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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Sunday, February 28, 2010
A Chef's Knife
It was my fault I suppose.

A friend had recommended a knife sharpening company, who allegedly knew how to handle chef's knives.

The result was a disaster, my knives came back with the heel area scalloped out, they no longer had level straight edges. They tried to retrieve the situation but the damage was done.

Now my F Dick chef's knife which has been in my possession for over thirty years no longer holds a sharp edge - sadly, my wooden handled darling needs to be retired.

I've looked around a bit, been to a few websites and kitchenware companies, but jeez, it's hard to make a choice, especially when you know it will be a lifetime commitment.

I would like to ask you dear readers, to you have any recommendations as to a well balanced chef's knife that holds a good edge? A knife that you have been supremely satisfied with.

I'd love your help with this.
 
  posted at 9:34 am
  12 comments



Thursday, February 25, 2010
The Cooking Lesson
Our garden had just yielded up a bunch of basil, from which the leaves were stripped into a sink of cool water, to rid them of any clinging dirt and as it turned out, a chameleon like, basil coloured caterpillar.

As the leaves lay soaking, my youngest daughter padded into the kitchen.

'What's for dinner, Dad?', she quizzically asked.

'It's pesto tonight honey,' I replied, 'with basil,' as an afterthought.

'Thought so,' she rejoined, 'I could smell the basil from my bedroom.'

Before you think that she has some super nasal powers, I should point out that we live in an apartment and her bedroom isn't all that far from the kitchen, but still, it was impressive that she could sniff out basil leaves from her quarters, when they had in no way been sliced or diced.

It reminded me of my younger days, when my sense of smell was also really acute, but sadly, like my hair, this sense diminishes with age, also affecting its closest ally, taste.

That taste is so closely linked to smell is easily demonstrated.

One needs to only hold one's nose whilst eating something to realize that the flavours are not so easy to pick out, when you release your nose, these hidden tastes come flooding in. It's the same reason you can't taste anything while you have the flu.

No smell, no taste.

The other tricky thing with taste is it's the most ephemeral of our senses. Remembering flavours exactly is one of the hardest things to do and takes an awful lot of practice to master. Recalling the notes of a song you've heard is a snap by comparison, or visualising a scene in your memory from some time ago isn't all that difficult either.

In a food and wine club of which I was a member, in over twenty years, I've only ever got a wine completely right once; watching erudite members struggle with even the correct variety of grape makes you aware of the problem of recalling certain flavours, everyone has difficulties with it.

This ability to taste and recall flavours is what separates the greatest chefs from the cafe quality. Pierre Koffmann, the chef who had the greatest influence over 'enfant terrible', Marco Pierre White, had this to say regarding tasting.

'A true cook, who is aware of food, should sense these simple things almost instinctively. Nor do young cooks taste their food as carefully as they should. They seem to judge dishes by their looks rather than by their flavour. When they do remember to sample something, they do it much too superficially. They will taste a sauce just once, quickly, with the very tip of their finger, then completely forget to taste again.'

So when Magda asked 'Can I help you to cook, Dad?', what I wanted to teach her was beyond things like how to measure out the olive oil, or blitz everything in a blender, she needs to have an idea of what things taste like, singly, and how these ingredients interact with each other and cooking processes, to produce food we will have pleasure in eating.

It's something kids learn early when licking the scraps from a bowl of cake batter, then witnessing its transformation into a cake, which tastes entirely different.

So we set to, measuring pine nuts, olive oil, pre-chopping some garlic and placing everything in a blender with the now clean basil leaves and a pinch of salt, then gave the whole lot a good blitz.

'What do you think it needs?'

Magda's top lip curled ever so slightly, for the taste was slightly bitter and earthy at this point.

'I don't know'

'How about we add some cheese?'

When the finely grated parmesan was stirred in, I asked her to try it again.

'Mmm, that's good!', she exclaimed.

The cheese had mellowed the sauce, made it into a classic pesto; the important thing was that my daughter had tasted its evolution and it was now the first building block in her flavour memory.

That was the real cooking lesson.
 
  posted at 9:58 pm
  4 comments



Thursday, February 18, 2010
Mexicali Rose by Lori Horton


It's sometimes a bit of a disappointment being a far flung outpost of the former British empire.

For instance, how much better would the Mexican restaurants here be, if, per chance, the Spaniards had sailed this-a-way after discovering the New World?

Australia could've become the Newer World and we all could be doing something interesting, like debating, taco in hand, the merits of bull-fighting, instead of wondering if one day cricket has any future, whilst soggy meat pies leaked their mystery contents into countless laps.

Australian men, passionately dancing Flamenco in their oh-so-tight shiny black pants, would have reeled from the shameful accusation of budgie smuggling, hoping for the praise of a soaring kookaburra at the very least.

But alas, ships full of corn and chillies sailed back from whence they came, all our wide open spaces were left to a moderate Captain Cook to stumble across, and from then, it would be almost 200 years before anything resembling a Mexican restaurant would open on our shores.

It was some 40 years ago that Victorians were provided with their first glimpse of the intriguing peasant cuisine of Mexico, when Bill Chilcote opened his first store here. Even though Taco Bills have something of a reputation for mostly frozen Margaritas, nachos and tacos, it was the start many needed to learn more and eat better.

Catering for the growing desire for a more authentic Mexican food experience, Mexicali Rose opened in Richmond some 30 years ago and was immediately a hit amongst the cognoscenti. In 2003, the restaurant came full circle when it was purchased by the Horton family, whom had ties with the Taco Bill franchise through Brent Horton, who in partnership with Chilcote, opened the first licenced Taco Bill in St Kilda in 1980.

None of this was in mind when browsing in a summery Lorne bookshop, whilst waiting for my sister-in-law to find a parking spot, which, incidentally, meant plenty of time for a look. It then came as something of a shock to pick up Mexicali Rose by Lori Horton, the daughter of Brent, and to realize that I was holding a book on Mexican cookery, written by an Australian.

Oh yeah baby, that book was mine!

I liked the way it's so clearly set out with individual chapters from starters to desserts, with sections for drinks and vegetarians as well. There is some great photography from Graeme Gillies that captures the gaudy colours of Mexico and the spirit of each dish, important especially for those starting to cook with the sometimes unfamiliar ingredients.

That is probably the main strength of this book, making Mexican cookery accessible through its ease and in not relying on hunting out the most obscure of native ingredients, though for the more advanced, a few recipes require them. Which is probably the only hiccup in the book, for it fails to mention where you may obtain such things as tomatillos or nopales.*

Frightening techniques and processes that bedevil some other cookbooks of this style have no truck here. Anyone who has some idea of cooking will find a recipe to suit their level of expertise. There is no trying to emulate the doyen of Mexican cookery, Dianna Kennedy, and this book is all the better for it; it's both friendly and instructive.

Here's Lori's twist on a Margarita, she's turned it into a decadent dessert.

Mousse de Tequila
(makes 8 glasses)

republished with permission - New Holland Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd


4 eggs, separated
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons unflavoured gelatine
1 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 cup (125ml) thickened cream
1/4 cup (60ml) silver tequila (the better the tequila the better the flavour)
1/4 cup 60ml) triple sec
zest of 1 lime for garnish, finely grated, plus extra for garnish

In a large bowl beat the egg yolks until thick and creamy. Add the lime juice, water, gelatine, sugar and salt and continue beating until well combined. Pour the mixture into a saucepan over medium heat and stir constantly for 5 minutes until the gelatine dissolves. Remove from the heat and stir in the cream, tequila, triple sec and lime zest. Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold into the set gelatine mixture. Place in individual champagne or martini glasses. Place in the refrigerator to chill for at least 3 hours. Garnish with lime zest to serve.

*Mexican ingredients in Victoria can be bought from Aztec Products Pty Ltd.

Labels:

 
  posted at 12:49 pm
  4 comments



Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Pearl Mangoes


Look at these gorgeous beauties.

If only my camera had enough pixies or what not, you would be instantly caught up in their colours; the luminous burnt orange, yellow and bright green, much more vivid than what you can see here.

If Henri Matisse were still alive, an artist known for colour, he could have captured their tropical jungle palette, then drowned in their sweet, fragrant juiciness and lusty flavour.

Pearl mangoes, look out for them. Almost too good to eat.
 
  posted at 4:22 pm
  6 comments



Monday, February 15, 2010
Tzatziki


One of the greatest dips of all time, much healthier and less fattening than many of the cheesy concoctions gracing our supermarket shelves is tzatziki, a favourite not just in its homeland, Greece, but all around the world.

Perhaps its popularity is linked to its ease of making, but more than that, the flavour of tzatziki, especially when homemade, is much greater than the sum of its parts. It has an ability to transport one straight to the Greek isles, its typical fresh earthy pungency sitting so well in a taverna with a glass of the local retsina and a few olives, or oozing freely from a souvlaki.




A meeting of cultures, tzatziki with matzo bread, yum!

Tzatziki is not so much a recipe as an idea that can be bashed around a bit. Don't like the sharp slap of mint? That's okay, use dill instead. Prefer the zestiness of lemon juice to wine vinegar? Splash some right in. Afraid of vampires? More garlic will see them right off. You get the picture, it's yours to own.

Tzatziki

2 Lebanese cucumbers
1 tablespoon salt - yes, this much. It'll be okay.*
2 sprigs mint, leaves stripped and finely sliced or,
few sprigs of dill, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons best olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar or lemon juice
500g Greek (thick) yoghurt

Finely grate the cucumbers into a bowl, mix with the salt and leave for 30 minutes, then squeeze out as much of the salty juices as you can. Place the drained cucumber back in the bowl and add the mint (or dill), the crushed garlic, olive oil and the white wine vinegar, mix well. Add the yoghurt and stir in well, taste for salt, it will probably need some.

Serve with some flatbread, crackers or even your choice of cut vegetables. It also improves with keeping, by all means, make ahead.

*the salt is needed to draw out the cucumber juice that would otherwise make this dip watery. When you squeeze out the juice, most of the salt goes out too.
 
  posted at 5:42 pm
  11 comments



Sunday, February 14, 2010
Will Studd's Magnificent Obsession
Many more years ago than I care to remember, took myself along to one of Will Studd's masterclasses on cheese. A few things were obvious about him even then, he was as sharp as a tack, what he didn't know about cheese was simply not worth knowing and he spoke his mind.

He had the effortless knack of passing on his message to students of curds and whey, always accompanied by the most appropriate cheese, demonstrating a particular nuance or idea.

We've all followed his travels around the globe in the 39 part series, Cheese Slices, seeking out not just the standard bearers, but unique and different cheeses, giving us not just insights into milk preservation in all its guises, but also a look inside a restless and curious mind.

Despite owning several businesses, this restlessness drove him to emigrate to Australia from England; their loss was our gain.

Studd wrote about arriving on our shores in 1981,

'Fresh produce was abundant and extraordinarily cheap, but when it came to interesting cheeses, there was absolutely nothing. Most of the Australian cheeses available were blocks of industrial Cheddar with strange names such as "Tasty" and "Coon". The range of European cheeses was also extremely limited, and their quality and presentation were depressing.'

He then set about changing this landscape for the better with a drive and passion most usually observed in top sportsmen and women, qualities needed to take on the might of the Australian Quarantine & Inspection Service (AQIS).


A modest Will Studd will most likely hate me writing this; in our interview he kept diverting from himself and coming back to the cheese, but there is no doubt that he has put the world of cheeses into the hearts, minds and mouths of all interested Australians, like no other individual.

It has been a long running battle royal, 14 years to be exact, a battle that has seen a consignment of perfectly good Roquefort dumped at the tip, huge legal fees and seen him labeled as a "food terrorist", a description that clearly rankles Studd.

All this in order to have the right to manufacture and consume in Australia the acme of soft cheeses made from raw milk, which have a superior taste and elegance, unlike that of their doppleganger pasteurised versions, which have had part of their souls stripped out.

The question is, are unpasteurised cheeses really better?

Well, funnily enough, Australia does allow the importation of some unpasteurised cheeses of the hard cooked type - Parmigiano Reggiano, Gran Padano, Pecorino Romano, Comte, Swiss Gruyere, Emmenthal - and ONE blue Roquefort.

When I first showed my wife the cheeses I liked, there was one she could never come at, industrially produced Swiss Gruyere: To her it smelt and tasted like vomit, it was hard not to agree. It was not until she tried unpasteurised Comte, a close cousin of Gruyere, that she actually enjoyed this famous mountain cheese. It was the sweet nuttiness that got her onside, a flavour mutilated by pasteurisation.

Ironically, besides AQIS, Studd has also had to fight the big industrial cheese producers who would like nothing better than to let sleeping dogs lie, to whom change is anathema for it's not in their interests to allow new competition in any form.

But now, a rare chance to change things for the better has presented itself. Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is seeking public comment on its recently released proposals (P1007) to change Australian Food Standards for cheese in Australia.

If you love cheese, now is the time to get behind Will Studd by following his suggested answers, or your own if you wish and emailing them to FSANZ. Just be careful with the optional section at the bottom, the questions there are slightly loaded, but you don't need to answer them if you don't want.

Chances like this don't come along very often, don't think that your one submission can't possibly change anything. Think the power of one. If enough people get behind this, we can change the quality of cheeses in Australia, giving our own artisan producers the right to make these unique cheeses and compete on the world stage, as well as the possibility to try offerings from elsewhere.

If you want the opportunity to enjoy a complete range of raw milk cheese in Australia PLEASE make a submission (it’s easy - see Will Studd’s draft submission below).

In summary your submission must:

o be in writing and should be sent by email where possible

o include full contact details

o be submitted by 6pm (Canberra time) 24 February 2010

In order to encourage as many people as possible to make a submission before the deadline, Will Studd has prepared the following draft submission. If you wish to send a submission you may copy and paste the following – adding your contact details and any of your own views or thoughts – and email to: submissions@foodstandards.gov.au

FSANZ has issued a list of questions that indicate areas that they are particularly interested in – Will’s draft covers the first 2 “Overarching” questions (questions in blue, Will’s answer in black), you may also like to answer the “Consumer” questions listed below – otherwise just delete them.

Attached is Will’s summary of the situation FYI. If you wish to read the full FSANZ proposal, it’s available at:

http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/foodstandards/proposals/proposalp1007primary3953.cfm

For full details on making a submission see:

http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/foodstandards/changingthecode/informationforsubmit1129.cfm

copy and send from below here

Submission regarding Proposal P1007 - Primary Production & Processing Requirements For Raw Milk Products

By your name, job title/position, address, telephone number, fax and email address

Overarching questions:

1) The overarching scope of the Proposal is assessing the safety of raw milk products using the Category Framework. FSANZ has undertaken a Technical Assessment based on three Risk Assessments (Raw Cow Milk, Raw Goat Milk and Raw Milk Cheese), a Consumer Study and Nutrition Assessment – Can you identify any aspects we have not covered at this point?

The Proposals exaggerate the risks of raw milk products.

They state that “Because of the potential for raw milk to be contaminated with pathogens, raw milk and products made from raw milk present a high level of risk to public health and safety if there are no control measures to manage the microbiological hazards that may be present.”

It is a false assumption that the risks are “high level” for raw milk products. A more realistic description for raw milk products is “they present an additional risk to public health and safety compared with products made from correctly pasteurised milk”.

2) We have summarised the impacts by option in Table 1 in the Report. Do you have any comments on the overall assessment? Can you identify other benefits and costs to the affected parties?

For raw milk cheese, the overall assessment seems to be far more alarmist than the technical assessment suggests. I consider that the technical assessment indicates that all soft cheese should be placed in Category 2, reserving Category 3 for raw drinking milk alone.

include and answer below if you wish, otherwise delete

Consumers:

3) Would Australian consumers benefit from a greater range of cheeses and dairy products? Please provide details.


4) FSANZ has received comments that raw milk cheeses are likely to be gourmet, high-end market products. Costs associated with ensuring the safety of products may also be passed on to the customer - if raw milk cheeses were permitted:

a. How much would you be willing to pay for such cheeses?

b. Are you willing to pay more than the cost of current gourmet cheeses?

c. Are you prepared to pay more if there are added costs in ensuring the safety of raw milk products?

d. Would you choose to purchase an Australian raw milk cheese over an imported equivalent?
 
  posted at 2:08 pm
  2 comments



Tuesday, February 09, 2010
Psst, Nina
Hey Nina, how are you?

Hope you didn't mind what I said about your last article.

There's just a couple of teensy things about your most recent cover story you may want to know about.

You wrote,

'...the "Bavarian pear preserve" that went black when Northfield used a pair of black stockings as the setting agent...'

I've been around a while, seen quite a few extraordinary things, but never, I repeat, never, have heard about using stockings of any colour for a setting agent. You didn't mean straining agent perhaps?

And what have you done to my old Beefsteak & Burgundy Club, you pruned their name, didn't you, along with any comments they may have had. It's probably the biggest food club in the entire world, with several chapters in Melbourne alone; apart from not getting the name right, you couldn't find not one single person to interview?

What about all the other food clubs you didn't mention, names that ought to be well known to a food writer/editor. Swiss Club ring a bell? How about the German Club or Danish Club?

In your travels around town, you've never heard of the local branch of Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, another food club with a world-wide membership? How about another one, Les Toques Blanche. A little esoteric perhaps, but still worth a mention, for its membership roll has some of Melbourne's finest chefs, they read papers too.

Look, I'm not running a bring back Matt Preston campaign, from what I've heard, he's a little too wounded for that. But what Preston has is the sense for the bigger picture along with some pretty good research.

He's left some mighty big shoes to fill.
 
  posted at 6:05 pm
  2 comments



Sunday, February 07, 2010
In The Time Of Tomatoes


What's summer for you?

Lazy days on the beach with ever so slightly scorching sand between your toes, then the absolute cooling bliss of feet in the surf, retreating waves sucking hungrily at your legs.

Games of beach cricket with driftwood stumps, ti-tree bat and a ball, semi-retired from tennis.

Tomato sandwiches sharing lodgings with 30+ suncream, car keys and loose change rattling round a canvas bag.

It's all that, but high summer is also the denouement of the work carried out by foraging bees, when Sol's surging rays coaxes juicy fruits (and vegetables) to peak ripeness with flavour that almost ruptures their skins.

It is the time of the tomato.





When all that hard won water, lovingly applied by ever diligent gardeners, gives up its reward. When picture perfect supermarket tomatoes take second place to fruit whose flavour seems almost inverse to mankiness. When spots and fissures, disqualifying a modeling career, disguise the intense experience of home grown fruit.




No need to get fancy, a little basil, a glug of your best olive oil, a flake or two of salt and a crack of pepper, all on the best bread you can find.




If you don't have home grown, don't despair, just visit your local farmer's market quick smart, that's where these gems came from.

Now's the right time to eat summer.
 
  posted at 2:17 pm
  10 comments



Thursday, February 04, 2010
Big Helga


Can you spot Big Helga?

Somethings are just meant to be right. Like the other day when an invitation to try a new offering from Matilda Bay Brewing Company hit the inbox.

Summer proper seems to have hit, so does one need any other reason to drink beer? Just ask Homer Simpson, "mmmm, beer!" So, with a couple of mates, we caught a train to the Transport Hotel to road test a few Big Helgas on a stinking hot day.

One of my friends was in search of, "a beer that tastes like beer", which, loosely translated, means beer that doesn't taste like water.

Matilda Bay have been around for while, bringing us well known beers like Beez Neez, Dog Bolter and Fat Yak. Operating since 1984, they have established a solid track record for fine, innovative beers.

I'll spare you the cheesy blurb introducing Big Helga, other than to say a dry Munich style Oktoberfest lager is what they had in mind. Did they nail it? Not quite. But what we did taste could quite possibly be the next generation in Australian boutique beers.

My friend searching for a flavourful beer loved it, what got my attention was that there was no one component standing out like a sore thumb, everything was in balance.

More than one local producer of beer has fallen in to the trap of singling out a particular flavour, be that of the hops, or in the roasting of the malt and letting it dominate, producing one dimensional brews.



But Big Helga had curves in all the right places.

A proper German style lager it's not, but one could rightfully say it's an Australian style lager of some finesse.

As you can see, it's a little cloudy, which means the interesting bits haven't been stripped out. Big Helga's a great girl with discreet charms, you should meet her one day.

Oh, and if you like the Transport Hotel, it's up for grabs too, much cheaper to buy a beer there though.
 
  posted at 5:23 pm
  10 comments



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