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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Recent Posts
Hashed Potato Pancakes
Easy Tomato Soup
A Matter of Opinion
Ruby Blood Navel Oranges
Chicken Cacciatora
Goulash Soup
Fennel, Guanciale & Fontina Quiche
Soup aux Bernard Salt
Polenta with Cavalo Nero & Borlotti Beans
Sorrel Sauce

1001 Dinners 1001 Nights
A Few of My Favourite Things
Abstract Gourmet
Apellation Australia
Becks and Posh
BurgerMary ATX
Cook (almost) Anything at least once
Cooking Down Under
Cook sister!
Cooked And Bottled In Brunswick
David Lebovitz
Deep Dish Dreams
Chef Paz
Chubby Hubby
Eating Melbourne
Eating With Jack
essjay eats
Food Lover's Journey
Grab Your Fork
I Am Obsessed With Food
I Eat Therefore I Am
Iron Chef Shellie
Just Desserts
Kalyn's Kitchen
Kitchen Wench
Matt Bites
Melbourne Gastronome
My Kitchen in Half Cups
Nola Cuisine
Not Quite Nigella
Nourish Me
Seriously Good
Souvlaki For The Soul
Stone Soup
Syrup and Tang
Steve Don't Eat It!
That Jess Ho
The Elegant Sufficiency
The Perfect Pantry
The View From My Porch
Thyme for Cooking
Tumeric & Saffron
tummy rumbles
What I Cooked Last Night
where's the beef
Vicious Ange

Food Blog Resources
Food Blog S'cool
I Eat I Drink I Work
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Food for Thought
Autism Victoria
Autism Vox
forget me now
Lotus Martinis
MOM - Not Otherwise Specified
St Kilda Today

Friday, September 29, 2006
Programs I Like
One of the joys of pay television is having the food channel. There are some great presenters with plenty of fantastic food and tips. My all time favourite is Rick Stein, whenever he comes on my wife D wrinkles up her nose in disdain, she likes him well enough but they do repeat quite a lot. Of course I can watch him over and over, there is always something you missed. D doesn't count the movies (read chick flicks) she watches again and again, usually because she falls asleep at one point, so poor me who stayed awake, gets a second or third dose. Mind you if I fall asleep during one of her movies I catch it for not being interested in what she likes, sigh.

I have a secret weapon for watching Rick and that's my daughter M. She loves his dog Chalky and always calls me when she notices that Rick is on much to D's chagrin. I can't say I'm a big fan of Chalky and actually cheered when Rick left him behind for his series on the houseboat in the canals of France. In common with a lot of small dogs, Chalky likes a bit of a snarl and nip and seems to of gotten more cantankerous as he's gotten older. But M loves him, even forgiving that time he chased, caught and killed a rabbit during filming.

What has caught my attention lately are a couple of shows on Lifestyle Food that I'm really enjoying. When I can. One of them, Good Eats, starring Alton Brown is on at 6.30 in the morning. because I'm helping out with M while she's on school holidays, I've been fortunate to catch a couple of shows. Alton is kinda like the nutty professor, he's really clued up about food in a Harold McGee kind of way, but makes it so entertaining to watch as he demonstrates the processes that occur during cooking, making them easily understandable and a lot of fun.

The other show that has my eye is Lidia's Table. Lidia Matticchio Bastianich is the host of this delightful and warm Italian cooking show. She has several restaurants and her experience is easy to spot. This program is more about home cooking and to this end regularly includes members of her family; I love it when her mum is on. Lidia refers to her as grandma and she has a real twinkle in her eye as she steals the limelight form Lidia who is gracious enough to allow it. All the recipes I've seen so far are interesting and make me want to cook them, which is not always true of other shows. The problem is that the only time I can watch it is 10.30 at night.

Come on Lifestyle Food, there is a lot of filler programming in prime time. How about moving these two programs to a better slot?
  posted at 9:59 am

Thursday, September 28, 2006
Champagne Tasting
Just a quick heads up for Melbourne people. Some of you may have had your palates wetted by my recent post about champagne that was part of Wine Blogging Wednesday hosted by sam of Becks & Posh. The wine I chose, an Egly-Ouriet, is on tasting along with a most fabulous list of other champagnes.

Here is the notification I recieved yesterday.

IT’S ON AGAIN! – Prince Wine Store’s Annual Champagne Tasting

Location: The Deck at Circa
Date and Time: Monday, October 9 (6-8pm)
Cost: $40 per person including Canapés
$95 per person including Canapés for entry to the VIP room

Now in its tenth year this tasting is always a great opportunity to taste a superb range of Champagne from many of Champagne's greatest houses including Ayala (owned by Bollinger and new to Australia), Billecart-Salmon, Bollinger, Jacquesson, Louis Roederer, Moet & Chandon, Pol Roger, Egly-Ouriet, Taittinger, Philipponnat and Veuve Clicquot. In most instances we will have more than one wine from each house to taste. We will also have a number of superb small production champagnes exclusive to Prince Wine Store on tasting including wines from Andre Clouet, Regis Fliniaux, Pierre Peters and Jerome Prevost.

And like last year we will also have our VIP room where you can taste prestige cuvee Champagnes including Krug Grande Cuvée and vintage, Dom Perignon, Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame, Louis Roederer Cristal, Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Elisabeth Rose, Bollinger RD, Taittinger Comtes de Champagne and Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill. Places are extremely limited and the price includes admission to the rest of the tasting as well. We will be serving canapés and you will need to call Prince Wine Store on (03) 9686 3033 to reserve your place. Please be warned however that this event always books out unbelievably quickly! Please note that payment for this event will be processed this week and if you cancel on or before Thursday, October 5 you will get a full refund. After this date you will receive a 50% refund.

If you would like to attend, and who wouldn't, call Prince Wine Store on 9686 3033. Just remember, be quick, it sells out fast.
  posted at 7:06 am

Monday, September 25, 2006
Weekend Herb Blogging # 52
WHB is one year old. Hooray!!!

To celebrate, Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen has decided to have all the participants nominate their favourite herb in a recipe, with Kalyn announcing her favourite herb on Saturday, then a recap placing all the herbs in order of popularity on Sunday. Phew, that should be quite some job. My quiet tip is for Kalyn to nominate a herb starting with B and the most popular herb might also share a B, though Sophie Grigson is on record as saying the most popular herb in the world is coriander. I wonder.

The herb I would like to nominate is one that almost could have been the national herb of Australia. This country is particularly poor in herbs given that while eucalyptus leaves are very aromatic, the oil contained therein is poisonous, leaving lemon myrtle as just about our only indigenous herb. However there is one herb that has great significance to all Aussies, found on the battlefield where the knockabout Australian attitude was transformed into a national identity. Every year on Remembrance Day, diggers (soldiers) proudly wear a sprig of rosemary on their uniforms as a symbol of that day, April 25th, 1915 when Australian troops landed on the Gallipoli peninsula to take on the Turks.

At this time Turkish farmers eked out a living from the poor soils, growing peppers and tomatoes as best they could. Where the soil was too difficult to work it was left wild and was carpeted by herbs, two in particular, rosemary and thyme, both hardy perennials. A soldier, Aspinall, wrote about the place,

The grassy slopes that crown the cliffs are carpeted with flowers. The azure sky is cloudless; the air is fragrant with the scent of wild thyme. In front, beyond a smiling valley studded with cypress and olive and patches of young corn, the ground rises gently to the village of Krithia, standing amidst clumps of mulberry and oaks; and thence more steeply to a frowning ridge beyond, its highest point like the hump of a camel's back. Away to the right, edged with a ribbon of silvery sand, lie the sapphire arc of Morto Bay, the glistening Dardenelles, and the golden fields of Troy.

Australians adopted rosemary with its long stalks and narrow spiky leaves as a reminder of that place, ignoring the softer thyme plants and it is thyme that I want to feature as my favourite herb, for while rosemary has a wonderful flavour it has a tendency to dominate, like an officer, unlike thyme which is a workhorse herb, making it more like the common soldier.

I'm pretty sure that thyme won't make it as the most popular herb in the roundup, that honour will likely go to basil or coriander, maybe even parsley, but the all round versatility of thyme makes it my absolute favourite herb. It can be used anywhere, cooked or fresh, the leaves can be dried for use later on, and it adds just the right touch to so many dishes. I'm not really sure why I like it so much, perhaps because it was the first herb outside of parsley that I used. For me coriander runs a very close second as it's also extremely versatile and all parts of this herb can be used, right down to the roots. But when you cook with coriander, it seems to lose flavour and when used fresh it certainly dominates, so I guess I'm voting for thyme as it's a team player.

Unlike today, when someone can drop a bomb through your open window, in 1915 landing somewhere on the correct beach was considered a bonus; many soldiers were simply put on the wrong spot. This became the motif for the entire campaign, with both sides making dreadful mistakes that cost many thousands of lives. Australians like to blame English officers for many of these mistakes, but the truth was that there were also plenty of errors committed by Australian officers, even one of our best generals, Monash, admitted later to making one. But it was the ordinary soldiers of both sides who suffered and united by their suffering came to respect one another in a way that was uncommon in war, where hatred of the enemy is the norm.

It's strange to think of a campaign that ended in defeat as the catalyst for the formation of our national identity, just as it was strange for disgraced businessman Alan Bond, the first person outside of America to win the America's Cup yacht race, to compare his victory to winning at Gallipoli. It was a war that wiped out the cream of several nation's youth in conditions that today seem scarcely believable. To be ordered from the relative safety of the trenches to charge at an enemy well dug in and armed with machineguns seems the height of stupidity, but that is what happened. The aftermath of this was that bodies were left to rot in the hot sun, both sides realized that this could not be left to happen, so periodic truces were called to allow time to bury the dead. It was during these truces that men from both sides fraternised, swapping rations.

The Turks were just as shocked at the carnage as we were, one of them was moved to say, ' At this spectacle even the most gentle must feel savage, and the most savage must weep.' Another said pointing to the fresh dug graves, 'That's politics,' then pointing at all the dead bodies said, ' That's diplomacy. God pity all of us poor soldiers...'

It seems incredible to us today that a truce could be called and for soldiers of both sides to mix freely, swapping rations, not that Australian soldiers had much to offer, only tins of Bully beef and hardened biscuits and the Turks were little better off. But necessity is the mother of invention and it would not be too hard a stretch to imagine a Turkish soldier coming up to one of our soldiers and offering a little something. Here is what an imaginary digger had to say about it.

We saw a johnny turk scurrying around collecting firewood, no-one took a pot-shot at him for we know a truce is imminent. We could see the puff of smoke a few yards away in their trench, maybe they were boiling a billy, but then the most amazing smell of food came wafting our way. No idea what it was, but after a month of bully beef it smelt like the finest meal you could ever imagine. Shortly after the truce started, no-one was hurrying to be first over the top, but gradually we all got out of the trench, it was wonderful to move around at full stretch, not having to worry about a shrapnel shell exploding above our scones. Then a Turkish soldier came over to me with his tin plate, the same one that had gathered the firewood. On the plate were strips of pepper that he had roasted over the flames. He apologised that he had no salt to season them, so I handed him a tin of bully beef and said there was more than enough salt in there. Then I tasted his charred peppers, they had a dressing of olive oil, Lord knows how he got hold of that, and flavoured with a few leaves of the wild thyme that grows all about. I don't think that if I ever live to a hundred years old, that I will ever taste a finer meal than that, the taste will stay with me forever.

Peppers with Thyme

3 or 4 mild peppers or capsicums
fruity olive oil
thyme leaves, stripped from 6 sprigs
1 clove garlic, crushed
salt & fresh ground pepper

Char the pepper skins until black over an open flame or under a grill. Place in a bowl and cover, leave until cool. Peel off as much skin as possible, but don't wash, a few black specks are okay. Cut the peppers into strips and mix with all the ingredients, leave overnight. Serve with some good sourdough bread.
  posted at 1:18 pm

St Kilda Cakes
One of the delights of living in St Kilda is that we are in the centre of the universe as far as cake shops go. A few steps away is Carlisle Street with its unique Jewish atmosphere, perhaps more so at the Eastern end of the strip. There are several good cake shops and we have had more than one or two birthday cakes from the Russian bakery, which apart from the great rye bread they make, also produces excellent cakes and pastries.

However the apogee of cakes in St Kilda, nay, Victoria would have to be Acland Street. Here the cake shops put on mind boggling displays of cakes and pastries that hark back to the Eastern European origins of the owners. In a street that has undergone an amazing transformation over the last twenty-five years, these cake shops, along with the Scheherezade Restaurant Coffee Lounge, have been the one constant. No matter how trendy the street has become, the display of cakes has remained virtually unchanged, as if there is some master list as to how everything has to be be arranged on the window shelves. Tourists come from all over the world to gawk and to put on a few extra pounds.

Of all the cake shops in the street, we have our favourites, Monarch and Europa, both of which have a Polish heritage. From Monarch we adore the Black Forest cake, which sadly now has to be ordered in advance, though slices of it still have pride of place in the window and the other treat from here are the babkas - chocolate, cherry and poppyseed varieties all vie for attention. But the cake shop we go to the most is Europa and we mostly go for just one thing, the doughnuts and not any old doughnut, but the the Polish paczki (pronounced pon-shki). These plump beauties are made from a yeast batter, gently fried, then injected with plum butter subtly scented with rose water, then topped with a lemon icing. You can keep your Krispy Kremes, give me paczki any day.

Yesterday was one of those bleak spring days, with a howling gale and showers mixed with hail, that said better to stay inside and keep warm. We needed some bread, so I offered to do the vacuuming, if my wife D went to the shop. When she came back, there was a box inside a white paper bag with the Europa insignia stamped upon it. Last month we were in Acland Street and I was carrying the exact same box, waiting for my wife and daughter when a stranger approached and asked what was in the box. He was from out of town and had noticed people carrying the same package everywhere. So I told him that these were the best doughnuts he would ever taste and showed him where to get them.

When D opened our paper bag, there was an 'oh dear' moment as there were only two doughnuts for the three of us! Daughter M would not tolerate missing out on a whole one, these are one of her favourite treats. The Polish Shop at Queen Victoria market sells them along with the full range of Polish smallgoods; whenever we shop there, M always asks for one. So we cut one in half and gave M a whole one. She sat down on the couch and proceeded to lick it to death, eating all the icing first. I commented on it to D who said that when she was young, she did the exact same thing, comparing it to opening up a cream biscuit and licking out the filling first, which I know I've done and suspect gentle reader, you may have too.

I don't normally whinge, but to that person in Acland Street yesterday with the dog. Our daughter was bitten by one and is now very scared of them, that is the reason she was screaming. My wife was trying to tell you your dog should be on a leash so that you could control it, rather than it rushing at our terrified daughter. Your comment that this is an English speaking country was not clever and not appreciated.
  posted at 7:23 am

Friday, September 22, 2006
A Cool Drink
My daughter P forwarded this to me.

A man and his dog were walking along a road. The man was enjoying the scenery, when it suddenly occurred to him that he was dead. He remembered dying, and that the dog walking beside him had been dead for years. He wondered where the road was leading them. After a while, they came to a high, white stone wall along one side of the road. It looked like fine marble. At the top of a long hill, it was broken by a tall arch that glowed in the sunlight. When he was standing before it he saw a magnificent gate in the arch that looked like mother-of-pearl, and the street that led to the gate looked like pure gold. He and the dog walked toward the gate, and as he got closer, he saw a man at a desk to one side. When he was close enough, he called out,

"Excuse me, where are we?"

"This is Heaven, sir," the man answered.

"Wow! Would you happen to have some water?" the man asked.

"Of course, sir. Come right in, and I'll have some ice water brought right up."

The man gestured, and the gate began to open. "Can my friend," gesturing toward his dog, "come in, too?" the traveler asked.

"I'm sorry sir, but we don't accept pets."

The man thought a moment and then turned back toward the road and continued the way he had been going with his dog. After another long walk, and at the top of another long hill, he came to a dirt road leading through a farm gate that looked as if it had never been closed. There was no fence. As he approached the gate, he saw a man inside, leaning against a tree and reading a book.

"Excuse me!" he called to the man. "Do you have any water?"

"Yeah, sure, there's a pump over there, come on in."

"How about my friend here?" the traveler gestured to the dog.

"There should be a bowl by the pump."

They went through the gate, and sure enough, there was an old-fashioned hand pump with a bowl beside it. The traveler filled the water bowl and took a long drink himself, and then he gave some to the dog. When they were full, he and the dog walked back toward the man who was standing by the tree.

"What do you call this place?" the traveler asked.

"This is Heaven," he answered.

"Well, that's confusing," the traveler said. "The man down the road said that was Heaven, too."

"Oh, you mean the place with the gold street and pearly gates? Nope. That's hell."

"Doesn't it make you mad for them to use your name like that?"

"No, we're just happy that they screen out the folks who would leave their best friends behind."

Soooo...Sometimes, we wonder why friends keep forwarding jokes to us without
writing a word. Maybe this will explain. When you are very busy, but still want to keep in touch, guess what you do? You forward jokes. When you have nothing to say, but still want to keep contact, you forward jokes. When you have something to say, but don't know what, and don't know how, you forward jokes. Also to let you know that you are still remembered, you are still important, you are still loved, you are still cared for, guess what you get? A forwarded joke. So, next time if you get a joke, don't think that you've been sent just another forwarded joke, but that you've been thought of today and your friend on the other end of your computer wanted to send you a smile. You are welcome @ my water bowl anytime.

I love you too, P.
  posted at 8:33 am

Thursday, September 21, 2006
Weekend Herb Blogging
In my younger days, silverbeet or Swiss chard, was a regular feature on the menu. Not quite Popeye's favourite but not too far away either. Mum, in common with a lot of other people, would chop off the white stalk part and consign them ignominiously to the bin. She loved silverbeet and it was one of the vegetables that had to be grown in my vegetable plot, which was no fuss as it's so easy to grow. Her favourite way was to simply rinse the leaves in water and pop them straight into a hot pot, just like that, completely unardorned. After a minute or so the leaves would collapse and shrink right down and that was it, they were ready. Often we would find silverbeet leaves popping up in the most unexpected places, like mum's fried rice.

Fast forward a few years and imagine my surprise when reading a cookbook that said you could eat the silverbeet stalks! We had been throwing them away for years and years, but now no more. I'm not sure that my wife D knew the stalks were good, for I bought a bunch of silverbeet, but only wanted the leaves for a certain dish, so I chopped off the stalks and saved them in the vegetable crisper, where they languished for quite some time, until last night, when looking for a vegetable to cook, I chanced upon them.

That's the great thing about silverbeet, one bunch yields either one or two dishes and the possibilities to prepare it are endless. I was in a cooking mood and the thought also occurred to me that this would be an opportunity to enter Kalyn's Kitchen Weekend Herb Blogging. I'm going to present two dishes from the one bunch, one using the leaves, the other the stalks. Both dishes seem to be South Beach diet friendly, but maybe Kalyn could suggest something carb like to make it the complete vegetarian meal.

Piquant Silverbeet

1 bunch silverbeet leaves - no stalk
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small chile, finely chopped
1/2 tablespoon capers
optional - 1 0r 2 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
salt & fresh ground pepper

Rinse the silverbeet in cold water to remove any dirt, don't dry and roughly chop. Warm the olive oil in a pot large enough to hold all the silverbeet. Add the garlic, chile, capers and anchovy if using and warm for two minutes, don't fry. Raise the heat to high and add the still wet silverbeet, stir to coat with the oil. Place the lid on the pot and continue to cook on high heat for two or three minutes, or until the leaves collapse. Season and serve.

Braised Silverbeet Stalks

Stalks from 1 bunch silverbeet
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 400 g (1 lb) tin crushed tomatoes
4 stalks thyme, tied
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
salt & fresh ground pepper

Chop the silverbeet stalks into 1 cm (1/4") pieces across. Sweat the onion in the olive oil until soft, then add the silverbeet stalks and the garlic and cook 2 minutes more. Add the crushed tomatoes and thyme, bring to the boil and simmer for fifteen minutes or until tender but still with some crunch. Add the parsley and season. Serve.
  posted at 9:45 am

Wednesday, September 20, 2006
The Nest
Last year we had a visitor to our apartments. There are six in the block, on three floors, divided by a central stairwell. Ours is at the top with a small landing leading to the stairs. In common with most suburbs all around the world, St Kilda has its fair share of pigeons, which at a certain time of the year start looking for suitable nesting sites. There must have been a shortage last year as a hen made a nest on the doormat opposite our front door and proceeded to lay two snow white eggs in a little pile of sticks that she had assiduously put together.

I'm pretty sure it was her first attempt at raising a family and because there were plenty of comings and goings, she didn't sit the eggs as well as she might and they failed to hatch. Well, we may have disturbed her, but we must also have been good hosts for she has returned again this year, rebuilt her nest and layed two more eggs, which M has been watching with growing curiosity.

The other night we returned home and we saw the pigeon was on the nest, but one of the eggs had rolled out. As we approached, the bird flew away and we could see that the egg hadn't rolled at all, there was only a half egg and it was empty! There on the nest were two fluffy lumps contentedly asleep. We are surrogate grandparents!
  posted at 12:39 pm

Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Ring, Ring

It's not April Fool's Day, is it?
  posted at 12:37 pm

The Rock Whisperer
Sometimes in order to open a lock, all you need is the right key.

M was invited to a rock climbing party at an indoor centre on the weekend by her friend A. His parents had told us that they were worried by his choice, but A had insisted, so rock climbing it was. So a group of us gathered outside the party room and the instructors did the best they could in getting a group of mostly seven year old boys, some with autism, ready for the adventure. After a brief introduction, everybody who was to climb had to put on a harness. This is where it got a bit tricky for M and her friend T, there was no way a harness was going on either one.

T's dad M explained that when T was in the sort of mood he was in right now, there was no point in pushing him, as things would only get worse. I can say from hard experience that he is right, but he was also wrong. For those of you who have seen The Horse Whisperer, you would know that forcing a recalcitrant horse to do something it doesn't want, will never work, but if you pull back and find the right angle, you can get the horse to do almost anything. With people it's the same, it's all about finding the angle.

Unfortunately M and T were happy enough racing around a cave like section of the rock climbing, and as they weren't allowed in there, the problem was to get them out. Things came to an abrupt halt when T who was chasing M bumped his head into the faux rock wall. It may not have been real rock, but it was just as hard. Some kids with autism don't feel pain in the same way we do. A hard knock that would make someone else cry is often blithely ignored, but when they do feel pain, look out.

I saw the whole thing and actually felt the bump pass through me and called his dad over and told him that it was a really hard bump. T started to whimper and cry, on his forehead, a lump the size of an egg started to form. It looked like T's day was over. I called M over and said lets go to the wall and watch some kids going up, which she did, but she still didn't want to have a go.

Later on I found a nice red harness, one of her favourite colours, but that was no good either. We watched some kids go up the wall and I asked again would she like a shot to which she said yes, so off I went to find an instructor to fit the harness. When I brought one over, M had changed her mind, no harness, so I left her to play, then in a lull, called her over to the wall asking if she would like to feel it, which she did. I asked her to feel the hand and foot holds and she did that too, then...

"Dad, can I climb?"

I practically fell over myself in grabbing an instructor, who came over and fitted M with a nice blue harness, as red wasn't colour of the day. Over to the wall and after a tentative start, she went straight up to the top! Way to go M! High fives! Her friend T was watching and despite his earlier run in with the wall, got caught up in the excitement and asked if he could have a go too, so on with a harness and over to the wall he went. He went up maybe five or six holds and feeling out of his comfort zone, started to climb down. I could sense his dad's disappointment, but I was having none of that. As soon as T's feet touched the ground, I yelled out, "You did it T, you climbed the wall! Well done, now give me a high five. T was positively beaming with pride and then his dad worked it out - his son HAD climbed the wall. Soon it was high fives everywhere and T wanted to have another go.

One key, two locks.
  posted at 8:50 am

Monday, September 18, 2006
On Budget
When I was growing up, a steak dinner didn't mean the same for me as it does today. Back then, I'm talking nearly forty years now, a steak was a piece of oyster blade. We kids had never even heard of porterhouse or sirloin - nary a rump steak in sight, or heaven forbid, a juicy eye fillet. We didn't feel we were missing out on anything though, because a nice piece of oyster blade is a good steak.

But then we grew up, started dining out and discovered all the 'better' cuts of steak and the poor oyster blade was largely forgotten except for the occasional braise where the structure of this meat comes into play, with its thick gelatin seam that slowly melts, keeping the meat juicy. But the thing no-one realized was that oyster blade comes from the shoulder of the cow and that all the prime steaks are connected to this section, all the way along the back, right down to the rump, so the flavour is most certainly there, in fact oyster blade probably has a beefier flavour perhaps due to being a working muscle. But being a part of the shoulder means it has a higher proportion of connective tissue, with a thick seam running right through the centre. This seam of connective tissue is a double edged sword. On one hand it makes this cut a little chewier, but by no means tough, but on the other hand also has the advantage of melting into the meat on cooking, keeping things moist.

Last Friday I was at the butchers thinking about a roast for the weekend and really felt like a nice beef roast, so I enquired as to what they had. They showed me a small oyster blade roast of some 800 g (1.5 lb) and a larger one a kilo heavier (2 lb). The smaller one suited better so home it came. When I unwrapped it and looked at it again, I don't know, it must of shrunk or something, it just didn't look big enough for roasting, but what came to mind was the French way of dealing with the lesser cuts and that is slicing them into thin steaks across the grain and grilling them very quickly on fierce heat to about medium done. Cutting the steak this way ensures the greatest tenderness as the meat fibres are all short, and cooking to medium helps the connective tissue to start melting down.

If you can get the feather end, it looks wonderful cut this way, as the connective tissue produces a feather like pattern, but this is not what I had; no matter, it doesn't affect the taste or tenderness. I sliced the meat into steaks no more than 1 cm (1/2") thick, heated the grill pan to smoking hot, seasoned and oiled the steaks then slapped them on the grill. As soon as they were charred enough and before the smoke alarm went off, they were onto a plate, topped with some compound butter flavoured with garlic, anchovies and parsley, otherwise, if you were in a cooking mood, to my mind there would be nothing better than this. With a well made budget wine from a good region, it would be easy to imagine you were in a country cafe somewhere in rural France. Without paying the airfare and with the meat costing less than half the premium cuts.
  posted at 8:25 am

Saturday, September 16, 2006
Dried Vanilla
It's amazing what you can find in the pantry cupboard when you have a rummage around. Long forgotten spices, half empty packets of this and that. The other day I came across a real treasure.....about ten vanilla pods in a little plastic pouch. They have been there for a very long time too, maybe two years at least.

D was making a Polish dessert, kind of like a rice pudding, with a layer of cooked rice topped with grated apple, then covered with more rice and baked in the oven, so I used one of the vanilla pods to flavour the rice. Only trouble was it had dried out substantially. That exotic vanilla perfume and flavour were still there, it flavoured the rice nicely, but it was impossible to scrape the seeds out.

Does anyone know how to reconstitute a dried out vanilla pod?
  posted at 2:04 pm

Thursday, September 14, 2006
Perfectly Happy Thanks
Lifestyle Food on Foxtel is promoting Tamasin Day-Lewis at the moment with a quote from her, along with interspersed vision of a vegetable garden from which produce is being gathered. I've never really warmed to her as a cooking show presenter and have never been able to quite figure out why. Maybe it's the never trust a skinny chef syndrome, or is it that the lion's mane that passes for her hair makes her look a little scary?

Anyway, when I heard her quote it kinda crystallized my feelings.

"There is no point in cooking vegetables, unless the produce is absolutely fantastic."

Mmmmm, not in my world baby. And I suspect not in your world either. Not all of us have access to the very best, unblemished vegies that Tamasin seems to be demanding. Even if you have your own vegie patch, I bet that most of the produce would never be of the standard that would get its picture onto the cover of Gourmet magazine. Things in the real world are misshapen, attacked by insects, perhaps left hanging a little too long. Do we throw these things out? Depends whose kitchen you are in. In mine, amputation is quite normal. Why would I throw out something because a small bit of it was no good? Or that it somehow insulted my asthetic sensibilites. No-one knows better than me that things are not always perfect, that is no reason not to work with them.

Ultimately, the search for perfection does the world no good at all. Agricultural practices designed to deliver perfect produce do more harm, say through the use of insecticides or fertilizers, than the good they do through making a few happy because of the size or unblemished nature of their vegetables. Also overproduction brought about by discarding less than perfect specimens, means tying up extra water resources for no good reason.

Perfect produce? Forget it.
  posted at 8:27 am

Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Wine Blogging Wednesday #25

picture by Michael Blamey

When I saw Wine Blogging Wednesday #25 being hosted by sam over at Becks & Posh and champagne, real champagne, was the subject, it was just so obvious that this was for me. I had written a previous post on the history of champagne in which sam had left a comment that the British could take some credit for its invention and this is indeed true! Sam also said in her hosting suggestions that we might consider a food pairing, another box to tick. There were also extra brownie points on offer for choosing from one of the lesser known champagne houses. Tick again.

So off we go.

Firstly to choose a champagne, for everything else would flow from the choice, so I headed over to Apellation Australia, my fave wine blog and asked Cam Wheeler, who incidently is hosting the next Wine Blogging Wednesday, for his advice and whether he would like to link posts and give a real wine perspective to go with my food suggestion. Not that that will stop me from saying a few words about the wine. Cam kindly agreed and suggested an Egly-Ouriet Grand Cru Cuvee Non Dose, however when I went to purchase the wine I discovered that the name had been updated to Egly-Ouriet Grand Cru Extra Brut VP, but was still the exact same wine.The Extra Brut and Non Dose on the labels is just a way of saying that no sugar has been added to fill the space after disgorgement. So expect a wine of this style to be fresh and racy, with a spine tingling backbone of acidity. Cam also asked for my seafood recipe so he could try the match for himself.

Champagne, being the northernmost vineyard area in France, has always produced wines of acidity, the coolness of the region doesn't allow for the build up of grape sugars. Before the English, err, French figured out how to make sparkling wine, all the wines from here were still, i.e. without bubbles, and would have required careful winemaking to make the wine palatable. With no dose of sugar in mind, food needs a certain richness to act as a partner with this style of champagne, but also must be delicate so as not to overpower it, which makes seafood such a great choice. To give it the requisite richness, the accompanying sauce needs to be a strong reduction containing butter. This allows the champagne to clean and refresh the palate between bites and the reduction of the liquids heightens the seafoods natural sweetness and along with the butter helps soften the wines natural acidity.

What I chose to do was feature a single fillet of fish, in this case wild barramundi, along with scallops and mussels. The sauce was a reduction of the mussel juices, vermouth and fish stock, gently coloured by a few strands of saffron and given shine and richness by the incorporation of butter.

picture by Michael Blamey

Because I've never featured photos of my own food, mainly for the lack of digital a camera, I wanted a great location featuring my own suburb and St Kilda beach fitted the bill nicely, tying into the seafood theme. My friend Michael Blamey, from St Kilda Today, agreed to do the shoot and in exchange, he had a very nice lunch with a glass of fizz.

picture by Michael Blamey

I didn't taste the champagne at the beach, for I wanted to share it with my wife over dinner, so after the shoot packed up and went home to do it all again. Michael had commented that he didn't find the wine overly yeasty, which was a plus in his book, but made me burn with curiousity.

When D and I sat down for dinner later that night, it was my first taste of the champagne. In the glass it was straw coloured and the bead was surprisingly fairly coarse. Michael is right, some champagnes have an over-the-top sourdough smell, but while there were some bready aromas, they were perfectly in keeping. My first taste revealed the anticipated acidity and not a lot of mousse. Some champagnes produce a kind of acidic heartburn that is off putting to some, but the acid in the Egly was pure and fine with exceptional length. My impression of the wine was of cleanness and elegance, well worth the $85 price tag. For Cam Wheelers thoughts on the wine go here.

I purchased this bottle from the Prince Wine Store and they went out of their way to get hold of a bottle for me after discovering it was on the stock list but not in stock. This wine store is one of the more serious wine shops in Victoria, with tastings of local and imported wines every weekend. They feature up and coming wineries along with established stars and their imported wine list is second to none. This is not your cleanskin type of wine retailer, they have far more interesting wines, starting from about the $20 level. At all price points, the wines they offer have more depth and complexity than other wines at the same price points in other stores, they are extremely well chosen. They also feature wine education courses as well as special wine dinners, often with the winemakers. If you have never been, The Prince Wine Store is well worth a visit.

picture by Michael Blamey

So here I am setting up for the photo shoot with the St Kilda pier and the rebuilt cafe in the background, with the gentle waves of Port Phillip bay lapping the shore. If you are wondering how I did it, the fish was cooked at the last moment, wrapped in silicone paper then aluminium foil. The sauce was made in advance, so I kept the mussels in the fridge and cooked the scallops just after the fish, warmed the sauce and mussels together, popped in the scallops and put all that into a prewarmed thermos. I also took a little sachet of chopped parsley, but judging by the photo, I need to chop a little finer. That camera lens sure doesn't lie!
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  posted at 7:39 pm

Tuesday, September 12, 2006
A sales rep who calls on us weekly, has been telling us of his adventures with the treatment of his bowel cancer. I won't recount some of his stories, involving bags, but suffice to say he has confronted this deadly disease with grace and good humour.

He told me last week that he was having his bag removed, pointing to one hanging from his side. When he came in today I greeted him thusly.

"G'day Hoover (well known vacuum)."

Puzzled look on face, "What do you mean?"

"You're bagless now!"

Well unfortunately it wasn't completely so. The bag that was removed was the chemo bag, his other bag was still in place and would be forever. Still we had a bit of a laugh. He told us a couple of the side effects of chemotherapy too. The one thing that bugged him the most was that he had lost his sense of taste, not that he was so concerned about food, annoying and all that it was, the real worry was he could no longer taste beer and recounted all the brands he has tried in order to rediscover its taste, it was a pretty extensive list!

I joked with him now was the time to try all the foods he didn't like and recounted my distaste for parsnips, he said that his was for tripe. Then he mentioned two things that he could still taste.

Any guesses?

A clue - there is a God.
  posted at 10:57 am

Monday, September 11, 2006
Get 'Em Young
My wife's 13 year old nephew stayed over with us on the weekend. He was playing in a volleyball championship at the Aquatic Centre and we are a lot closer than where he lives. As the event is over a couple of days, M wouldn't have to get up quite so early.

I went to Gruner's Butcher & Smallgoods to buy some well aged rump steak about 1.5" (4 cm) thick. Whenever we go to M's place, if I want to eat meat that is still pink or rare, I have to do it myself. M's parents consider any colour at all in meat a sign of incomplete cooking, so M has never had a rare or medium steak in his life.

But that was about to change.

We were watching sport on telly together and I casually asked M if he had ever had meat with a bit of pink colour, to which he replied no, so I explained to him all about meat cookery and why people cook meat the way they do and how it affects the taste. Then very innocently I asked if he would consider trying meat that was still pink (medium) and assured him that it would not be red raw. He thought about it for a moment and then agreed after I said we could always cook it some more if he didn't like it.

It wasn't necessary, he tucked away half a kilo (1 lb) of prime rump steak. Told his mum too.
  posted at 3:08 pm

Sunday, September 10, 2006
The Birthday Party
M went to her first mainstream party, invited by her friend T from her mainstream school. My wife D dropped her off and left me at home with a few chores. Checked out the rugby scores and there was a close match on the telly. D would be gone two hours, I was half way through one chore, the match was close to the end, I had time, so sat down to watch.

Fifteen minutes later with the side that was behind surging, I heard a key turn in the door, D was back! With me on the couch, oops busted.

"How come you're home, is everything all right?" I said fearing the worst, that maybe all the excitement had brought about a 'moment'.

"They asked if I wanted to leave her and go home, so I said yes."

"Did you tell them she has autism?"

"No I didn't."

When your child has a disability, it's not like you go around telling the whole world, especially in front of your child and her friends. But still I could feel the panic rising in me, what if M wasn't coping, what would she do? What if T's parents didn't know, what would they make of it? When a child with autism has a moment, it can be a difficult thing to witness. There is no reasoning with them, yelling or being angry sure doesn't work, that is like fuel for the fire. The best thing to do is to speak calmly and reassuringly and just be patient, maybe offer a hug even though you wouldn't think that would work, sometimes surprisingly it does.

Well the die was cast. M was at the party, we would just have to wait. It was a come as something starting with P party. M had chosen to be a princess, she looked absolutely gorgeous. The football could no longer hold my attention, so I got back to the chores, anything to pass the time. It was only an hour and a half, but it seemed to go on forever. Eventually it passed and we jumped in the car.

We arrived just as all the kids were stuffing their faces with party cake. T's mum spotted us and came over.

"She's been great, she has joined in with everybody and played all the games."

T's mum knew about M.

You don't know how happy she made us.
  posted at 11:40 am

Thursday, September 07, 2006
Chicken with Okra
My wife D asked me the other day to buy four chicken marylands for some soup she was making. I was off to the market where there are several poultry shops and saw some lovely corn fed marylands in one of the counters. They are a lot more expensive than regular chicken and for what D wanted, unnecessary. At the next chicken shop, they had a tray of marylands which were quite large, two would have been enough, but if I was wrong I would have caught it, so purchased four of them, better too much than too little. When I got home D said that two would have been enough and so the excess marylands were consigned to the fridge.

A couple of days later, I was home early from work and D looked at me and said, "You can cook dinner," as she had other things she was doing, like the washing. "Fair trade," I thought silently to myself. We had decided this week not to buy any meat as the freezer was groaning full, but there was nothing defrosted to cook, so a quick look in the fridge revealed the marylands, but how to have them? On another shelf was some okra, one of my favourite vegetables.

I came to know and love okra in my first marriage. They were not readily available fresh at that time and we purchased them dried from specialty stores, they were also available tinned, and had the rather charming name of ladies fingers. We cooked often with them and the ones we preferred to use were very small, which were considered the best. The flavour is not dissimilar to green capsicum, but one of the properties of okra, which was not so apparent in the dried version, is it's ability to thicken a sauce via a mucilaginous liquid* stored in the pod, which is the unripe seed pod of a plant that we use as a vegetable. This clear, gooey and sticky liquid has enough thickening power to make flour unnecessary as a thickening agent.

Chicken with Okra

2 large chicken marylands
4 tablespoons oil
2 onions, diced
2 carrots, diced
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small chile, finely diced
1 800 g (2 lb) tin crushed tomatoes
200 g (1/2 lb) okra
200 g (1/2 lb) cauliflower
salt & fresh ground pepper

separate the marylands into thighs and drumsticks, if you like you can cut them into smaller pieces and brown them in the oil. Remove and brown the onions and carrots, then add the garlic, chile, crushed tomatoes and the browned chicken pieces, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the stem from the okra and cut into short pieces, cut the cauliflower into small florets and add the okra and cauliflower to the pot and season. Continue to simmer for 15 minutes or until the vegetables are soft and the sauce thickened. Serve with plain rice.

* I wanted to say this liquid looks like clear snot, but that would never do in a cooking blog, would it?
  posted at 7:45 am

Tuesday, September 05, 2006
The Dentist's Fish
The 1993 movie Jurassic Park was memorable to me for two reasons. Firstly, for the sudden onset of full bladder syndrome suffered by my then four year old son, necessitating a dozen trips to the lavatory; those monsters were pretty scary! Secondly, it was the first time I ever heard mention of Chilean sea bass, which was served in one of the scenes.

Chilean sea bass is just one of the names given to Pantagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) a deep water fish found throughout large areas of the sub-Antarctic oceans, primarily the Southern Ocean and adjacent southern parts of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The adult fish feed on prawns and squid and have only a couple of predators besides man, namely sperm whales, southern elephant seals and colossal squid.

Pantagonian toothfish is a relatively new commercial species, first fished for by South Americans who were forced from their traditional fishing grounds by large factory ships, which ironically then targeted toothfish when their popularity became established. The flesh is a pearly white with a high oil content that is particularly prized in some countries, notably Japan. Even though Australia has its own fishing grounds for this species, it has been very hard to come by here. The only taste the Australian public had, was stories of pirate fishing vessels being chased across the oceans.

I was wandering through Prahran Market on the weekend when I came by a chef setting up for a cooking demonstration. On the sign behind him, it said Pantagonian toothfish. I was in a state of high excitement! It was the first ever time I had seen it. It was $40 a kilo, but what's a foodie to do? Of course I bought some and took it home. Over the course of the weekend there was no opportunity to cook it, but plenty of time to think about which way to cook it.

I'm not going to tell you what exactly I did with it, because there is an event coming up which I'm entering (don't tell sam) and some of the ideas were tested out with the fish and will be posted about later on. However I can tell you that the fillets were pan fried, which was interesting in itself as the flesh barely changes colour when cooked, so requires a little bit of attention to make sure it's not overcooked. When cooking, a little bit of oil is released from the flesh, so not much oil is needed to start with.

The fillets cooked to a lovely sweetness, not dry at all and the flesh became thin flakes of fish that fell apart at the slightest touch. My daughter M though so much of it that I had to give her some of mine. Would I buy it again? Definitely, but only for special occasions. The upside is that the price of the toothfish makes the cost of wild barramundi look a whole lot better!
  posted at 8:21 am

Monday, September 04, 2006
A Difficult Question
I'm a little uneasy about writing this post, but I'm also uneasy about what happened last week, when someone, let's say a fisherman, shot forty fur seals on Kanowna Island, just off Wilson's Promontory, in Victoria's south-east. So before going any further, I want to make it clear that I do not condone in any way what happened, but the following should serve to highlight the differences between thinking in the country and city.

We were visiting an orchard yesterday on the Mornington Peninsula to buy some apples. My mate H had called me last week to let me know that he had some fish for us and knowing that he liked the apples from this orchard as much as us, we invited him to come along with us. H has been a fisherman all his life, as was his father and his father before him. His family have been fishing Western Port so long, that they can tell you about fishing from sailboats. My first ever fishing experience was with H's father J, and still recall the excitement I felt in catching my first fish with him.

Chatting with the farmer's mother E, we could see the twinkle of the waves of Western Port in the distance. The conversation moved on to the shooting of the seals and E expressed strong disapproval of the shooting. Pointing to H, I told E he was a fisherman and we could understand why the shooting occurred, at which point E's tone changed and she expressed sympathy towards whoever had done the deed, knowing that in all probability, it was a fisherman.

So why did they do it?

At first glance many people think that because fisherman and seals are after the same catch, that if some seals meat an untimely death, there will be more fish for the fisherman to catch. But this is not the reason. What happens is that seals chance upon a fisherman's nets to discover a motherlode of fish that cannot get away and enjoy the subsequent feast. Even though they get enough to eat, they cannot help themselves and will bite every fish in the net, making them unsaleable.

Seals are quite intelligent and soon learn that boats put the nets in place that give them a free feed, so they start to follow the boats. Soon the fisherman cannot set his nets without seals taking and ruining his entire catch and so an unspoken war has been raging between man and seals for decades. When I was young all the fishing boats that I knew of had a weapon of some sort and the fishermen all claimed they were for whenever sharks turned up in their nets; no-one wants to untangle a live, threshing shark with large sharp teeth. But the guns silent, subsidiary use was for putting an end to seal pilfering from the nets.

Put yourself in the fisherman's shoes for a moment. You make your living from catching fish, quite legally. A wild animal is taking and ruining your every catch, you have a family to support. If you were a farmer on land raising sheep and wild dogs were taking to your flock, you would shoot the dogs, no questions asked, no moral outrage. So why is it okay to shoot a wild dog but not a wild seal? The dog would argue that he has as much right to exist as anything else. And this is the dilemma we humans find ourselves in. In order for us to live, something has to die. This leads to the country/city paradox. Country folk understand life and death and are not squeamish about it, that's not to say they are in any way cruel, but they know first hand if you want to eat meat, an animal has to be killed, if another animal is eating the meat that you want to eat, chances are it will wind up dead.

In the city we do not have to think about killing an animal to eat, or to protect it from other predators. Someone else does that for us. We have long ago been removed from the realities of primary production. I saw on a food show not so long ago, a reporter crying when a cow he had selected for slaughter was dispatched. He was presented with some steaks from the beast but could not eat them because of the distress of what he witnessed, which was nothing more than an everyday occurrence. I wondered if he was starving hungry, with a gun, what would he have done then? Think about it if you eat meat yourself. You have not directly killed an animal but you have directly caused one to be killed.

I think the shooting of forty seals was an over reaction that could never be condoned, but even though I'm sorry whenever a seal is shot at the nets, I do understand it, though I desperately wish there was some other way. But whenever a white pointer shark lines up a seal to eat, it is completely untroubled by such considerations, it's just hungry.

Edited to add: Two men are facing an array of charges including hunting and destroying wildlife, injuring protected wildlife, using a gun to take wildlife and using a gun in a National Park. They are to appear in court on November 3, each facing 22 charges.
  posted at 10:46 am

Friday, September 01, 2006
Happy Blog Day!
Well, today (or yesterday here) is Happy Blog Day! This is when I introduce five new blogs (to me) to the world. Isn't the internet a fast paced entity? My little blog hasn't even celebrated its first birthday and here I am showing you five new blogs. So at not even one year old, I am old! Tell you what though, it does feel like I've been doing this forever. So without further ado, here is my list of blogs for you to go visit and say hello to. Don't forget to say hi in comments, we all remember how lonely it was before comments started coming.

Honeybee's blog Beurre et pain from Switzerland, a lawyer who cooks. Worth looking at just for the avatar.

Mary's blog alpineberry from San Francisco, mostly about baking, for which I have the utmost respect.

Kitchen Wench from the eponymous Kitchen Wench from my hometown, Melbourne, Australia, detailing her life adventures with Mr Woofy along for the ride.

Jenjen's blog Milk and Cookies from Sydney, Australia has burst onto the scene in a big way. She cooks like a chef, has an artist's eye for photography and writes like, well, a writer! A seriously good blog.

The mysteriously named S. C. from Curiosity Killed the Cook, a blog that gathers interesting recipes from just about anywhere in the world.

There you are, what are you waiting for? Go check them out!
  posted at 8:15 am


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