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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Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Menu For Hope VI - Last Call


The count down is on.

Menu For Hope VI is set to end on the 31st December, 2009.

No more chances to win any of the fabulous prizes on Tomatoes' list. Or any from the list of world prizes at Pims.

Just a quick recap of my prize. It's one prize of two seats to a dinner or lunch at my place. Several hours of the best food and wine you could imagine.

How good can that be?

Many of you that follow me know I forage. There are plenty of dried morels on hand for instance. Saw some at the Essential Ingredient...at $5 each one! Care to have a real taste of them without counting the cost?




If truffles were in season when you came, there'd be a dish or two of them, or perhaps you'd prefer to try freshly imported chanterelles or even fresh porcini from my freezer. The only person in the whole world who likes mushrooms more than me is Antonio Carluccio...maybe.

Want another reason to come?

In case you missed it, I'm also slightly wine geeky and love putting on interesting and exciting wines from anywhere in the world. If you were to order this lot in a restaurant, they would probably set you back around $800, these are ready to go from my cellar.





It's not really possible to put a value on such things, but if you were to get the same quality of ingredients and wines in a restaurant, I'd imagine you'd need to pay $400 to $500.

You, on the other hand, get a chance at all this just for the cost of a raffle ticket. Go to Firstgiving before it's too late, I'd love to have you over.
 
  posted at 9:56 am
  0 comments



Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Tah Chin - Rice with Chicken


I'm having an affair.

Didn't see it coming either.

A beautiful exotic stranger flirted with me and I've fallen, hard. Charms that were impossible to resist, of thoughtfully spiced dishes, layered with complexity and full of allure, ensured my heart beat has been tied to a new found rhythm of Persian sensuality.

Iranian food is not heavily spiced, rejecting the ferociousness of their Indian relatives' approach; one bite and gentle flavours intriguingly play out across the tongue, always inviting another mouthful.

Saffron is a spice that some don't quite get. Melbourne food critic, Stephen Downes, has called it a brute of a spice, others have compared it to the taste of rusty nails, like an old dowager smothered in Chanel #5, vainly attempting to recapture the youthful attention of her salad days, whose over indulgence only assaults the nostrils.

But when combined by a sensitive hand with turmeric, it becomes redolent of ancient bazaars supplied by merchants plying the silk route with their camels, speaking the history of a nation.





These two spices are perhaps the heart and soul of Iranian food and in combination with another staple, rice, form the very foundation of the native cuisine. It is what first drew me to its bosom, rice cooked using the chelo method, firstly briefly boiled until al dente, then mounded in a frypan and cooked until a tahdig (crust) forms. The idea of cooking the rice layered with other ingredients, polo style, saw me swoon completely.




Kind of like a geological formation, isn't it? Note the white rice at the bottom, then layers of rice coated with egg, yoghurt and saffron, divided by a gently spiced chicken layer.

Tah Chin - Rice with Chicken
(Adapted from the Persian Kitchen by Neda Afrashi)

600g basmati rice
salt
4 boneless, skinless chicken thigh fillets
oil
1 onion
1 large carrot
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 good pinches saffron
2 bay leaves
fresh ground pepper
2 eggs
1 heaped tablespoon yoghurt
50g butter
80ml boiling water

Wash the rice until the water runs clear, then leave to soak in a bowl of water with 2 tablespoons salt.

Brown the chicken thigh pieces in a little oil until brown, remove. Peel the onion and carrot, chop finely, then brown in the same pot. Return the chicken and add the turmeric, 1 good pinch of saffron, the bay leaves, salt and fresh ground pepper. Just cover with water, bring to the boil, then simmer for about 1 hour with the lid ajar, until the chicken just falls apart and the water has reduced to a thick sauce. When cool, break the chicken into bite sized pieces.

Grind the remaining saffron into a powder in a mortar and pestle and dissolve in about 40ml boiling water.

Whisk the eggs and yoghurt in a bowl until combined, then stir in the saffron water.

Drain the rice and cook in a large pot with plenty of boiling salted water until not quite cooked (al dente), drain. Mix half the rice with the egg, yoghurt and saffron. Heat some oil in a non stick pan and place in about half of this flavoured rice, then top with the chicken mixture, then the rest of the flavoured rice, then top this with the rest of the plain rice.

Traditionally, the lid of the pan is covered with a cloth on the inside to absorb the steam, but not having a lid to my pan, just covered it loosely with tin foil. Cook on the lowest heat possible until a nicely browned crust has formed, about 45 minutes.

Leave to rest for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a plate, cut into wedges and serve with plain yoghurt.
 
  posted at 7:28 pm
  6 comments



Thursday, December 24, 2009
Merry Christmas!


Doesn't seem like a year, does it?

It took a while to find the Christmas groove - it seems to take longer every year - but ever cheery Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall at River Cottage HQ got me going with his Christmas special.

Merry Christmas dear readers, and may all your bells jingle just so.

PS. Dear Santa, I've tried ever so hard to be good this year. A Wusthof classic 26cm cook's knife would be nice.
 
  posted at 2:07 pm
  2 comments



Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Don't Dally with Dill


Maybe it's just a coincidence, but a couple of weeks ago, Epicure printed a recipe for gravlax, just in time for Christmas.

Today, I went to Prahran market to get my salmon and dill to make this justly famous dish for our celebration. The salmon was no problem, you'd expect a plentiful supply as Australians have embraced this fish, and seafood in general, as a better option than turkey or ham for our usually hot summer Christmas lunch.

But do you think I could find dill anywhere? Every stall was the same, all sold out. Eventually, I found some, so mission accomplished.

Might Epicure have caused a run on dill amongst the good burghers of Prahran, South Yarra and Toorak? Will there be gravlax on your table this Christmas? What else are you having?

I've posted this sauce before, but it's worth repeating as an exceptional accompaniment for gravlax.

Horseradish & Mustard Sauce
(adapted from Rick Stein)

2 or 3 teaspoons grated horseradish
2 teaspoons grated onion, grated on a cheese grater to a pulp
1 teaspoon quality Dijon mustard
25ml white wine vinegar
good pinch of salt
250ml whipping cream

Mix everything together except the cream. Whip the cream to soft peaks and gently fold in all the other ingredients, chill.
 
  posted at 7:42 pm
  4 comments



Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Menu For Hope 6
Okay, it's that time of year again. Time to support Menu for Hope.

This year I've got what I think is a really cool prize, one where I can get to meet a couple of my readers.

Fancy winning two seats for an intimate dinner or lunch At My Table set for six with all wines provided?

You could choose any part or all of the menu from my blog or bravely leave it all to me. A prize open to even international visitors who might be planning a trip to Australia within the next twelve months (you'd have to buy your own plane tickets though!).

The promise is, great food with wines to match. Date arranged to suit all within the next twelve months. Prize code AP26 - one prize of two seats.

You just need to nick over to First Giving and buy as many tickets as you'd like, quoting prize code AP26

To check out all the other great prizes, cruise over to the Tomato blog for the entire list.
 
  posted at 10:26 pm
  4 comments



Saturday, December 12, 2009
Albalu Polo - sour cherry rice


I've always had a low key interest in the food of Iran due to a chance encounter with a tin of Iranian pistachios obtained before the fall of the Shah in 1979. There has been nothing to compare with that memory of cloud-like lightness, crisp crunch and perfectly balanced saltiness. But the Shah was gone and so were those pistachios.

Recently, I met and made friends with an Iranian at work. We naturally talk about food and when his parents came out to Australia, I asked a favour of him. Would they bring some pistachios with them? Well they did and I sat and ate half a kilo at one sitting...I couldn't stop!

His parents have also been kind enough to cook some extra food, which my friend shares with me, absolutely delicious. So it was a nice bit bit of synchronicity, when browsing some cookbooks, that I came across the Persian kitchen, by Neda Afrashi.

Now, I wouldn't buy a cookbook just for the sake of it, there have to be recipes that I want to cook and this book has several as well as being a mine of information on the food of Persia. I suppose many of us think of Lebanese as being typical of Middle Eastern food, but Iranian food has an altogether different slant, with rice being king of the table.

Persian rice has evolved from the basmati variety, but is rarely seen outside the country. The three quality criteria considered are the rice must be as white as possible, have a strong fragrance and be long grained. There a different methods of cooking, but one thing in common they all have is the finished rice must be fluffy, dry and with all grains separate.

One cooking method is called kateh in which the rice is boiled with a fixed quantity of water until it is all absorbed. Another way, called chelo, is to par-boil the rice in plenty of water until al dente, drain, then steam until done with a little butter. Polo uses the chelo method, but with the inclusion of meat, vegetables or pulses added to the final stage.

It was the recipe Albalu Polo (sour cherry rice) that caught me eye, lamb with sour cherries sounded irresistible and even though my rice crust (tahdig - pot bottom) was perhaps a little well done, it was a corker of a dish.






Albalu Polo - adapted from the Persian kitchen by Neda Afrashi
(sour cherry rice with lamb)

450g basmati rice
salt, pepper
2 medium onions
oil
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4oog lamb shoulder, cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon saffron, ground
few sprigs thyme
3 or 4 bay leaves
1 jar morello cherries, about 4oog
1 tablespoon light honey
butter

Wash the rice until the water runs clear, then leave to soak in water with 1 tablespoon salt for about 1 hour. Finely chop the onion and fry with some oil until golden. Add the turmeric, cinnamon, lamb and continue to brown for 5 minutes. Add 500ml boiling water, the saffron, thyme, bay leaves and season with salt and pepper. Leave to simmer for 1 hour with the lid slightly ajar to allow the liquid to reduce, you need about 250ml of sauce when done.

15 minutes before the meat is cooked, add the sour cherries and the honey. Meanwhile, bring 2 litres of salted water to the boil, add the rice and cook for about 4 to 7 minutes, until the rice is al dente, or slightly undercooked. Drain the rice and carefully mix with some butter to coat the grains being careful not to damage them.

In a non-stick frypan (essential), melt enough butter to cover the bottom and add 5oml water and a pinch of ground saffron. When this mixture boils, add a layer of rice, then the meat with sour cherries, more rice, more meat and finish with a layer of rice slightly mounded towards the centre. Cover with a lid or tin foil and cook for about 40 minutes on very low heat until a crust has formed. Place a plate over the frypan and flip the frypan over. Serve.
 
  posted at 8:48 pm
  6 comments



Saturday, December 05, 2009
Christmas Wine - Segura Viudas


Looking for an easy drinking, well priced sparkling wine for Christmas? Here's one that fits the bill ever so nicely, Segura Viudas Brut Vintage Cava, 2003.

Cava is simply Spanish sparkling wine, which according to a spokesman from Vintage Cellars, happens to be the most popular style of bubbles in the whole world, outselling even champagne, to the horror of the French.



It is eminently suited to the Australian summer, with its seam of cashew-like nuttiness and slightly dry finish. Like all cava, it's extremely drinkable and this example has the benefit of six years in the bottle, giving added complexity.

It made it onto the list of Jeni Port's top sparkling wines for this Christmas and deservedly so; this is what she had to say,

"This is the year that Cava, the sparkling wines of Spain, can establish a firm foothold in Australia and it is wines like this, based on Spanish grapes macabeo and parellada, with flavours that are nutty, floral and herbal, that will lead the way."

It's $20 around town, but in a great special, Vintage Cellars have it for $30 for two bottles with a neat padded cooler bag thrown in to sweeten the deal. Available at this price until the 20th of December.

How often do you get to impress your family and friends with a six year old vintage wine of some class that you bought for a snip? It would be perfect with salmon, or just as an aperitif.
 
  posted at 4:33 pm
  2 comments



Friday, December 04, 2009
Nose In The Trough
No doubt many of you are well aware through the twitterverse of the lengthy Stephen Downes essay in Meanjin (subsequently on Crikey) and the short sharp retort from John Lethlean that also appeared on Crikey.

The essence of what Downes wrote was that it is inappropriate for journalists writing on food, especially restaurants, to have any relationship (including attending launches) with those they wish to write about, as this connection may favourably taint the review, naming Lethlean et al, as having enjoyed all the perks of the job and then publishing reviews, which he claims may be less than objective.

Lethlean's reply could perhaps best be summed up by people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

What made this of interest to me, apart from the stoush factor, was that reviewing products on this blog was exercising my mind recently, especially reviews of products sent to me.

I'm well aware that there is a strong divergence of opinion on the matter amongst bloggers, a bit like vegetarians vs omnivores, with some accepting no freebies and others happy to talk about whatever comes their way. The question is, in accepting a product are we seduced into writing a more positive review than might otherwise be the case if we had used our own dime to purchase it?

My opinion is that I don't think so. What seems more likely is that one will actually publish reviews on items received, as there is an innate sense of obligation; someone went to the trouble of sending something, I'd better at least talk about it. This is exactly what the PR's want; their motto, after all, is that there is no such thing as bad press - though good press will set their hearts all a flutter.

What I've noticed about my reviews is that they are usually positive on a subject, that's because my readers are exactly the same as my friends, when something is good, I want to talk about it, to share in my discovery, whether I've paid for it or not.

If it's not up to expectation, then I don't want to post, because the expectation is mine, not yours. Some things have to be discovered for yourself. One man's poison is another man's pleasure.

I think Stephen Downes was right to question the trough from which he and his colleagues feed, perhaps how he said it was clumsy or maybe that's just how he feels. There is no doubt times have changed markedly from when his first review was published decades ago. But someone has to ask, since when did a reviewer need to ring up a restaurant to see if he'll be let in?

Seems a little meek.
 
  posted at 9:30 pm
  4 comments



Thursday, December 03, 2009
Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary
At a function the other day, I was kindly offered a choice of drink; the first, a Virgin Mary (sans alcohol), the other, a Bloody Mary.

Somehow, the idea of drinking a Virgin Mary sounds all wrong, completely and deeply heretical.

Like,

"What will you have?"

"Make mine a Virgin Mary."

It's just the religious overtone: To drink the mother of the Son of God just can't be right.

On the other hand, imbibing a Bloody Mary before the sun was even over the yardarm seems like a sure way to find oneself on the well trodden road to hell.

I won't tell you what I had, the devil's in the detail.
 
  posted at 10:55 pm
  0 comments



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