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, March 28, 2010
Farnsworth's Apple & Cherry Orchard

Snow apple with fig and a local pecorino*

In this modern age, it's not always easy to find the apples we remember from our youth; the heirloom varieties have seemingly been replaced with cultivars that have more to do with supermarket convenience than flavour, often exacerbated by the predilection to pick unripe fruit in order to prolong its keeping qualities under cold storage.

There's nothing wrong with trying to provide the market place with a steady supply of fruit all year round, but in order to keep apples more than a few months requires a delicate balancing act of several factors, the first casualty of which is flavour, closely followed by loss of texture, crisp standing aside for mealy.




That's why autumn is one of the best seasons. Okay, I love all seasons, each has its own treasures, but the faltering rays of late summer signals that new season apples are on the horizon.

However, the first flush of apples is a tricky time to buy as many greengrocers will often put up their new season signs cheekily early, with tasteless, mushy apples somehow mistaken for the real McCoy.

Other sellers in a rush to get genuine new season fruit will be happy to provide examples that are not yet ripe. It's a hard world and you need someone to trust.



Paul Farnsworth is your man. He runs a mixed orchard at Red Hill on the Mornington Peninsula, selling different fruits all year round, though his core business is cherries and apples and he sure does know 'em, especially the value of the older apple varieties like snow, golden delicious and cox's orange pippins, but is unafraid to plant newer versions like fuji and pink ladies, leading to a heady mix with something for everyone.



D'oh, apple, not cherry season!




But the exciting thing is that he picks his fruit ripe and generally doesn't plan on holding produce into the next year. Which means that when you bite into one of Paul's babies, there is a satisfying crunch and wonderful aromatics that perfume your first bite.

Apples as they should be.

Even a granny smith, that well known cooking apple with tart acidity is a pleasure to snack on



I still remember finding the Farnsworth Orchard many years ago and the absolute joy of eating a real apple. To this day, we always eat one before leaving, having a mini debate about which variety to eat first, then a trickle of juice on the chin and a sparkle in the eye. Heaven.



They sell direct to the public, with the availability of certain varieties depending on the stage of the season. But whatever apple you get, one thing is certain, bucket loads of taste.



Cost effective till




Paul's wife Val makes an excellent range of jams, sauces and chutneys and are well worth a look. Other interesting fruits are often for sale, depending on the season, there were figs the day we called in, as well as tomatoes and lemons.


Farnsworth's Apple & Cherry Orchard
26 Paringa Rd, Red Hill South
tel: (03) 5989 2196

*Red Hill Cheese

Labels: , ,

 
  posted at 10:46 pm
  7 comments



Saturday, March 27, 2010
Turnip Remoulade


My wife's aunt has the most wonderful garden, where she dotes on all sorts of unusual vegetables, some of which might even be considered old-fashioned; kohlrabi, sorrel and turnips for instance.

We had a couple of her turnips in hand and my wife decided to turn them into a remoulade. As she peeled and grated the turnips, I whisked together the mayonnaise. Of course a jar of mayo would make things quick and easy, but homemade acts like a painter's canvas, allowing other flavours to shine through.

Turnips are related to radishes and share a distinctive, slightly hot character, which, as a salad, makes the perfect partner to roast beef and a welcome change from celeriac remoulade, especially with its brilliant white colour.

If you like radishes, you'll love this.

Turnip Remoulade
(serves 4)

2 turnips, peeled and grated
1 cup mayonnaise, include at least 1 heaped teaspoon Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons salted capers, soaked and drained
salt and fresh ground pepper

In a bowl place the grated turnip, mayonnaise, parsley and capers. Mix well, taste, and add salt and pepper as required.
 
  posted at 7:52 pm
  4 comments



Change...What Change?
I laughed so hard when I saw this, that I nearly fell off my chair.

A classic from St Kilda Today.
 
  posted at 11:18 am
  0 comments



Thursday, March 25, 2010
World Autism Awareness Day


April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day.

In a bit of a tricky move, Autism Victoria are holding their day on April 1, marking it by marching at 12pm from their offices at 24 Drummond Street, Carlton to the State Library, where they plan to release 1000 multi coloured balloons to visually respect and represent the individuality of those on the Autism Spectrum.

Federation Square in Melbourne are supporting the day by turning their lights blue and showing autism messages on their screens.

At My Table will be taking part in the day by cooking a dish of one single colour, to represent the diets of some of those, especially children, on the autistic spectrum whom only eat food that is of one particular colour, something of a nightmare for parents concerned with good nutrition.


Iranian soup, Ash Restah

If anyone else could manage the difficult task of a one coloured dish and would like to blog it, I would be happy to link to your post. It would be a tremendous show of support for parents, who, quite frankly, often run out of ideas. You can find my contact details in the right-side column.
 
  posted at 8:18 pm
  9 comments



Monday, March 22, 2010
Eat.Drink.Blog. Conference
What better way to spend a lazy Sunday than with a roomful of your best mates at Australia's inaugural food blogger's conference right here in my hometown of Melbourne.

Blogging related information came thick and fast, with fantastic presenters from all around Australia, who gave so much of themselves, talking about all aspects of the blogging experience. My thanks goes to each and every one of them, I learned so much from you all.

Thank you for the tireless work of the organisers, Mellie, April, Jess, Reemski and Ed, without whom this would never have happened.

Dear Tammi the moderator, what can I say? Once we learned of your chicken dispatching abilities, the whole room was in thrall to you - Pippy Longstocking drawn large.

Our wonderful sponsors, Essential Ingredient, St Ali, SBS Food, Der Raum, Prentice Wines, Red Hill Microbrewery, Daylesford & Hepburn Springs Mineral Water Co., without whom none of this would have been possible, thanks guys.

To the indefatigable Pim Techamuanvivit for surmounting insurmountable obstacles (Melbourne trains) just to be with us, a top effort award.

Finally, thanks to all the attendees, great to meet everyone that I did, and apologies if I missed you, it was such a busy day.

For a neat wrap-up, check out what The Age had to say.
 
  posted at 8:52 pm
  7 comments



Sunday, March 14, 2010
Salsa Verde


One of the everyday table sauces in Mexico is salsa verde (green sauce), highly adaptable and a staple throughout the region, right up into the Southwest of America where it is known as chile verde, confusingly which, according to cookbook author Huntley Dent, can mean one of several different things: Apart from the sauce for instance, chile verde means green chillies picked before they turn red and he points out that even a sauce made from ripe red tomatoes is still considered chile verde so long as it contains green chillies.





However, in Mexico, salsa verde almost invariably means a green sauce made from tomatillos, a fruit, that when stripped of its papery husk, looks uncannily like a green tomato and is indeed sometimes called exactly that. It has a pleasant sourness, which in partnership with hot green chillies is the cornerstone of salsa verde, whether or not it's cooked or raw.

Here in Melbourne, fresh tomatillos have been incredibly difficult to find and anyone wanting to make this sauce virtually chained to using tins. But with the growth in farmer's markets, it has become possible for those willing to grow niche vegetables to sell directly to enthusiastic home cooks, who don't mind paying a premium to secure otherwise unavailable and unimagined produce.




At $30kg, fresh tomatillos work out to be roughly double what you would pay for tinned. If you were making an uncooked sauce, you'd put your money down. However for a cooked sauce, the difference isn't quite so large, but if you prefer the vibrancy fresh produce brings and the slight gumminess that is largely absent from the tinned version, well, pay up.

Believe me, you'll thank me.




The main advantage of a cooked over uncooked sauce, is that a fresh sauce really must be consumed the day it's made, whereas the cooked version will happily last a few days in the fridge and responds well to freezing - so make a big batch while tomatillos last.

Salsa verde is very accommodating, you can serve it with chicken as here, or pork. Enchiladas by their very nature love the contrast it brings, or a large bowl served with corn chips and too much tequila will make your friends very happy and you a legend!

Salsa Verde
(adapted from Diana Kennedy, The Art Of Mexican Cooking)

makes about 1 1/2 cups

300g tomatillos, husks removed and rinsed
4 green chillies serranos or other hot chile
8 stalks coriander (cilantro), well rinsed and dried
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon peanut oil or similar
salt

In a pot of boiling water place the tomatillos and chillies serranos and simmer for about 5 minutes or until just soft, Strain and reserve 50ml of the cooking liquid.

Pour the cooking liquid into a blender with the coriander and garlic, blend until smooth. Add the tomatillos and pulse until the tomatillos are chopped, still with some texture.

Heat the oil gently in a frying pan and add the mixture, salt to taste, give a stir or two, then simmer until the sauce reduces to a slightly thickened consistency. Check the seasoning. Serve hot or cold.
 
  posted at 8:48 pm
  24 comments



Saturday, March 13, 2010
Mussel & Fennel Salad


It's funny how some recipes start out.

This one had its first outing at a lunch party last year and pretty much consisted of just raw fennel, mussels and pink grapefruit. Not much to it, but the scent of promise wafted...

Some recipes just need to sit on the back burner till they're ready, this one simmered until today. There was laziness involved, it seemed impossible that at the end of summer there were no zucchini in the fridge, shockingly true for this most prodigious of vegetables and I had no inclination to go shopping.

My plan had been to grill some strips until jail-like bars were scorched into their surface, then build the salad on top. No zucchini, but there was extra fennel.

How about fennel two ways? Cooked and raw. And so it was.

One of my favourite things to do with fennel is to cut fat slices, lighty crumb and fry them; these crunchy slabs then became the base to construct an intriguingly simple salad upon.




A few flavours from the pantry and this textural dish was good to go. The sweetness of cooked fennel offset with the crunch of raw. Salty mussels dressed with the slight sourness of pink grapefruit, as well as the reduced mussel broth. Fruity olive oil and balsamic vinegar to tie the whole thing together.

Mussel & Fennel Salad
(serves 4)

1kg mussels
glass of white wine
dash balsamic vinegar
3 fennel bulbs, fennel fronds reserved
salt & fresh ground pepper
1 egg, beaten
breadcrumbs
2 pink grapefruit*, segmented
fruity olive oil

Remove the beards from the mussels. Heat a large pot until very hot. Put in the mussels and glass of wine, immediately put on the lid. Cook for a minute, give a shake to the pot, cook one minute more, then check for opened mussels, remove them from the pot and continue to cook until all the mussels are opened. Discard any that don't open. Reduce the mussel liquor until there are 2 or 3 tablespoons left. When the mussels are cool, remove from their shells.

Trim the fennel stalks, reserving the fronds. Remove the first two layers of fennel and discard. Trim the base and cut two of the bulbs into thick slices, season them with salt and pepper, dip them into the beaten egg, then the breadcrumbs, set aside. Heat some olive oil in a frypan and shallow fry the fennel on both sides until nicely browned

On a mandoline or with a very sharp knife, cut the remaining fennel bulb into wafer thin slices, then separate the segments.

Place a couple of fried fennel slices overlapping on a plate, arrange the pink grapefruit slices and mussels attractively around, top with some fennel fronds. Add the balsamic vinegar to the reduced mussel liquor and spoon over the salad. Pour a drizzle of olive oil over everything.

Serve with some crusty bread.

*some folk on certain medication can't tolerate grapefruit, blood oranges would be a good substitute.
 
  posted at 6:33 pm
  4 comments



Tuesday, March 09, 2010
Tomato & Onion Bake
It was a post on breadcrumbs by my favourite pantry person that got me thinking about my mum's old dish, tomato & onion bake, a regular when I was growing up.

It seems in this day and age that we either we like to pulse our own fresh breadcrumbs or use the slightly edgier Japanese panko crumbs. Sometimes we forget about the tried and true, in this case, dried breadcrumbs.

Not fashionable, but very useful.





What would a schnitzel be without them? Just a plain piece of meat. Life without crumbed lamb cutlets would be unbearable. What would bind certain mixtures together? In this recipe, they are used as a crispy topping, the counterpoint to slow roasted tomatoes and onions which intensifies the flavour of fading autumnal tomatoes.




Mum used to painstakingly layer alternate slices of tomato and onion, but with a breadcrumb topping, whose going to notice? Much easier to slice the onion, mix with the herbs and pile into a gratin dish and top with neat rows of tomato.




One thing mum never did was to add fresh herbs, only dried mixed herbs; no one at that time used fresh much except for a sprig or two of curly parsley - unless your family was from overseas, many of whom had come in search of work on the post-war Snowy Mountains scheme, Australia's largest ever hydro-electric project.





Yes, it does look a homely dish, but the taste is its own reward and the perfect accompaniment to grilled lamb chops.

Tomato & Onion Bake

3 onions, sliced
few sprigs basil leaves, chopped
few sprigs thyme, leaves stripped from stalk
olive oil
salt & fresh ground pepper
6 tomatoes, sliced
breadcrumbs

In a gratin or baking dish, add the sliced onions, basil, thyme leaves, salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil, mix well an cover the base of the dish with the mixture. Top with sliced tomatoes, season with more salt and pepper, then cover this with breadcrumbs. Drizzle over more olive oil and bake in a 200c oven for about 40 -50 minutes or until browned.
 
  posted at 9:36 pm
  12 comments



Sunday, March 07, 2010
Moving On
'...But Australian food bloggers – fewer in number and, with rare exceptions, short on talent – have been less successful at extending themselves.'

Stephanie Wood, comparing Australian food bloggers to those from the USA.

Just what is eating at some Australian food journalists and why are they behaving like Mercader with an ice-axe, bashing in blogger heads at every opportunity?

You'd think that after so many years the relationship between us would have matured, that they might actually have found something to like in our work, because clearly, others have.

Going on with the same old tired talentless line is becoming increasingly boring and doesn't really stand up all that well, especially when the probing searchlight of accuracy casts itself upon some of their articles, causing damning shadows to appear.

A blogger gets it wrong, believe me, we soon know about it: A journalist for a newspaper food section gets it wrong, on go the sunglasses and they pretend like it never happened.

Ever noticed the rise in bread shop signs promoting yeast free sourdough bread? There weren't any signs like that, until an influential food section published a piece a couple of years ago, claiming that a certain well known sourdough loaf contained no yeast.

All sourdough bread contains yeast, that's what makes it rise, in this case it's wild yeasts, no commercial yeast is added in.

They privately conceded they were wrong at the time, a correction would have been in order, given that many people, for a variety of reasons, follow a yeast free diet. It took them three months to do it, disingenuously put as a reader's question - yes, you got that, as a reader's question.

That behaviour would never be tolerated in the news section of the same paper, why do food journalists get away with it? Then to criticize bloggers with their hands on their hearts beggars belief.

It's not all doom and gloom however. Late last year at a function, I had a conversation with a couple of food journalists from a leading Australian newspaper. There are also local bloggers forging their own relationships with journalists. A few years ago, that may not have happened.

Happily, some folk have moved on.
 
  posted at 10:26 am
  9 comments



Friday, March 05, 2010
The Heart Tick
What does the National Heart Foundation Approved white tick on a red background mean?

'A Tick approved food means it is a healthier choice when compared to similar foods. For example, meat pies with the Tick are lower in saturated and trans fats and sodium than other pies; cheese with the Tick is a healthier choice of cheese and when eating out, a meal with the Tick is a healthier choice of meal.'

From Heart Foundation FAQ's

So, I'd like to ask, what, if anything, is similar to a McDonald's Filet-O-Fish?

There's nothing that springs immediately to my mind, what about yours?

You see, since 2007, McDonalds has had the right to use the Heart Tick on a range of their meals, and their Filet-O-Fish has a Tick when eaten as a part of a meal that includes a 'Garden Salad' and a specified drink.

Want to know how committed McDonalds are to healthy eating?

The Filet-O-Fish is available from 10:30am until the store closes; the 'Garden Salad' that qualifies the meal for the Tick is only available for 2 hours at lunchtime. Yet the clam box that houses the Filet-O-Fish is clearly marked with the Tick no matter what time you buy it.

Could it possibly be just cynical marketing exploitation of a symbol that consumers have grown to trust as an indicator of the right things to eat?

Can someone explain the health benefit of a battered and deep-fried fish patty, topped with cheese and tartare sauce, served in a sweet bun?

Is it the more than 13g of fat of which a whopping 22% is saturated fat? Perhaps its the more that 1/2g of salt that does the trick.

When the Tick first came out, consumers were educated that it primarily meant low fat, butchers were encouraged to trim as much excess fat as possible to earn the Tick and farmers went along for the ride, trying to produce animals that were not as fatty as their predecessors.

Now it seems as if fat is okay, so long as it's a little bit less than the competition, which in this case, cannot be identified. How do those Heart Tick people manage to sleep at night?

Well, however they do, they best be prepared to move over.

Weight Watchers is hopping into the warm and cosy Ronald McDonald bed. Sleeping with a clown seems just about right for both of them.
 
  posted at 5:59 pm
  6 comments



Molecular Gastronomy Takes Body Blow
The Guardian's Word of Mouth blog has finally caught up with with my post from last year.

Take a bow Lea Pustetto, you were the first.
 
  posted at 5:41 pm
  0 comments



Tuesday, March 02, 2010
Yarra Valley Chocolate Co.

The chocolate eye is watching you!

There are some shops that I both love and hate at the same time. Ikea is one of them, love the Scandinavian genius at work in flatpack homewares, but I really hate the simultaneous feelings of being both lost and trapped in their giant maze.

Another place that does a similar thing to me is the cheese room at Richmond Hill cafe & larder. Not lost, just trapped.

How many times have I been there to buy just one or two superb cheeses and walked out with several plus an appallingly huge hole seared into my credit card?

It was obvious to me that more discipline was required. In a Tony Abbott* kind of way, I really had to save myself for other, different pleasures.

Then the bastards started setting traps.

After magnificently managing to curtail my cheese selections upon my last visit, some devious prick had thought to subvert my honourable intentions, by placing a tasting plate full of the most delectable chocolate pieces right at the cash register.

Dear God, I ask you, is that fair? Coles and Woolworths would be proud of you.




Seduced I was.

It was such an innocent taste too, but my tastebuds lit up, sending a huge surge of delicious signals to my brain which was busy self congratulating on its cleverness in not succumbing to temptations of the cheesy variety.

This wasn't good chocolate, it was great chocolate. Perhaps it's the blend of white, milk and dark that does it, but the flavour is extraordinary, coating the mouth with chocolatey goodness offering real depth of flavour and as smooth as Michael Buble's voice.



How good is it?

Well, truth to say, this is my second attempt to let you know about it. The first time, my family fell upon it like a pride of lions in a feeding frenzy.

It comes in these hand swirled slabs, each one is uniquely different, but you may not care about that once you taste it.

Get onto it, it's the real thing.

*Tony Abbott is the leader of the Australian opposition and has become known for his, err, interesting Catholic ideas.
 
  posted at 7:22 pm
  11 comments



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