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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Friday, February 22, 2008
Perfection
Her husband padded into the kitchen one lazy Sunday morning, just as she was preparing breakfast. He watched her slip something into a pan of barely trembling water and as she did so, turned to him.

"Darling, I want you to make mad passionate love to me right now, here in the kitchen. Pleasure me in all the ways you know, I need you NOW!"

"But what about your cooking?"

"Don't worry, that will be fine."

Not needing to be asked twice, he took her in a passionate embrace and set about fulfilling her desires. It seemed as though they were locked together for an eternity of lust and passion as he lovingly tended to her, until finally, breathless and fully spent, he slowly disengaged from her body.

"Honey, that was fantastic, what a wonderful way to start the day. Thank you for being my wife."

"And thank you for your helping."

"What do you mean, thank you for my help?"

"I'm cooking soft boiled eggs, but my egg timer is broken. They should be just perfect now!"
 
  posted at 7:35 am
  9 comments



Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Acquum with Stephen Downes
It was a bit like playing James Bond.

My mission was to find out certain information about an establishment which the Herald Sun food critic, Stephen Downes, wanted to visit. It was information about a change in chefs and ownership of a wine bar that he sought and the answer was enough to put the kybosh on that particular place for the moment.

Stephen then asked me to check up on Acquum and satisfied with the information gathered, asked me to book under my name, explaining that booking under his name wasn't viable. Well, he has been famously kicked out of restaurants before, and there is no point in giving the game up prior to a visit and receiving a manufactured meal and experience which may not be indicative of what to really expect.

Nor did I know what to expect from my Menu For Hope prize, a meal with Stephen, as he critiqued a restaurant, organized by Ed from Tomato.

I arrived at the designated time, to find, unsurprisingly, Stephen already there, lurking in a corner under a stairwell. He explained we had been offered a window table, but opted for as much anonymity as possible. I didn't get to see much of the restaurant as my seat, understandably, was facing the wall.

We ordered some wine by the glass and discussed the menu in detail, there were a couple of the entrees that he wanted to sample, but after that I was free to order as I liked. It seemed that he wanted a representative sample of the offerings, rather than anything outlandish or overworked.

I'm going to leave the food side of things to Stephen in his review that has now appeared, except for a dessert; suffice it to say that we were in accord with everything tried, sharing our entire meal. I was basking in my element as we dissected each dish, debated the different flavours and discussed what techniques had been employed.

Near the end, the very charming waitress told us of the dessert specials, one of which was an orange, lime and mango jelly, or gelatina as it was described. She was enthusiastic about it, not in the kind of way whereby a particular dish is pushed because there is plenty of it, or it's going to be thrown out if not sold. It sounded worth a look, but Stephen begged off, explaining a bad experience with jelly as a kid, something about the texture that made him gag and he had never gotten over it.

When it arrived I plunged my spoon in and was immediately rewarded with the flavours of one of the best desserts I've had recently, the flavours worked off each other superbly. The texture was soft and yielding, with just the right wobble and the balance between sweetness and acidity was perfectly executed. It was by far the best dish of the night. I looked straight at Stephen, pushed my plate across and told him he had to try some, despite his misgivings. A glimmer of a pained expression swept quickly across his face, but he gamely tried some and was impressed enough to feature that dessert in his review, it was that good.

The night was over all too soon. It had been fascinating to watch a food professional at work and if you ever get the chance to share a meal with Stephen, I suggest you grab the opportunity with both hands; he is very generous with his knowledge and also a fabulous dinner companion to boot. It was a great night out.
 
  posted at 3:52 pm
  7 comments



Monday, February 18, 2008
Redback Chile Festival


On a still and baking hot day, we ventured to the rolling hills of Jindivick, out Gippsland way for the 9th annual Hot Sauce & Fiery Foods Festival, according to Haggis the organizer, the largest festival of its type in Australia.





There were plenty of stalls catering to those who have a passion for hot sauce and all other related products, from the meek and mild to incendiary hot.




There were plenty of buyers cramming to stock up on products that can otherwise be hard to get.




Last time I was at the festival, a mate asked me to get him the hottest sauce I could find; it was here at this stall that I found it. My tongue went intially cold, my mouth numb, sweat started to trickle down, then everything just exploded with chile heat. He asked me again this year, but I said there was NO WAY I was tasting sauces for him with names like death or mega.




This stall had my favourite hot sauces from the Byron Bay Chilli Company. They had red and green sauces as well as an interesting coconut hot sauce. Their bean dip and corn chips are the best you will ever find.




Looks like someone got lost! But I can report, the asparagus was lovely and a bit of a reprieve after all the other tasting.




The crowd gathers for the chile eating contest.




Contestants at the ready with habenero chillies in hand, note the guy on the left with the green cap.




"Oh my God, what the hell was that?!!!" Needless to say, his first chile was his last.




The eventual winner, a laid back, laconic Aussie. He was actually trailing all day behind another, who was fairly racing through his chillies, but slow and steady wins the race.




So who you gunna call to put out all that heat?




A couple of happy faces in the chilli cook off competition.




Don't say you weren't warned!
 
  posted at 11:18 am
  5 comments



Friday, February 15, 2008
The Nigella Effect
I had no idea, really, of the Nigella effect.

After writing the previous post on goose fat, in a quiet moment, I googled for information and discovered an article in The Guardian, which talked about how sales of goose fat in the UK went through the roof, after Nigella championed it as an essential Christmas ingredient, especially for roast potatoes. She caused the sales of it in some cases to double, as people were eager to follow in her footsteps.

Dubbed the Nigella effect.

But that is not the only effect she has. A few weeks ago, I read a review of her show, Nigella Feasts (ABC 6.30pm Wednedays) written by one of my favourite writers, Marieke Hardy. It was difficult to tell if she wrote the piece with her tongue firmly in her cheek or whether it lolled indelicately out one side of her mouth whilst panting heavily. You be the judge.

The unadulterated in-your-face smorgasboard of sexuality - for let us not pretend for a moment Nigella Feasts is anything but - is on display from the opening credits. A pair of lusty red animated lips opens up and makes good work of a glistening cherry. A curvaceous lemon is lustily sliced in two. A line of asparagus spears stand firm and erect, presumably awaiting a thorough blanching.
There's absolutely no escaping the orgiastic celebration of pulsating lust. Even in moments of idle chitchat Nigella sounds as though she's moments away from opening the door to a team of rowdy sailors looking for rumpo and giving them a full oil and lube. "I find it really...hard..." she breathes, gazing longingly into the lens, before throwing in as an almost whispered verbal postscript, "...to zest citrus fruit". "OOOOH, JUICY JUICY!" she climaxes later still, when a wayward lime threatens to drench the camera crew with its pulpy innards.


Marieke was only warming to the task in hand and went on to intemperately detail the salacious effect Nigella had upon her person, admitting along the way that she can't cook and has no interest in learning, but she planned to watch Nigella until the day she dies. Then a rather naughty thought occured to me. With sales of goose fat doubling after Nigella mentioned it, no doubt in her most come hither manner, I wondered with that sort of talk, which had such an arousing effect upon one of our own, were all those Poms planning on just roasting potatoes? Really? Or perhaps these words were emanating from English kitchens or wherever else they find such matters most comfortable, "Come here my little goose..."

The alternate Nigella effect.
 
  posted at 8:13 am
  9 comments



Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Goose Fat



It's funny how one picks up little bits of information that get stored away in the mind, until one day it just pops out. I've heard more than once or twice that goose fat makes the best roast potatoes, in fact, animal fats, especially lard and dripping, seem to add an extra dimension to fried and roasted potatoes. Until a huge outcry, McDonalds used beef fat to cook their famous fries - because they tasted better. When we grew up, pretty much everything was fried or roasted in animal fat. Times changed.

These days we use fairly neutral oils for the job, for the sake of our health, though recently I've noticed some claims for health benefits from animal fats, one of them centred on Omega 3 levels. Not that I was thinking about any of this, when a jar of goose fat came home with me late last year. It was just curiousity.

The other day, I spied a beautiful piece of pork shoulder at Ormond Meat & Smallgoods. I always buy pork from either Asian or Continental butchers as they usually never sell male pork. We have bought pork from supermarkets, but that is a real lottery. They sell both sexes, but male pork just has a distinct taste to it, even though in production, male pigs are castrated very young, in attempt to overcome the strong musky flavour that their hormones would otherwise imbue the meat with. It works, to a certain extent, but male pork always seems to have just a slight whif or odour about it, which also extends to the tastebuds.

In an aside, Zepp, the proprieter, was talking to me about meat quality in general after I had asked about the size of his T-bone steaks, which he cuts from yearling beef. He said his customers preferred a smaller size AND the tenderness that youth bestowed upon the steak. He went on to say that this quest for younger and therefore tender meat had impacted upon the health of people's teeth. It would seem that chewing a slightly tougher steak from an older animal is actually good for your teeth, not to mention it has much better flavour. But ever since the virtual demise of the superior, but more wasteful, dry ageing of whole carcasses in favour of cryovac aging, the age of slaughtered cattle has fallen.

After our conversation, the pork shoulder was slipped into my shopping bag and the planning for a roast meal started. It was later at home that I remembered the goose fat and resolved to roast our potatoes in it. The jar had been sitting happily in the cupboard and at room temperature, the fat, whilst not melted, was reasonably liquid and poured readily. It reminded me somewhat of duck fat as it had a similar smell, not unpleasant, but slightly gamey. I melted the fat and popped in the par boiled spuds and left them to roast under the pork, giving them an occasional baste.

It was quite a dinner that night. The meat was succulent and juicy, the crackling had just the right crunch, the creamy sauce had fresh porcini from the freezer, giving a wonderful mushroom flavour and the potatoes, what can I tell you. In my life, I've had one or two roast potatoes, but these were simply the best I've ever had, all golden and crispy, with a slight edge from the goose fat. Why did I wait so long?
 
  posted at 8:31 am
  4 comments



Monday, February 11, 2008
Zucchini & Pumpkin Salad


A few weeks ago, my blogging friend Tanna, did a whole series of recipes that featured pumpkin and very good they looked to. The only trouble was, at the time, we were having a few days over 40c, more than 100f, and pumpkin was probably the last thing anyone here wanted. That's the trouble with blogging across hemispheres at the height of winter/summer, so I just bookmark the recipes that sound great, to try when the weather is more appropriate.

Those of you that know Tanna realize she is a great cook and comes up with wonderful recipes and variations thereof. So when one sounds just like the thing you would want to try, but the weather is against you, it's like exquisite torture. So I got to thinking, what can you do with a pumpkin when the weather is hot? The question rattled around my mind for a while until the moment I was reading an Anne Willan cookbook and turned the page to a zucchini and yellow squash salad.

Isn't a pumpkin just a big squash?

Well, yes it is. It would also look great matched with the white of the zucchini shreds. The recipe looked and sounded great just as it was, but a small variation was in order, out with the yellow squash and in with the pumpkin. But then there was a small matter of fear, two fears in fact. I've never seen pumpkin served raw, was it safe? A quick google didn't reveal any issues, so then it was on to face my primary fear, using a mandolin to produce the neat little matchsticks. The blade that makes the sticks is a weapon of terror, but the thing is, it does its work in seconds, producing shapes that would take an age with a knife. Everything went well though, all my fingers are still there.




Looks great and tasted lovely, a bright, fresh salad with just a hint of pumpkin flavour. Next time I might blitz some toasted pumpkin seeds into the recipe for a little texture. I think Kalyn might like this, so it can be my entry to Weekend Herb Blogging, this week hosted by Ulrike from Kuchenlatein.

Zucchini & Pumpkin Salad
(adapted fron Anne Willan)

2 medium zucchini, topped and tailed
same quantity pumpkin, skinned - I used butternut
2 shallots, finely chopped
1/2 bunch dill, finely chopped
juice of 1 lemon
4 tablespoons vegetable or other neutral oil
salt & fresh ground pepper

On a mandoline, shred the zucchini and pumpkin into short matchsticks, place them in a bowl. Add the shallots and dill, then make a dressing with the lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper and mix into the salad. You can serve it straight way, but it does benefit from sitting for an hour as the vegetables soften slightly.
 
  posted at 7:41 am
  9 comments



Tuesday, February 05, 2008
Carpetbagger Steak
Just prior to last Australia Day, I was pondering what I might cook in celebration. Something that could go on the barbie and had a uniquely Aussie tang. Prawns are always good, especially cooked in the shell, which lends a smoky, concentrated, seafood flavour. The ubiqitious lamb chops were another contender, but we eat them all the time and whilst tasty, they're not really all that special. But there is a dish, quite old, that stands up and salutes the Australian flag, a classic combination of surf 'n' turf, the carpetbagger steak.



It is a simple dish to prepare. In a thick piece of eye fillet steak, simply cut a pocket in the centre and stuff in as many seasoned oysters as you are able, two or three should suffice and if you wish to be careful, close the hole with a toothpick to retain the oysters inside, for as the meat cooks and seizes, there is a tendancy for the oysters to be squeezed out. Then it's just a matter of cooking to your preferred level of doneness.




That was the easy part, for when checking provenance of carpetbagger steak, there are in fact two peoples claiming the recipe, Australians and Americans. According to The Food Timeline, the first recipe for carpetbagger or carpet bag steak is attributed to Louis Diat in 1941, though Americans had been eating steaks topped with oysters since the 19th century. One problem for the American claim, is the term carpetbagger, means something else entirely, while in Australia it means only one thing, a steak stuffed with oysters. Tellingly, in an American publication, the Time-Life series, Foods Of The World, in the Pacific And Southeast Asian Cooking edition, carpetbagger steaks are attributed directly to Australia.




Though once very popular, in Australia at least, it seems to have all but disappeared. Indeed, I read one blog where it was said the dish doesn't work very well and it's hard not to agree; many recipes abound that add quite a few other things including wine, blue cheese and onions perhaps in attempt to better marry the protagonists. If I was to do it again, the oysters would be marinated with a few drops of Worcestershire sauce plus a little finely chopped parsley to tie the two ingredients together. Even looking at the photos, it seems as though the oysters are doing their level best to get out of the steak. Still, it was fun to do something that my parents probably ate a few times and it was great to cook something that speaks of my country.
 
  posted at 2:49 pm
  10 comments



Monday, February 04, 2008
Hot Sauce & Fiery Foods Festival


Attention all chilli heads and anyone who just likes a great weekend. The 9th Hot Sauce & Fiery Foods Festival is coming up in just under two weeks. Having been to a previous one, I can attest that the whole weekend is a hoot. They are still looking for entrants to the chilli cook off and also entrants for the Jindi Slam. Australian record attempts at Jalapeno and Habanero eating will also be held...if you dare! There are live bands and plenty of stalls. If you love hot sauce, this is the place to be; there will be a plethora of brands to choose from, along with gourmet foods and boutique beers.

You can check out all the details here.
 
  posted at 11:57 am
  5 comments



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