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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Saturday, January 30, 2010
Smile For The Camera
Jamie at Home is a far more relaxed series, with Jamie Oliver all grown up and showing us the kind of rustic food he obviously enjoys, without any mums going ga-ga for the lad.

Some folk have a personal trainer, but not our Jamie, he shares the screen with his personal gardener, Brian Skilton, who kind of looks like he jumped in a time machine in the hippie happening sixties and landed smack bang in the middle of Jamie's sprawling garden.

It's a series that I'm really enjoying, showing the sort of food that you want to cook.

What caught my eye when the credits rolled, there were a couple of cameramen, a sound recordist, a single graphics credit and three food stylists.

Yep, three food stylists.

I sort of paused and wondered, how much of the food is actually Jamie's? Every time the camera cuts away, do the stylists rush on set, push him out the way and produce these gorgeous dishes gracing our screens?

Is it so hard to produce natural looking food that it takes three people, four, if Jamie has any input?

There's a lot of debate over air-brushed models, attended to by teams of makeup artists and hairdressers preening them within an inch of their skinny lives for the covers of fashion magazines, how they depict unattainable perfection.

Is this now true for food too?
 
  posted at 9:44 pm
  6 comments



Friday, January 29, 2010
Surf 'n' Turf
A fairly common menu item that pops up in not a few pubs and the occasional restaurant is a marriage of meat with seafood, colloquially known as surf 'n' turf, usually a steak topped with a couple of prawns, though Jamie Oliver does an over-the-top version with fillet steak and lobster.

In most cases, meat is the dominant partner and the seafood acts as a garnish, but what if this convention was turned on its head?

Fish topped with a bit of meat!

Don't groan, listen up, I'm here to tell you it works.

But you need to know something too, something that Asian cooks have always known, seafood isn't some tender virgin bride needing to be handled with kid gloves, it can handle flavour, strong brutal flavours; think spicy fish curry or hot and aromatic tom yum soup.

Also, think of fish as acting in the way pasta does, carrying other flavours to your mouth and just like pasta, has to be cooked just so, there is nothing worse than limp, soggy pasta or the dry accusing strands of overcooked fish.

So be bold with your flavours and careful with your cooking.

Surf 'n' Turf Flathead Tails
(serves 4)

extra virgin olive oil
200g small pancetta*, cut into thin strips
2 stalks rosemary, leaves stripped and chopped
1 tablespoon capers, chopped if large (optional)
glass of dry white or rose wine
1kg flathead tails i.e. boneless, or other chunky white fish fillets
salt and fresh ground pepper
few stalks fresh thyme
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

In a fry pan, gently heat some olive oil and gently brown the pancetta and rosemary. Add the capers (if using) and the glass of wine. Scrape any sediment into the liquid and reduce slightly. Season the flathead tails and place them in a baking dish coated with the extra virgin olive oil. Evenly pour over the pancetta/rosemary mixture and tuck the thyme stalks amongst the fish and drizzle over some more oil. Loosely cover with foil or baking paper and cook in a preheated oven(180c) for about 20 minutes. Insert a knife into the fish to check if they're done and if ready, sprinkle over the parsley and serve. Make sure everyone gets some of the delicious juices.

*small pancetta, sometimes known as Ukrainian ham, is simply pork belly rubbed with a spicy mixture that includes a lot of garlic, rolled and then cured. It's more like ham in texture than regular pancetta. If you can't get small pancetta, you can use ham or regular pancetta instead.
 
  posted at 3:42 pm
  3 comments



Thursday, January 28, 2010
Ratatouille


We recently stayed at a wonderful B & B, 68 Main, in Birregurra. Funny name, but at least you won't forget the address.

Hosts, Graeme and Tony, have created a magnificent garden over a couple of acres, with not just pretty to look at plants, but also ones you can eat, which they encourage you to do.

The house has a well equipped gourmet kitchen, inviting anyone who can resist the temptation from the nearby Royal Mail Hotel and the renowned Sunnybrae Restaurant, to cook up a storm.

Cooking wasn't on my mind when venturing out the front door one morning, but then I spied a bag containing a couple of kilos of zucchini, generously left there by the hosts the night before. They were young, firm and begging to be cooked.

What to do?

It was at that moment the realization hit that ratatouille hadn't been on the menu in a long time and would easily account for at least half of the windfall on the porch.

Ratatouille is a Provencal dish that causes many arguments about the best way to go about it. There is one school of thought which suggests layering the vegetables, similar to Remy's version in the movie Ratatouille, which melted the hardened heart of Anton Ego, the movie's feared food critic.

It looks attractive served this way, but the vegetables seem to maintain their own integrity, not coming together in a seamless whole.

The version I urge you to cook is the one where every component is slowly braised together in the pot, producing a sublime vegetable ragout, which, when served at room temperature or perhaps slightly chilled, screams summer.

If I was a vegetarian trying to convince someone to go meatless, this would be the dish I'd serve. If there's any secret to it, it's in the cutting. Try not to have large chunks of anything, a bit less than 2cm or 1/2 inch square is about right.

Don't worry about the eggplant melting, it adds body to the sauce.

Ratatouille
(serves 6)

2 onions, sliced
8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
olive oil
2 large eggplants (aubergines), diced
2 red capsicums, diced
2 green capsicums, diced
1 glass white wine or water
5 or 6 tomatoes, skinned if desired and roughly chopped
fresh thyme, stripped from about 8 stalks
1 cup basil leaves, roughly chopped
4 or 5 medium zucchini, diced
salt and fresh ground pepper

Put the onions and garlic in a large pot with some olive oil and sweat until soft. Add the eggplant and keep sweating until the eggplant softens and changes colour. Add the red and green capsicums, and soften, then add a glass of wine or water, the tomatoes, thyme and basil, season with salt and fresh ground pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook for about ten minutes, then add the diced zucchini and cook until the zucchini is soft but not falling apart. Allow to cool, then serve. Cous cous is a great accompaniment, as is rice.
 
  posted at 8:20 pm
  5 comments



Daylesford Day Out


If, like me, you don't see too well, visit the website and click on what's new this month.
 
  posted at 5:26 pm
  0 comments



Tuesday, January 26, 2010
A Simple Pleasure


Ordinarily, I'm not a great fan of crayfish. But this prehistoric looking creature might just have changed my mind. It's 1.5kg of Pt Campbell's finest. Spiky customer. No claws like a lobster, but the antenna have some nice meat, careful though.




Whoever cooked it judged things to a tee, moist and juicy with a slight salty tang.

Maybe the glass of Prosecco helped things along, or the gently warm summer's night, just sitting with friends on a secluded deck in a quiet country town after a hard day's driving, sharing one of Davy Jone's sweetest treasures.

Sometimes, life's good.
 
  posted at 6:52 pm
  8 comments



Thursday, January 21, 2010
Rösti


In my younger days, I knocked around with a couple of Swiss blokes. One of them was Francois, the manager of The Swiss Club in Melbourne at that time, and as a result, developed a bit of a taste for things Swiss, particularly the iconic dishes of fondue, raclette and gschnatzeltes, thin strips of veal in a creamy mushroom sauce served with rösti, grated potato simply pan fried like a giant hash brown.

My friend showed me how to make rösti, even how to pronounce it, but I was too knuckle headed or not organised enough to pre-boil the potatoes. In short, I was a failure at being Swiss.

Then one day, I came across a technique for using raw potatoes to make the dish. Hallelujah, I could have my rösti and have it NOW!

You can too. I won't bother you with the arguments over whether raw or cooked potatoes are best, no need to worry too much over which type of potato to use, any good quality ones will do, white or yellow, see what works best for you.

Rösti

5 or 6 potatoes, peeled
salt and fresh ground pepper
35g butter, unsalted

Coarsely grate all the potatoes and place in a clean tea towel. Gather up the corners and twisting and squeezing, get out as much potato juice as possible. Season with salt and fresh ground pepper, remember, potatoes love salt.

In a non stick fry pan or a seasoned cast iron pan, melt 25g butter on low heat. Add the grated potato and evenly smooth the top. Cook on low heat for about 15 minutes, lift an edge and if well browned, place a large plate over the fry pan and tip over, melt 10g butter in the same pan and gently slide the uncooked side back in and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes. Tip onto a plate and cut into wedges to serve.
 
  posted at 6:21 pm
  7 comments



Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Hand Made Dumpling With Agenda, Hold The Objectivity
Like a jumping yum cha joint, Nina Rousseau's arrival at the Epicure department has been big, bold and brassy with a two page cover story on the state of Melbourne's yum cha restaurants.

Her mission, to rate these restaurants on a variety of factors including food, atmosphere, noise factor and the use of trolleys. So how has the gregarious Matt Preston replacement fared?

To use racing parlance, started well but faded towards the finish, may need to run without blinkers.

As Rousseau herself said,

'One thing is certain, yum cha is a controversial business and disciples are evangelical about "the best".'

Fair enough too.

But perhaps revealing of where she is coming from, goes on to say,

'As a city we have embraced this Cantonese custom, loved it, grown bored with it, and hankered after its evolution. There's a demand for a more glamorous - and much quieter - yum cha experience.'

Having been in the line for entry to both Shark Fin Inn and Shark Fin House, it's easy to see where the demand really is. But to treat Shark Fin Inn in the way Rousseau did is outrageous.

Using a star system of her own devising, out of a possible five stars for food, Shark Fin Inn was given one solitary star. To put this into perspective, it is the equivalent of her colleague, restaurant reviewer Larissa Dubecki, giving a restaurant a score of 4/20 for food, of which Epicure says, '1-9: unacceptable.'

In all my years of reading, I've never seen such a score. It ought to be an embarrassment to Rousseau.

Okay, to reveal my yum cha allegiances, there are two restaurants we attend on a regular basis, Shark Fin House & Oriental Tea House (city & Sth Yarra) which was awarded four food stars. There is no doubt that the dumplings are of a better quality at Oriental Tea House, but four times better?

Reading between the lines, Rousseau only really rates those restaurants where she knows the dumplings to be handmade, if this is the case, why didn't she come out and name those restaurants she felt transgressed her golden star system? Wouldn't the public like to know such a thing?

In any case, what the hell is wrong with a restaurant buying in something ready made, so long as the quality is there. If Vue De Monde's Shannon Bennett gets in black pudding for some of his dishes, is he marked down for not making it himself? Is a dumpling made by a specialist supplier necessarily inferior to those made by restaurant cooks? Are they somehow less hand made?

Remember, we're talking yum cha here, it's not the cutting edge of fine dining and it was never meant to be, it's about sharing food in an extremely social setting that involves new born and families' elder statesmen and women. It's life in all its messy permutations with a cup of tea.

Perhaps some people don't quite get it.
 
  posted at 9:22 pm
  4 comments



Monday, January 18, 2010
Chlodnik


One of the nice things about having overseas visitors, especially those who like to cook, is that a window into another cuisine is opened. It doesn't matter how many cookbooks one has, there is nothing like a native showing you how it's really done.

We've had some super hot weather lately, just perfect for salads and definitely cold soups, which in Poland are called choldniki, the most ubiquitous of which is a beetroot soup (barszcz), though if you ordered chlodnik, you may happen upon other versions without beetroot, which may include equally refreshing sorrel or cucumber, though the soup featured here is undoubtedly of the stain worthy beetroot persuasion.

Not only refreshing, choldnik is also said to be extremely healthy when made with kefir, the kissing cousin of Yakult, the famous probiotic Japanese drink. Kefir is fermented from a combination of yeasts and bacteria and is also considered acceptable for the lactose intolerant.

It originated in central Asia thousands of years ago and spread widely through the middle east. Similar to yoghurt, though with not quite as much body, it has a pleasantly tart flavour and is available in middle eastern, eastern European and some health food shops. Buttermilk makes an acceptable substitute.

This cold soup with its earthy flavours, spiked with a pleasant tartness and herbal zing, makes the perfect pick-me-up on a hot summer's day


Barbara Jackowska's Chlodnik

1 fresh bunch of beetroot with leaves
2 sticks celery
2 carrots
3 tablespoons wine vinegar
1 litre kefir or buttermilk
1 bunch of dill, finely chopped
½ bunch of chives, finely chopped
1/2kg cucumbers, peeled and finely diced
salt and fresh ground pepper
4 boiled eggs, cut in quarters


Cut the leaves from the beetroots and set aside. Peel the beetroot and place in a pot with the carrots, celery and 1.5 litres water, season with salt and pepper and cook until soft. Five minutes before the end, add the vinegar. When soft, drain the vegetables, reserving the liquid. Discard the celery and carrot. Dice the beetroot into small pieces and put back into the reserved liquid. Cool. Roughly chop the beetroot leaves and cook in small amount of salted water. Cool down and add leaves and the cooking water to the diced beetroot, add kefir or buttermilk, chives, dill and finely diced cucumbers. Season to taste. Place quartered eggs in bowls and pour the cold soup over. Serve.
 
  posted at 5:32 pm
  4 comments



Sunday, January 17, 2010
Kangaroo Burgers


I know we like to run down supermarkets, but for most of us they are the reality of everyday life. But isn't it great when you find something unexpected amongst the shelves?

My shame is that I've known about Coles selling kangaroo mince for a couple of years, but have never got around to cooking some, though that was always the intention, even buying some distinctly Australian spices at a Farmer's market some six months ago to add to the mix.




Pepper berries, or mountain pepper berries as they are more commonly known (Tasmannia lanceolata), have a slight juniper-like flavour and that strange schezuan pepper thing of growing hotter in the mouth the more you eat.

The native Australian oregano is difficult to say much about as there isn't much information on the packet, but due to its subtle lemon tang it wouldn't surprise if it turned out to be lemon myrtle (Backhousia citriodora) given a little Aussie spin.





The thing about kangaroo meat in general is that all that hopping about makes for pretty lean meat, this mince was claimed to be 98% fat free, so it pays to think carefully about what flavours to put with it, along with some kind of fat or oil to keep things lubricated.

One could add some fatty minced pork, but to get the whole kangaroo experience, I used olive oil instead. Kangaroo isn't strongly gamey in the way boar or venison is, so a careful hand is needed in regards to spices and seasoning.

Sam Kekovich is banging on a bit about being Australian and throwing some lamb on the barbie this Australia Day, why not go a step further with a bit o' bush tucker?




Kangaroo Burgers
(makes about 8 burgers)

1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
olive oil
1kg kangaroo mince*
1 tablespoon mountain pepper, pounded in a mortar
1 tablespoon Australian oregano or lemon myrtle, finely chopped
1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
grated zest of 1 lemon
1 egg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
salt and fresh ground pepper

Put the onion and garlic in a pan with some olive oil and sweat until soft. In a large bowl, put in the cooked onion and garlic, kangaroo mince, mountain pepper, Australian oregano, parsley, lemon zest, egg and breadcrumbs then season to taste with salt and fresh ground pepper. Put in enough olive oil to stop things drying out, I used about 100ml. Mix well with your hands and form into hamburger patties. Cook to your liking, being careful not to overcook as they will dry out.

*available from Coles supermarkets in the fresh meat section
 
  posted at 8:13 pm
  9 comments



Smoked Salmon, Cheatin' Style


We are currently entertaining some Polish visitors over the holidays, who are also entertaining us with a remarkable range of Polish vodkas.

On Christmas eve, we served up the traditional seafood feast, which included some home cured gravlax. They explained in Polish - vodka helps translation wonderfully well - that back home they cure salmon with just salt.

By complete coincidence, one of my daughters, bless her heart, had given me a bottle of Laphroaig, scotch whisky from the Islay (pronounced eye-la) region of Scotland, where several distilleries produce scotch with pronounced smoky notes from the use of peat in the malting process.

Hmm, salt only method of curing salmon and smokey scotch, I think you know what happened next.





A side of salmon was purchased and put to bed with a layer of salt, grind of pepper and a single shot of Laphroaig. Two days of Scottish dreaming later we were eating smoked salmon. Okay, not exactly smoked salmon, but a fish that did have a definite smokiness with a hint of scotch sweetness, but no alcoholic burn.

In short, everyone loved it; 1.3kg of cured salmon disappeared in the blink of an eye.

The only danger of this recipe is that you'll be left with an almost completely full bottle of one of Scotland's finest. I'm sure you'll find another use for it...drinking it isn't out of the question!


Smoked Salmon, Cheatin' Style

1 side salmon, boned and skin on, about 1.3kg*
freshly ground black pepper
salt, about 50g
1 shot glass (30ml) smokey scotch whisky**

Cut the salmon in half across ways. Grind fresh pepper onto the flesh side and place one fillet of salmon, skin side down, in a container that will catch the subsequent juices, a snug fit is good. Layer on the salt to completely cover, then pour over the shot of scotch whisky. Place the second fillet on top, flesh side down. Put a piece of plastic wrap over the top and weigh down with as many cans as you can fit on top. Place the container in the fridge for two days, turning the fillets every 12 hours and basting with the collected juices. When done, rinse the fillet if desired, pat dry and slice as thinly as possible and serve.

* Only buy as much of the fillet as you need, the tapered tail section isn't worth curing, though you can.

** Suitably smokey scotch whiskys include Lafroaig, Ardbeg and Lagavulin. These are all single malts and more expensive than blends.
 
  posted at 9:46 am
  4 comments



Sunday, January 10, 2010
Wish You Were Here


Sunrise. A bit early to get up on a holiday, don't you think?




The view from some poor fellow's winery. Tough gig.




Wilson's Promontory. Kinda moody first thing in the morning.




Surf's up! The beach at Tidal River, Wilson's Promontory.




The view from the deck of the house we stayed at. As one winemaker told us, Gippsland is Victoria's great undiscovered secret.




Native grass at home on the granite, which stretches from the Prom to Freycinet, somewhere down Tasmania way. A lot of rock.




Some pretty in pink things.




Some pretty daisy things.




Some weird plant thing. I'm not a botanist, okay?




I can help here though. A garden bed in a park at Foster. See any flowers? They're all vegetables, including beetroot, basil, parsley, celery, silver beet (swiss chard) and lettuce.




You can keep the Mediterranean, we've got our own cool islands. Wouldn't mind a taverna on one though.




At My Table's super model posing by Tidal River. Apparently someone spilt a cup of tea in it. A very big one.
 
  posted at 2:07 pm
  5 comments



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