably be rectified next time around. As we talked, I noticed a father closely following his son around, who was extremely restless and taking off in all directions, including the fenced off area and ignored his dad's pleas to come back. I thought to myself that he must be with our group. The son came over to where we standing and his dad stood next to me, so we started to talk. I didn't think he knew me and I wanted to let him know that we also had a child with autism, but how to do it in case I was wrong?

We talked about his son a little bit with me trying to find a key to open up the conversation when I grabbed the nettle and asked what school his son went to and could see that he was very reluctant to tell me, so I mentioned half of our school's name without mentioning the autistic part and the relief on his face was overwhelming and so we chatted for about half an hour. Can you imagine what it's like to be relieved that you can talk freely about your own child, or why you should be even feeling that relief in the first place?

That is one of the more difficult balancing acts of being a parent with an autistic child, we want to tell you all about it, but we also don't want to tell you a thing. We are very often scared how you will react, sometimes with good reason. Yet we know in our hearts that disseminating information about this condition and the effects it has is one of the best things we can do, as it leads to greater understanding all round. But what we don't want to do is tell you that our child, our flesh and blood, is behaving strangely or doing things that are considered inappropriate, especially age inappropriate. We want you to believe the best about our child because we are like all proud parents everywhere, that's what we do, it's innate.

Just so you know, my mate's new friend wrestled with her demons, whichever one's they were, and won.

This is also an entry to http://blobolobolob.blogspot.com/2007/04/blogging-against-disablism-day-will-be.html

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  posted at 1:57 pm
  8 comments



Be Quick!


When one intends to take a photo, one should move a little faster!

It wasn't much really, just an apple and rhubarb crumble, which I only made to finish up the rest of the rhubarb leftover from my first ever rhubarb crumble. There were three stalks to which I added four large apples, a bit of sugar and a spoon of flour, though I'm not completely enamoured with the idea of using flour in crumbles, it seems to make them a little stodgy, so my next one will be flourless, I think the sugar should be enough to thicken the juices just so.

Then it was on with the crumble topping, flour, butter and sugar, all whizzed in the food processor till combined and the whole lot baked in a moderate oven until brown and very, very tasty. Optional extra - whipped cream.

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  posted at 7:57 am
  6 comments



Friday, April 27, 2007
Mushroom Season!


I'd have to admit to the teeniest bit of jealousy when looking at Cook Sister's! photos of new season morels, why can't it be spring here? Well, the reality is that it's autumn and that means mushrooms too. The above photo is of a few saffron milk caps (Lactarius deliciosus) that were picked a couple of days ago near Buxton, after some recent rain, with more rain due today. So it looks like the mushroom season is about to fire up. Hooray!

After morels (Morchella spp.), saffron milk caps are the most desirable mushrooms that grow in Australia. They are in fact not native but came here attached to the roots of pine trees with which they have a symbiotic relationship. With all the pine trees growing everywhere, it's not at all hard to find them nestling in soft beds of fallen pine needles, or even the grass verging close by.

They are rather firm textured and without a pronounced mushroom flavour, even though they are a wild mushroom. These are keenly sought by mushroomers, especially those from Europe along with slippery jacks (Suillus luteus) which tend to come along before the saffron milk caps, but they can be found growing together.

There are a number of ways to cook them, with perhaps the best being to simply clean and flour them whole and fry in some hot oil. We also make a mixed mushroom ragu and other times, like last night, we sliced and fried them with onions, which we served with plain boiled potatoes and Polish style black pudding. What made the black pudding Polish style is the use of kasza (kasha), which refers to grains of all sorts, our pudding was stuffed with barley and buckwheat is also popular.

I don't advise that anyone should rush out and start picking wild mushrooms willy nilly, you really have to go with someone who knows about the target species, people have died from eating mushrooms they thought were safe. If you scan the food sections of newspapers you can often find mushroom trips being run by experts, these would be a great place to start.

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  posted at 7:58 am
  12 comments



Thursday, April 26, 2007
Melbourne's Best Bagel



This handcrafted beauty is the best bagel in Melbourne. Of course there are more famous bagels, the ones produced by Glicks are much better known, but they aren’t really a patch on the ones from Haymishe Bakery, just a few doors away. Not that you’d be able to tell, this unprepossessing shop doesn’t even have a single sign to let you in on that it’s a bakery, its windows are shaded by half open venetian blinds, but inside are baked breads and cakes of the highest order.

So what is it that separates this from the well known Glicks and all other bakeries on Carlisle Street, which after all, is the spiritual home of Melbourne’s bagels?

First of all, they are obviously hand shaped into knobbly, gnarly rounds, no two are the same in looks. Then there is the slight shattering of the crust as you bite into it, neither too hard or soft. As you chew, the crumb is halfway between the chewier, denser Glick bagel and a loaf of good sour dough bread. They are all finished off with a sprinkle of sesame seeds that are baked into the crust, adding a slight nuttiness that makes these just irresistible.

If you like a bagel, do yourself a favour and head on down to Carlisle Street and try these beauties. Just look for the shopfront without a sign.

Haymishe Bakery
320 Carlisle Street
Balaclava – Cnr Carlisle & Westbury Streets
Not open Saturdays

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  posted at 7:11 am
  3 comments



Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Creamy Apple Tart


One of my all time favourite cookbooks is Pierre Koffmann's Memories of Gascony. One of the reasons I love it is that it is so much more than a cookbook, it evokes the memories of Koffmann's youth and growing up, largely based around his grandparent's farm and especially his grandmother Camille from whom it seems he developed his love of good food and cooking. Camille was a custodian of all the French classics - poule au pot, bouilli, blanquette de veau along with croustade aux pommes caramelisees, crepes and flans of all description, things that are no longer cooked much at home anymore, if at all.

It's sad really, that in this time poor world we don't often get the chance to taste these classics, for in the old days, ingredients would be given enough time to show off their full flavours by using a few different steps that brought out their best. Nowadays it's just get something on the stove as quick as you can, very often pre-prepared food, so you can go off and do something else. Times have changed, we no longer have the luxury of what our ancestors certainly had plenty of and that is time.

There are still people dedicated to preserving and promoting the flavours of the past and following the seasons, they can be found in The Slow Food movement and even though I'm not a paid up member, I do feel a spiritual connection to them, especially whenever cooking an older recipe, you know, one that takes more than ten minutes. At this time of year, when the apple harvest is in full swing, there is one recipe I love to cook and have been cooking for more than fifteen years and that is a creamy apple tart. There are a few different steps to it, all requiring some kitchen skills as in pastry making and cooking caramel, but the result is the most sublime tart you could ever imagine. Whenever I serve this, I'm always asked for the recipe, every child knows that caramel (toffee) and apples go together so well and this tart is the grown up proof in the pudding.

Creamy Apple Tart
Adapted from Memories of Gascony

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. Roll out to fit a 25 cm (10") flan dish and prick the base with a fork all over. Line with foil, fill with pastry weights or beans and rest in the fridge for thirty minutes. Bake in a 200 c (400 f) preheated oven for ten minutes, remove the weights and foil and cook for another ten minutes.

Apple Filling

5 large golden delicious or Cox's orange pippin apples
50 g butter
100 g caster sugar
125 ml double cream
2 egg yolks
pinch cinnamon

Peel and core the apples and cut each into eight segments. Heat the butter and 75 g sugar in a large pot, add the apples and slowly cook until the apples are half done and remove them. Boil down the remaining juices until a caramel forms, then carefully add the cream and remaining sugar, be careful it will splatter. When combined and somewhat cooled whisk in the egg yolks and cinnamon. Arrange the apples neatly in the tart case and pour over the caramel. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes.


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  posted at 7:26 am
  7 comments



Monday, April 23, 2007
Tea or Coffee
We were watching a movie last night that finished on the early side of bedtime, so I switched over to see what else was on and found a movie with Mark Ruffalo. My wife likes him so I somewhat teasingly said,

"There's your other boyfriend."

"What do you mean, my other boyfriend, who's the other one?"

"You know, your cup of tea one."

"My cup of tea one, who do you mean?"

"Well, Mark Ruffalo would be your coffee boyfriend and Colin Firth would be a cup of tea."

Just to explain, that's a reference to the American love for coffee and the English love for a cup of tea, which would make me a coffee lover as two of my favourite actors are Ed Harris and Ashley Judd.

Are you a 'coffee' or 'tea' person, or do you favour some other 'beverage'? What's your favourite 'brand'?

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  posted at 1:17 pm
  9 comments



Saturday, April 21, 2007
Clotted Cream
Well, here it is, my first ever food photo and the way I see it, the only way for me is up.

Okay, this is my entry to Sam's event, Fish & Quips or English food is not a joke. Can you guess which part is the English food? Hard to say really, the photo is a bit fuzzy and you would really have to use your imagination, 'cause a series of disasters struck, making my original intention, shall we say...beyond my limits of endurance, even despite my willingness to cheat as much as possible!

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine I plotted
To give you cream so clotted...

Yep, that's it, clotted cream was to be my go and I suppose I could tell you that there is a nice fat scoop of it atop the apple tart, you'd never be able to tell, now would you. The truth of it is, I actually planned to make the real, live, genuine article from very hard to get unpasteurised milk, which I bought from a farmer's market just before Easter. But then with Easter and all the preparations for that, it got pushed back, then our holiday arrived and it got pushed back again. No worries, I thought as soon as I get back, but I think you can guess what happened next, just think unpasteurised, that's right, only sour milk greeted me on our return.

Well, you know how it is, once you start to scheme, you just get in deeper and deeper. Off to market, I thought, so on Friday - the deadline - I grabbed M after school and to Prahran Market we went, only M wasn't seeing the shopping caper the way I would have liked and felt that we should be just shopping for her, which led to a series of mini crises, that you might like to call tantrums and in between sadly shaken heads, no, we don't have any clotted cream, and M's anguished cries, I abandoned that plan and decided that some top quality double cream would just have to fill in for the clotted cream.

In hindsight, it might have been better to persevere at the market, for at the supermarket M unleashed a tantrum of such epic proportion that not one but two people came over to ask what was wrong, and though I can say my resolve to produce the goods never faltered, it had to be helped somewhat by a bottle of wine I bought purely for self medication.

Wonderful, thick, rich, clotted cream, a by product of those old days when farmers would sterilise their unpasteurised milk slowly on the stove top in order to improve its keeping properties and discovered a layer of cream with a crust on top that was really flavourful, with a hint of caramel. Well, we can't just serve up a scoop of cream, it really needs a dance partner and what could be better than a simple apple tart, okay, the recipe is French, but I did have a secret stash of Cox's Orange Pippins, that most English of apples. Now I know the French like to look down their noses at English food, but I'm sure I know at least one Frenchman who doesn't mind something English on top...


So here are my precious apples, so hard to get in Australia unless you know someone. I'm not going to give the complete recipe here for the tart, that can be another post (yes Reb, it's coming), this is the clotted cream's day after all, suffice to say I peeled the apples, slowly cooked them in some butter, sugar and spice until half cooked, removed them and boiled down the remaining juices until caramelized, mixed in some cream and egg yolks, arranged the apple segments in a blind baked tart case and poured over the caramel, then baked it in the oven till set. What you can't really see in the top photo is that beside that tart are some fresh hazelnuts (cracked them myself) drizzled with golden syrup. So you see, I was pretty much thinking English all the way.


Looks yummy, doesn't it? But what really makes it is the, ahem, clotted cream. If only I could have made that.

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  posted at 1:52 pm
  11 comments



Friday, April 20, 2007
Cork vs. Screw Cap
In very much of a coincidence, the day after reading this at The Elegant Sufficiency, the Picardy newsletter passed across my desk. For those who don't know Picardy, it is a winery in the Pemberton district of Western Australia, started by the Pannell family who also started the very well regarded Moss Wood vineyard at Margaret River. Moss Wood in fact is one of the vineyards that were responsible for putting this region on the wine map and Picardy wines are no slouches either, so when they write about a subject in their newsletter it's well worth listening to what they have to say.

What Stephanie was posting about in part was the issue of cork versus screw cap as the method of wine closure and that on this particular occasion was looking for a wine under screw cap as she didn't want to risk cork taint. I knew exactly what she was talking about and my feelings on the subject seem close to hers, I like wines under screw cap, so it was a bit of a shock to read this from such a well regarded winery.

A recent assessment of a very large number of wines in a UK wine show revealed that 2.2% of them are developing SLO (sulphur like odours) under screw caps. By contrast, due to improved cork selection and treatment, the level of TCA (cork taint) in wines under cork is running at about 1%. This percentage appears to be even lower at Picardy with around 0.3% of cork taint in the wines.
Our Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Shiraz wines are produced using reductive techniques involving long periods on yeast lees, and are prone to reduction (development of SLO) under screw caps. This problem can be avoided by treating the wine with copper-sulphate (copper fining), but this will remove many of the nuances and complexities which we look for in our wines.
We had always envisaged that when we made a Sauvignon Blanc at Picardy, it would be bottled under screw cap. Research by Dr Henty Sweigers et al at The Australian Wine Research Institute gave us cause to reconsider!
Copper fining is a necessary pre-requisite to bottling Sauvignon Blanc under screw cap. Unfortunately, this process also removes many of the compounds which are responsible for Sauvignon Blanc character in the wine.
We proved this to ourselves by experimenting with a number of bottles under screw cap from the 2006 trial batch of Sauvignon Blanc. The loss of varietal character from the wine can only described as devastating compared to the majority of the wine which is under cork.
Picardy Sauvignon Blanc (due in 2008) will certainly be bottled under cork as a result of this experience.


The newsletter went on to say that screw caps had had a positive influence on the quality of corks, forcing cork producers to find answers to the problem, and cork taint levels that were running at 3% had fallen in their experience to less than 1%. It was interesting that Stephanie had written that she was disappointed in the wine she had bought and given that she spent around thirty dollars, would have reasonably expected something decent, perhaps the wine had been copper fined and as a result was lesser for the experience. It looks like I'm in for a rethink on the whole screw cap versus cork debate.

In another coincidental matter, my friends, Prince Wine Store are offering a free tasting of wines from the Iberian Peninsula, with wines from Spain and Portugal. This is what Jancis Robinson has to say about Portuguese wines...

Portuguese table wines are a mystery – to most non-Portuguese anyway. This is a great shame as Portugal has many unique attributes as a wine producer, not least its dazzling range of indigenous grape varieties, many of them, such as Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Trincadeira and Castelão among many reds and Arinto, Bical and Fernão Pires among whites, with their own powerful and attractive identities. This is in stark contrast to Spain which has almost five times as much vineyard as Portugal and yet has drawn on a much narrower range of vine varieties.


I wonder if any of the Portuguese wines will be under screw cap?

When: Saturday, April 21 (12-2pm)
Where: Prince Wine Store, 177 Bank Street, South Melbourne
Cost: FREE

Edited to add: After I posted this I had a chat to one of the guys at Vintage Cellars about this subject and he added that some wines do better than others under screw cap. He particularly mentioned riesling as one wine that did well and chardonnay as one that didn't. Can anyone shed further light as to which wines work well under screw cap and those that don't?

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  posted at 10:43 am
  7 comments



Thursday, April 19, 2007
Now For My Next Trick...
Lest you think that I'm no longer writing now I've got a digital camera, fear not. The real reason I haven't been posting is it seems my brain is still up in the mountains. The first day back at the keyboard was dreadful, I could no longer type, not that my typing is great anyway, but I found myself retyping whole words and correcting dreadful spelling. When it came time to log on I couldn't understand why new Blogger wouldn't accept my old Blogger username, it worked just fine before. There were even emails that I tried to send starting with www. Thinking was painful.

Driving hundreds of kilometres every day to distant mountains and then climbing them has done me in, today is the first day I've felt like writing anything. Even reading other blogs has been like eating food with a cold...there was no flavour.

Maybe I need a holiday to get over my holiday!

There are planned posts, one of which has been inspired by a rather daring baker who is in the habit of turning recipes upside down and inside out, just the thing for me at the moment! There is also my entry to an event which due to forces outside my control has yet to eventuate and will now require some bending of the rules. I could be in for a caning.

It's funny, before the camera I would just cook or think about something and write about it. Now I'm somewhat paralysed by the thought of adding in photos, not helped by someone who in her latest post about chocolate mousse just idly whipped up some sugar threads and decorated chocolate shards to make a killer shot.

I'm sure I'll get the hang of it, but I have to say, life before the camera seemed so easy. S'pose I could go the other way like my friend Michael Blamey and just post photos without text. Just kidding...I think.
 
  posted at 8:07 am
  9 comments



Tuesday, April 17, 2007
More Happy Snaps (The Last)
Look out Harry, Lord Voldemort is hiding behind the rock!!!



Looking down Mt Buffalo from the base of The Horn, the highest point on the mountain at 1723 metres. The nearest slope is covered in burnt trees.



The Chalet which overlooks the gorge. When I first saw this I half expected Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey to jump out of the bushes.

View across the Australian Alps. It was a bit hazy, but the Alps stretched on forever.




On top of The Horn.

Part of the bleak, lunar like landscape on the plateau of Mt Buffalo. That's what 360 million years of erosion will do to you.

I suppose you'll be wanting a few food photos next, I'd better get cooking.



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  posted at 8:28 am
  9 comments



Monday, April 16, 2007
She'll Be Coming 'Round The Mountain
The Gorge, Mt Buffalo. One of Guide Alice's favourite places.



The aftermath of the bushfires from last year. Gum trees are well adapted with a variety of coping mechanisms. Mountain ash trees die but the fire helps germinate their seeds, other gums just sprout new growth from the trunk and yet other species sprout again from underground roots called lingotubers.


Bright from the air.


Mt Buffalo. If mountains can have X factor, this mountain has it in spades. It started forming over 500 million years ago and is now only one third its original height. The views from the top are breathtaking and is like no place you have ever seen.

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  posted at 2:01 pm
  4 comments



Thursday, April 05, 2007
Short Break
I'm off for a little holiday for about a week, so no posting till I'm back. Have a happy Easter everyone!
 
  posted at 2:11 pm
  6 comments



I'll Have The Australian Dish, Please.
Since I published a photo of a whole kangaroo being cooked on a campfire as aborigines have been doing for many thousands of years, the vexed question of Australian cuisine has been crossing my mind. When you see a kangaroo being cooked like that, there is no doubt about the provenance of the meal, it is pure outback Australia. But can anyone think of a dish that screams loudly and proudly, Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi?

More than a few would suggest lamb is a national dish, but really, what do we do with lamb that makes it particularly Australian? Roast it, barbeque it, grill it, you could be in any country in the world. Just because we eat a lot of it doesn't make it a national dish. Our bakers have tried to do us proud, lamingtons are identifiably Australian, some would also suggest pavlova, but our near neighbour New Zealand probably has a stronger claim to it. When you look at New Zealand cuisine they seemed to have embraced their native foodstuffs in a way we never have. Sure some of us have eaten witchetty grubs (have you?), but where would you go to buy them, not in a supermarket that's for sure.

Over there, the Kiwis are eating native ferns and making whitebait fritters, things that would almost have you doing a Haka if you were from Aotearoa (The Land of the Long White Cloud), but here in Australia we are almost in denial over native produce and have been ever since Europeans first set foot here. There is a rising tide of interest in some native foods, mainly herbs and spices, but these exotics are only sought by those wanting to try something different and in one major food specialist store that stocks them there is only one little cupboard with half a dozen items. But think of plentiful produce like kangaroo, emu and crocodile and how many of us can say that these are regular features on our tables? Dogs probably eat more kangaroo than humans and what about the markets for wild boar and buffalo. Even though they're not native, it seems we aren't all that keen on them and send the majority overseas.

But even if we haven't taken our native produce to heart, what really sticks out is that there doesn't seem to be a dish or series of dishes that is distinctly Australian, say in the way gumbo is American or more particularly Louisianan. Wherever you go and encounter food in Australia, what you find is a style. In Queensland for instance every other dish is Asian style and as you move down to the southern states you have Mediterranean styles encompassing Greek, Italian and Middle Eastern cuisines, followed by European styles including French and Spanish. Now even though a lot of the dishes being thought up are almost Australian in the sense that they are very often fused in some way to other ingredients and techniques that wouldn't be done in the country that inspired the dish, they really aren't Australian at all in that a person from another country would think, "Ah, I must be in Australia."

Cheong Liew is probably the foremost chef cooking Australian dishes in the country, but if you look closely, a lot of his food is clearly made using techniques from other lands. His signature dish, Four dancer's of the sea, is a combination of Malay, Japanese, Australian-Asian and Greek influences. As sophisticated as it is, does it make the dish Australian just because it was thought of and conceived here? To my mind it's the sort of dish that could have been thought up anywhere on the Pacific rim and would be just as much at home on the west coast of America as it is here.

Before a dish can be considered indigenous, it has to speak unequivocally of its country of birth, in a way that connects you to that place. Think of the Spanish tortilla and even though potatoes are not native to Spain, they have come up with a dish made primarily from them that in no way reminds one of any other country that loves potatoes, it is totally unique. In Australia, even though the larder is full to overflowing with just about every conceivable food stuff, including items that are found nowhere else, it should be possible to create a culinary icon, which sadly, has so far failed to materialise.

Sure we have our superstar chefs in the likes of Neil Perry, Kylie Kwong, Stephanie Alexander et al, but have they done anything uniquely Australian or have they just madly borrowed their influences from overseas, producing nothing that is heart and soul Australian? I wonder when Cherry Ripe wrote her book, Goodbye Culinary Cringe showing we were more relaxed and at ease with food, did she realize that it wasn't really Australian food that everyone was oohing and aahing over?

Why is it in a country that has as many good cooks and chefs as we do, there is no dinki-di dish? And no, I'm not talking meat pie.

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  posted at 12:14 pm
  7 comments



Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Easy Fish Soup
Being a bit of a fisherman means that I have access to a lot of very fresh fish. There is one particular fish that if you fish saltwater anywhere in Victoria, you will almost certainly encounter, and that is the ubiquitous flathead. This fish has started many a junior angler on the way to a life long hobby and has also saved many a fishing trip for not just novices and party boats, but for experienced anglers as well.

There are quite a few species of flathead and all but one of them, the rock flathead, bite freely. They also breed rapidly which means there is an almost inexhaustible supply though populations can fluctuate by as much as 200 % depending on environmental factors such as river discharge and natural climate variation and if you were to fish Port Phillip bay for example, you would have to be seriously doing something wrong, not to catch a few sand flathead at least. It is the one fish you can depend on.

The sand flathead is interesting because a specimen around the legal size may be just a few years old or twenty-three years old, which is thought to be the maximum age for this fish, and larger specimens inhabit shallower water than smaller fish, which tend to be in the deeper parts of the bay, so as you move towards the shore you will catch less fish but they should be larger. In other states, notably Queensland and New South Wales, dusky flathead can reach the enormous size of fifteen kilos, but the sand flathead is pretty much full grown at around 25 to 30 cm with the legal size being 25 cm, though some female fish do grow larger.

What this means is that an angler could finish up with a bag of very small legal sized fish and the problem is that with fish of this size there are very many fine, small bones that are virtually impossible to remove without wasting a fair proportion of flesh. You could pick out the bones after cooking whilst eating, but you do need to pay attention to what's in your mouth and be careful not to swallow any bones, which is a bit of a drag.

So what is the best thing to do with these small fish? Well, you need to think of another country where they have made a national dish out of small fish which were the by-product of the catch and were hard to sell. What the fishermen did was to take these small fish and turn them into a soup that is most famously known as bouillabaisse, which has become such a classic that there are restaurants specializing in it. Now in France they like to use a few different species of small fish, with some considered indispensable such as rascasse, red mullet, weaver fish, grondin and conger eel, and it is this combination that is said to give the soup its particular character. Some of that character may also derive from the French habit of cooking their small fish guts and all.

However if you didn't have access to all those different species of fish, but did have a bag full of small flathead, you could still make a reasonable facsimile of the soup and not have to worry about the tiny bones. This is not the sort of soup I would attempt to make with the larger, more expensive flathead that you see in the fishmongers, nor would I use fillets, bones mean extra flavour and body for the soup. You could in fact turn it into a proto bouillabaisse with the addition of a few fillets of fish and any other adornments you felt like, but bouillabaisse always starts from a base of soupe de poissons (fish soup) and there is simply no need to go any further than this for a satisfyingly good soup, more so if you caught the fish yourself. Nor do you need to deny yourself the rich, earthy flavour of this soup if you don't have any flatheads available, simply use any small, cheap, sweet fleshed fish that are to hand. For instance leather jackets, small garfish and silver whiting would be fine choices, or whatever fish are plentiful in your area.

The recipe I'm giving is not traditional fish soup, especially without saffron, but came from what I had in the pantry at a time when I had a few flathead to deal with, so is somewhat simpler to make and the addition of two minute noodles made sure that my daughter M would eat it. It's funny that, if I try to add a few vegetables to her noodle soup there is much carry on, but if I add noodles to a soup I'm making, it is eaten without complaint!

Easy Fish Soup

6 small flathead, heads on, scaled and gutted
150 ml olive oil
1 cup dry white wine
1 bouquet garni
water
6 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 800 g tin chopped tomatoes
few shredded basil leaves
1 packet two minute noodles, chicken flavour*
salt and fresh ground pepper

Cut the flathead into chunks, pat dry and gently fry in 100 ml olive oil. When nicely browned add the white wine and boil until reduced by half, scraping all the brown bits up, then add the bouquet garni and enough water to generously cover. Slowly simmer for an hour or so. In another pot add the remaining olive oil and gently sweat the garlic then add the tomatoes and basil, simmer for half an hour. When the fish is cooked, remove the bouquet garni and pour the contents of the pot, heads and all, into a blender and liquidize. Pour this mixture through a fine mesh sieve into the tomato and garlic, pushing hard on the solids. Add the two minute noodles, I used the seasoning packet as well, your choice, add more water and simmer until the noodles are cooked. Season with salt and pepper.

*If you wanted to be more traditional, omit the noodles and add some thinly sliced potatoes instead.

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  posted at 12:31 pm
  3 comments



Monday, April 02, 2007
Party Snacks
M turns seven later this week and as a consequence of the school holidays, we held her party yesterday. The birthday girl decided to hold a mermaid (in deference to her) and pirate (in deference to me) party at a lovely party centre in Malvern that is done up with a fairy theme throughout. We invited kids from both her autistic and mainstream schools and somewhat surprisingly it was the autistic kids that got straight into the spirit of things, but the mainstream kids eventually picked up the groove.

It was a fully catered party so there was no agonising over healthy versus junk food, the venue had already done that and junk won out convincingly. But having a bit of time on my hands, decided to make a few snacks for the parents. Nothing too tricky. The first one came together easily; stamped out a few rounds of dark rye bread, buttered them and placed a thin slice of cucumber on top, a small blob of sour cream, then a couple of shrimp and garnished with dill, all very easy and looked quite pretty. A little more difficult was the next, a disc of partly peeled zucchini with the centre hollowed out and filled with a spoon of ratatouille, garnished with shredded basil.

A punnet of cherry tomatoes were hollowed out and filled with a mixture of crumbled fetta, toasted pine nuts and finely chopped anchovies, bound with a little sour cream and a toothpick inserted for ease of grabbing. Lastly was a bowl of home made baba ganoush, served with corn chips.

I learned a very important lesson. If you want to sell an appetiser that is a little different, don't serve it alongside anything with a shrimp or prawn on it. It's like people are pre programmed to reach out for the seafood. All the little shrimp rounds went, hardly anyone touched the zucchini rounds, which I felt in all honesty had loads more flavour, but there you go.

Note to self: When making something a little challenging to eat, place a prawn on top.

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  posted at 12:27 pm
  7 comments



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