My wife loves that but perhaps not in the way you might think.
Take last night for instance. D wanted to make a cake to take to work. She has this lovely cake, it's almost a slice really, filled with fruit and a special topping made with meringue and custard powder, topped off with grated pastry. Different fruits get a run depending on what's available, it could be peaches, apricots, rhubarb or last night it was half and half, sour cherries and gooseberries. From the jar.
That means the jars pass by me first and I pop the lids, which as you all know sometimes is not the easiest thing to do. Generally anything bought in a jar is not too bad, but anything that has been preserved at home can be a bit of a challenge to remove the lids. So the lid of the gooseberries came off straight away but the sour cherries needed a bit more grunt. Maybe it's silly, but I somehow feel more manly when I do this job for her.
Another thing I do around the kitchen is to pretty much hand whisk everything, mayonnaise, whipped cream, whatever. It just seems easier than dragging out the mixer and cleaning up everything afterwards. I reckon I could take on a Kitchen Aid and get it to smoke point. D takes advantage of this tendency, for rather than getting the mixer out herself, she just hands me a bowl and the whisk and sets me at it; soon there was a lovely thick meringue, a rich golden colour from the addition of custard powder.
But my manly duties didn't stop there, oh no. There was the pastry to be grated over the top. In order to do this, you need to first chill the pastry in the freezer to get it firm enough to grate. D handed me a lump of pastry and a grater. The pastry was feeling a little cold, I gave it a little grate and discovered it was frozen! There would have been half a kilo of frozen pastry that had to be grated straight away, for the meringue topping was in place.
You cannot begin to imagine how hard it was to do, when it was over I was knackered. Manly or not, I think grating frozen pastry is going to be my line in the sand.
Labels: fruit cakes, grated pastry, manliness
posted at 7:44 am
It all started innocently enough.
Our daughter M has this thing about meat. There is only one sort she ever eats without complaint, pink meat. No, I don’t mean rare or medium cooked beef, but meat that is actually pink to start with and after about one and a half hours of slow poaching is still pink and also meltingly tender. The meat that M favours above all others is pickled pork. Whenever we serve beef, chicken, fish or fresh pork the refrain we hear is “I only like pink meat.”
We as parents of course would like M to have as broad a palate as possible, so while we like to give her what she wants, we regularly have each different type of meat and in turn we serve up her favourite pickled pork. So it was a few nights ago that we had pickled pork, cooked in a large pot with spices until almost done, and then some carrots and broccoli were added. All this was served with some horseradish sauce.
A nice meal and there was no battle to get M to eat her meat.
Thrifty cooks amongst you would realize that we now had a well-flavoured stock leftover from cooking the pickled pork and I had been waiting a while to make something of which we are all very fond – soup veg soup – and this stock was the perfect foundation. We had everything we needed in the pantry, a pack of mixed soup pulses along with some cabbage and carrots. Ordinarily celery would have a starring role, but M is no fan; we only like to participate in battles we have some chance of winning.
So the next day I planned to have soup veg soup but maybe a bowl of soup wouldn’t be quite enough for dinner. What to have with it? I leafed idly through a cookbook searching for some inspiration when I came across a recipe for chocolate mousse. Mmmmm, hadn’t had that in a while, years in fact. In the 1980’s chocolate mousse was served at practically every dinner party and why not? It is a perfect dessert - easy to make, could be made ahead of time and pulled out of the fridge at the last minute, and was very, very nice to eat. The best friend a hostess ever had.
Of course fashion eventually caught up with it, not to mention it is also notoriously difficult to match wines with, and even though it has never gone away, it is not often served now. But, it is still good and a revival was imminent. However a search through the pantry failed to turn up any chocolate. Well, not chocolate in the strictest sense of the word, but there was a big, fat jar of Nutella. You know, the chocolate spread made from hazelnuts, a sort of semi solid chocolate paste.
I don’t imagine for one minute that I am the first one to think about using Nutella in chocolate mousse, I had seen a recipe for a Gianduia Chocolate Mousse cake in Gourmet many years ago that used Nutella, but it was the first time I thought of using it and the idea seemed sound enough. So off to the kitchen I went with my kitchen hand M and we set to. M melted the chocolate and butter in a double boiler, and then stirred in the egg yolks one by one. I supplied the grunt work whisking the egg whites until firm and glossy, then we delicately folded them into the cooled chocolate mixture and put it in a bowl in the fridge to set. Then the ever helpful M cleaned all the dishes, whisk and all…with her tongue!
My only worry at this point was would the mousse set properly because Nutella is not firm like chocolate, but at the cool temperature of the fridge it did set well, though once at room temperature it did melt slightly, not that it had much chance for we wolfed it all down.
The verdict? It was absolutely sensational, a lovely deep chocolate essence enhanced by hazelnut flavours, unlike regular chocolate mousse, which can be one-dimensional. Rich, luscious and full flavoured. Anyone who likes Ferrero Rocher chocolates - you know the ones, crispy, nut studded wafer balls filled with the most amazingly wicked chocolate hazelnut praline - would love this dessert. And it may even be good for you.
A check of the label revealed it is low GI. Well, when I read that in connection with oats or the like, it is reassuring…but with chocolate? The label goes on to say it contains hazelnuts, well that is reassuring, maybe the addition of skim milk is too and also that there are no artificial colours or preservatives. But it would be too much of a stretch to say it is good for you, the sugar and fat content are probably enough to sink a battleship.
So, if your hips and thighs try to leave any slanderous comments, I will delete them
Nutella Chocolate Mousse
200 g Nutella
100 g unsalted butter
4 eggs, separated
1 tablespoon caster sugar
In a bowl set over simmering water but not touching the water, place the Nutella and butter and stir until melted and combined and then beat in the egg yolks, one by one and remove from the heat. In another bowl whisk the egg whites until soft peaks, sprinkle on the caster sugar and keep whisking until smooth and glossy. Add one quarter of the egg whites to the chocolate mixture and gently fold in to loosen the mixture, then add the rest of the egg whites and gently fold in as well. Spoon into serving dishes or pile it into one big bowl. Leave to set in the refrigerator for at least four hours. Serve with some plain whipped cream.
Note: If you wanted to serve this at room temperature or use it as a cake filling, adding one leaf of gelatine to the melted chocolate/butter mixture would help it to hold. Also you need to be sure that your eggs are safe to use raw.
Labels: Nutella Day
posted at 7:53 am
It is said in a Hungarian folksong that so long as you have an onion you won't go hungry, indeed a common farmer's breakfast was bread, bacon and onion and if he was too poor to buy bacon it was just bread and onion, of course if he was really poor.... In fact Hungarians enjoy eating raw onions.
There are no really traditional Hungarian dishes that feature onion, but there is one restaurant dish called stuffed onions a la Mako that is quite popular. But really, without onions Hungarian cuisine would be but a pale shadow of itself and it was no accident that I chose onions, peppers and tomatoes as the guesses for these are the base ingredients of Lecso (pronounced lech-o) a traditional Hungarian paprika stew which is popular in surrounding countries as well.
When Hungarians say paprika they could mean two things, either the fresh pods of the pepper plant or the spice obtained from drying and grinding the pods. Outside of Mexico from where peppers, or as they are better known chillies, first originated, it is hard to think of a country that values both the heat and flavour of peppers as much as Hungarians do, most cultures that use chillies extensively do so for the heat.
In an aside it was peppers that were responsible for Hungarian scientist Albert Szent-Gyorgyi winning the 1937 Noble prize, described by the press as the 'paprika' prize. It was in 1932 that Albert was sitting down to dinner which had a fresh bell pepper. In his own words he said, "I didn't really want it, and as I looked at it, I realized I had never experimented on a pepper." Albert took the offending pepper to work for testing and after the initial results, within three weeks over three pounds (1.5 kg) of pure vitamin C had been obtained, a veritable mountain compared to the measly few grams that had been previously isolated.
This new vitamin was sent to WHO to be used treating scurvy and it was this success of Albert that was responsible for the dawning of the mass production of vitamins. It was not his only success either, he isolated flavonoids and later on invented paprika paste which he sold commercially under the names Vitaprik and Pritamin, brands which are still known in Hungary to this day.
To say that Hungarians love their peppers would be a huge understatement. They have developed specific varieties for paprika powder production and have several different types for eating and cooking with, including tolteni valo paprika, bogyiszloi, almapaprika, kosszarvu, cseresznyepaprika, hegyes eros and paradicsompaprika. The last named pepper gets its name from the Hungarian word for tomatoes, paradicsom. Tomatoes were originally known as love apples in England, possibly based on a mistranslation of the Italian name pomo d'oro (golden apple) as pomo d'amore. It looks like the Hungarians must have mistranslated too for their original name for tomatoes was paradise apples, but later on the apple part was dropped. Its fascinating that two totally different cultures had similar names for the humble tomato, perhaps our forebears knew something rather special about them!
How Lecso turns out depends on which peppers are used; some like theirs searing hot while others prefer a much milder version. The great thing is Lecso is adaptable to whatever pepper you have on hand, hot or mild. Personally I favour a mixture of coloured mild capsicums or bell peppers with just a hint of fire through the use of a pinch of cayenne pepper. The version I'm giving is meatless thus suitable for vegetarians, but meat can easily be added, especially smoked pork belly and/or smoked sausages.
1 kg (2.2 lb) capsicum or bell pepper, green, red, yellow and orange
500 g (1 lb) tomatoes, skinned and cut into chunks
1 onion, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons oil
1 heaped tablespoon paprika
pinch cayenne pepper
If you don't mind the skin, remove the stalks and seeds from the capsicum amd slice into strips. We like to bake the capsicums in the oven before peeling their skins off and removing the stalk and seeds, then cutting into strips. Fry the onion in the hot oil until soft and translucent add the paprika and cayenne pepper and cook a moment more. Add the capsicum and if not pre cooked, simmer for ten minutes before adding the tomatoes and salt. Cook until soft about ten or fifteen minutes. Serve with rice.
This is my entry to Weekend Herb Blogging this week hosted by Ed from Tomato. But you have to pick which vegetable I'm talking about because clearly I have no idea! I'm also deeply sorry about not being able to put accents and dot thingy's on the Hungarian words. Whenever I manage it, something in blogger changes everything to weird symbols.
posted at 10:11 am
What do you think is Hungary's favourite vegetable?
Answer will be in my WHB entry, this week hosted by Ed from Tomato.
posted at 11:10 am
Before this weekend's rain, I was walking past a local turf and irrigation supply business. What they have done is to take the nature strips and original flower beds surrounding the premises and turned them into lawn samples. For instance, there are couch, buffalo and Kentucky blue grass plots amongst others, the idea being you can read the sign on each plot that outlines the best growing conditions for each grass, have a look at the turf and decide which one is for you.
Now that we are on stage three water restrictions, no one is allowed to water their lawns except for those who have had instant turf installed, whereby they have a six week exemption to water but only at specified times. So all around town are dead and dying lawns and the turf plots at this business were no exception, so you could imagine how stunned I was to walk past and see a vivid green plot amongst all the other browned off ones. Thinking that it must be newly laid and therefore with a watering exemption, it demanded a closer look.
It looked wonderful, all lush and thick, inviting a feel so I walked across to read the sign and touch it. When I got to the sign, I laughed to myself....it was synthetic grass! I suppose if you supply turf and irrigation equipment, you have to find something to sell during a drought. Even though I prefer natural grass, this stuff looks pretty good.
You know the drought is biting hard when the Potato Sisters, from whom I regularly bought 10 kg bags of spuds for $12 six months ago, are now charging $17 a bag, though to be fair they did point out that summer spuds are a little more expensive.
Now that Menu for Hope is over for another year, in a nice piece of karma, Ed from Tomato, who helped me with the photos of my cherry vodka prize, bid for and won the selfsame vodka! In an even more impressive bit of karma, just after I dropped off the prize to his house I went shopping. Because it was stinking hot and dripping with humidity, a little visit to Coles Vintage Cellars was in order for some beer and premixed drinks, anything cold and wet. Up to the register I went to pay and the chap serving me asked whether I liked champagne.
Long time readers of this blog know the answer to that one and when I replied in the affirmative, he produced a bottle of sparkling wine from under the counter and told me it was mine - gratis. Okay, it wasn't champagne but it was a magnum....all mine and for nothing!
I had to come to work today and while I'm waiting for a job to finish, decide to have a souvlaki for lunch. A shop not far from here makes a very good one, but have the maddening habit of slicing off the meat from the spit, placing the meat on the hot grill and chopping all the pieces small. I really like big pieces, so today I asked the person serving not to cut the meat. His eyes widened and he looked aghast. He explained that the shop did this to make sure the meat was thoroughly cooked, because when you have a big lump of meat, some of the interior is at the right temperature for bacterial growth until enough meat is sliced off and the interior meat attains the right temperature to kill of the germs.
I told him he could cook it some more but leave the pieces big. He agreed and the whole time the meat was on the hotplate his spatula was nervously pressed on top. You could tell he wanted to give it the chop and he didn't move an inch the whole time, just an occasional spatula twitch. Well I can report the souvlaki was excellent and I'm still alive.
posted at 2:45 pm
Twenty-five odd years ago, I started on the path to choosing my own preferred bird. With a foodie mate, we toured through the French and Swiss countrysides looking for food and wine experiences. Even though Francois was Swiss, he exhibited none of the precision and orderliness that the Swiss are renowned for, in fact he was a little disorderly in his habits, nothing really untoward, even a little endearing in a perverse way. But apart from a short stay in Paris, it meant our meanderings were all on a whim and consequently no accommodation was booked, no real drama for we were traveling in January, the height of the low season.
It was a little unsettling for me, liking to have a plan, but I went with the flow and as a consequence we had a number of interesting adventures. There was that seedy hotel in Dijon we went to for accommodation, and when we went to the bar after obtaining rooms, what looked like the biggest bunch of cutthroats since before The Pirates of The Caribbean were in attendance. They looked us up and down with intent and I immediately turned on my heel and went back up to our room to protect our belongings from being stolen.
After half an hour of guard duties, Francois entreated me to come down and have some dinner, he told me everyone was friendly, he was even sharing drinks with them. I don't speak any French, which Francois did fluently having been raised in the French speaking part of Switzerland. He was actually getting on famously with the assorted townsfolk and after I had a glass or two of wine it appeared I was guilty of judging books by their covers. We repaired to the dining room and had one of those simple but delicious dinners, trout with almonds and a bottle of white burgundy, which you dream about finding but rarely do.
Another occasion saw us in the eponymous district of the legendary Bresse chicken. It was here that I was to have my chicken epiphany. It was dark when we drove into Beaurepaire en Bresse; we saw the sign of an Auberge, La Croix Blanche, that had rooms and a restaurant. After booking rooms for the night we headed into the restaurant. There are only two things that I recall from dinner that night - one was my first taste of foie gras in a slice of terrine de foie gras which caused me to order it whenever I saw it on the menu or at any of the town markets we perused. The other was the first taste of Bresse chicken. I really don't remember how it was cooked, what I do remember was the fabulous taste. It was the first time in my life that chicken tasted like meat. The breast had texture and juiciness, it was good and meaty, full of the concentrated essence of chicken. It was in short, a revelation.
The Bresse chicken is the only breed of chicken in the world to be protected by an AOC ( Appellation d'Origine Controlee) which was granted in 1957. This striking white bird with outrageous blue legs is set out to pasture at 35 days old. It must have a minimum of ten square metres to itself and after three weeks is fed only corn and dairy products and whatever it can forage for itself. It spends the last two weeks of its life in a special wooden box called an epinette. This box is completely dark and serves to whiten the flesh of the birds. Slaughter is usually at four months of age and the birds dry plucked.
At this time (1980's), there was nothing like this at all in Australia unless you knew someone raising their own chickens, or were amongst a handful of chefs that could obtain birds that were specially raised just for them. All the general public had was battery raised chicken; because no one knew any different, that is what we uncomplainingly ate. Dry plucking was unheard of and we also liked to give our birds a little chemical dip. It wasn't about optimizing flavour, it was more about what Henry IV in the seventeenth century reputedly wished, that each of his peasants could enjoy a chicken in his pot every Sunday.
It was some time after I had returned home, that I read about a producer of free range chickens called Glenloth Game. They started operations at Wycheproof in Victoria in 1989 and soon became well known for their quality chickens. My first taste brought back memories of that first Bresse chicken. I wouldn't go so far to say it was as good, but it was easily the best Australian raised chicken I'd ever had. But at about double the cost, the peasants weren't exactly lining up for them.
What many probably don't realize is that Glenloth Game buy standard broiler chicken, which they buy in as day olds and grow out under free-range conditions - it is the same breed as any supermarket chicken, which goes to show it's not what you start with that counts, its what you do with it that's important. As Ian Milburn from Glenloth told The Age,
"Really, there's no secret, it's basically a matter of using high-quality feed and allowing the chickens to grow at their natural pace. The antibiotics used by some intensive growers to protect their closely housed birds from disease also make them grow faster."
What they feed the chickens is mostly corn with some peas and wheat for variety plus what the birds can forage, but that doesn't fully account for these chicken's superiority. The other side of the coin is that these birds are free range, which means they are free to walk about in the elements and it is this combination along with a longer maturing time of about two weeks, that is responsible for their great flavour and texture. Imagine that, a chicken that eats a well balanced diet and exercises daily.
I wish Sam well in her search for a new supplier of quality chickens, if it were me, I would be looking for the words free range (outdoors) and high quality feed. I'ts no guarantee, but as a good a starting point as any. The word organic doesn't necessarily confer any better taste and flavour, indeed several months ago I read about a taste test of organic pork where the organic pork didn't fare so well, though in fairness I have had some organic products that were obviously superior to the mainstream. All in all it comes down to the farmer's experience and commitment to his charges and like any field of endeavour, some are better than others.
Glenloth Game chickens are available from Prahran and Queen Victoria Markets as well as Gruner Butcher & Deli and some specialist suppliers.
posted at 9:30 am
But there is one vegetable that also demands to be cooked on the barbeque and that is eggplant (aubergine). There is some alchemy at work between eggplant and flame that gives this mysterious looking vegetable a flavour that is unmatched by any other method of cooking. Eggplant absorbs smoke in the same way it absorbs oil, copiously. Never marinate sliced eggplant destined for the barbeque, for as it softens, all the excess oil and whatnot will drip down and cause an almighty flare-up. Of course if you like your food really well done, then be my guest. Better to gently brush the oil on with a pastry brush or if you like tactile experiences, rub the oil on with your clean hands.
If you have herb infused oils, this is a great vegetable to use them on, especially thyme, rosemary or oregano flavoured ones. You could make like the tv chefs and use bunches of the aforementioned herbs to add the flavour in, simply gather a few stalks of whatever takes your fancy, even in combination, dip in some olive oil and use it as a brush. Just be careful as eggplants really slurp up the oil.
But there is an even better way to enjoy the taste of this unique vegetable and that is to chargrill it until completely softened and black, not that black is a colour you can easily see with an eggplant, scoop out the flesh and turn it into baba ganoush (eggplant dip). It is pretty easy to just roast eggplants in your home oven, but the really glorious smoky flavour that is the hallmark of this dish can only be obtained with direct heat. There is not really a recipe for baba ganoush, more just directions.
For every two large eggplants, roast on the grill, turning until they are blackened and soft. When cool, scoop out the flesh into a bowl, mash with a fork and add two tablespoons of tahina (ground sesame seed paste), available from Middle Eastern stores, one or two cloves of crushed, raw garlic, juice from half a lemon and season with salt. Mix and taste. You will almost certainly need to add some more of something, let taste be your guide as it all depends on how much eggplant pulp you obtained. If you like it a little creamier add more tahina, sharper, a little more lemon juice, afraid of vampires - as much garlic as you like - but too much will make it taste hot.
When you’re happy with the flavour, pile it onto a plate, sprinkle with a little paprika and place a couple of parsley leaves in the centre and serve with corn chips or torn pieces of flat bread. Or if you were like my mate and feeding 'vegetarians', grill a chicken breast and when it’s done, lightly toast a flat bread, open it out, fill with slices of chicken breast, salad leaves and a good dollop of baba ganoush.
This is my entry to Weekend Herb Blogging, this week hosted by Scott at Real Epicurean . If you would like another lovely take on this special vegetable, check out this post.
posted at 10:02 am
Woo hoo, it's prize time. Everyone who entered the raffle for Menu for Hope should go to chez pim's and check out the prize list. Remember, if you've won a prize you need to get in touch with the person who offered the prize, verify yourself, then organize how you will get it.
To make it easy for you, I pinched this off Pim's blog.
Instructions for the winners:
1. Visit the blog which hosts the prize or prizes you've won (just click on the prize name) and let the blogger know that you're the lucky winner of his/her fabulous prize.
2. Please be sure to use the same email address you gave us on your donation form. The email address will identify you -and not any other 'Liz'- as the real winner.
3. You are responsible for contact the blogger and providing him/her with the shipping information so the prize could be mailed to you.
4. Then sit back and wait, your prize should be mailed to you shortly.
Instructions for the donating bloggers:
1. For bloggers hosting prizes with the code prefixes AP, CA, EU, and UC, please contact Brett at In Praise of Sardines to verify the email address of the winner of each of your prize.
2. For bloggers hosting prizes with the code prefixes UE, UW and WB, please contact Fatemeh at Gastronomie SF to verify the email address of the winner of each of your prize.
3. Please ship your prize(s) to the winner(s) promptly.
Got a problem or question? Please contact the following Menu for Hope Prize Managers:
For prize codes AP, CA, EU, and UC, please contact Brett at In Praise of Sardines.
UE, UW and WB, please contact Fatemeh at Gastronomie SF.
Or you can also contact me (Pim) directly.
posted at 11:48 am
I'm kind of sad about the person from Switzerland who was coming to the old 'food for thought' blog every day about the same time and never, ever left a comment. Once I changed the blog around the visits abruptly stopped, maybe I gave them a nervous breakdown or something, perhaps they weren't comfortable sitting at a table, who knows. But I do miss them.
It could be that some of you lot are axe murderers and need to lay low, I won't ask. But if you ever felt the need to say hi, well, I'm saying hello to you. Speak up if you like, I'm not some huge, hairy, oversize monster that will take a bite out of you - so long as you don't have anything tasty on your person. I promise to reply to each and every one of you, just like I always do, but don't count the time just before Christmas, I wasn't around to reply, okay.
But the people I'd really like to appeal too are the folk who have me in their readers. Technologically challenged me would really like to know who is using this format to follow my adventures. I'd really appreciate a shout out or something, even a private email would be fine - the address is in the About Me section. Just to know.
posted at 12:59 pm
The flathead shakes and thrashes about when caught in order to drive one of the spikes into some part of you, usually your hand. Indeed it is a right of passage to be stung by a flathead at some stage in your fishing career. Some hold that there is some venom associated with the sting, but I'm not so sure. One thing that is sure is that when one gets you, the cut always bleeds profusely.
I haven't been got by a flathead in a long while and Sunday was no exception.
Last night when I got home, my wife D had blanched some chips in oil, that's the signal for fish 'n' chips. I asked her whether she wanted flathead or whiting and after some hesitation she asked for flathead. We like to cook it on the bone, it seems more succulent, but we do have to look out for the pesky rib bones, especially so with smaller fish. Most fish shops will remove the bones and sell you what is called a flathead tail, but a lot of meat is lost in the process and accordingly one pays quite a lot for them.
We clean our fish on the boat and leave the head on, one because it's the law, so that fisheries officers can check the legal size of your fish, and two because I like to make fish stock and flathead heads in particular make very good stock. All I had to do was detach the head from the body with my razor sharp filleting knife. Whenever I start a new kitchen chore with a knife, I always give it a few wipes across a steel, so I grabbed the steel from the knife block and started to give the blade a few licks. I have never in my almost fifty years ever cut myself honing a blade on the steel, but one must never say never. Somehow I managed to jab the point of the knife into the end of my index finger and a steady trickle of blood started flowing. Ever notice how a cut with a razor or sharp knife is relatively painless if not too deep, and the blood flows easily from the wound and doesn't seem to stop?
Like a flathead wound.
Well, my ruby red blood was streaming out and despite my best attempts continued to run. I needed to finish cutting the heads from the fish and as they needed rinsing a few spots of blood wouldn't matter, so I pressed on. Grabbing a fish by the head, I pushed the knife down into it and discovered that blood is an effective lubricant. My index finger slipped straight onto the spike on the gill cover and now there was a second wound weeping blood as fast as the first.
I couldn't believe it, the fish was well dead and it still got me.
posted at 9:02 am
Some foods are relatively easy to put on the plate, think of an aged rib eye steak or a fish so fresh that its eyes are still bright and the gills a deep red colour. With little effort on the part of the cook this sort of produce speaks easily for itself. Moving away from protein, some vegetables also exude an easy confidence that makes them simple to plate up, a super ripe tomato with a little basil or a slice of eggplant, chargrilled and drizzled with the finest olive oil.
But what if a vegetable was pale white or just slightly yellow with no particular flavour, a non descript neutral, how would it be possible to make it spectacular, even a national dish, one that is made with pride in every household? If someone gave you a few potatoes and asked you to wow them, what would you turn the humble spud into? The Spanish have answered this question in the most emphatic way.
They have taken a few potatoes, added some onion for savour, softened them in olive oil, bound them with eggs, before returning to the pan to set. The simplest of ingredients that are found in any cooks pantry turned into the most sublime dish imaginable. I still recall my first ever taste, made by some Spanish friends. It was hard to believe that something so simple could be so tasty, a creamy potato flavour that was concentrated by long slow cooking in olive oil, seasoned with the sweet tang of long cooked onions all morticed with beaten eggs. The taste stayed with me like the kiss of my first true love and I was true to it. When these same friends made paella, even though it was all sultry and flirty, my head was never turned from the purity and honesty of tortilla.
Oh, how I longed to recreate that first taste and how easy it seemed. I knew how to cook after all, potato, eggs and onions held no fears. But try as I might, that first taste remained elusive. It wasn't that I made my attempts badly, they always tasted quite okay, but there was some elusive X factor that was beyond my grasp. As Keith Floyd said,
Fourteen-year-old beach bar cooks can make tortillas to perfection. All grannies - Spanish ones that is - can make them to perfection. And yet, seemingly the simplest of dishes, is one of the most difficult in which to achieve perfection. Do not make the mistake of thinking it is just fried potatoes with egg over the top.
One of the first hurdles a novice tortilla maker encounters is the prodigious amount of salt that potatoes absorb without becoming unduly salty. To season a tortilla properly takes bravery. The next hurdle is the pre cooking of the potatoes and onions in the olive oil - they must never brown, only stay the same colour you started with, think of it as a gentle braise. You will also question the amount of olive oil required, for the potatoes and onions must be almost submerged, though the oil used wouldn't be first class extra virgin. Of course if you don't have olive oil, consider making chips, onion rings and a fried egg - you'll be much happier.
Then when the potatoes and onions are cooked through, you must drain them from the oil and mix with some beaten egg and return to the pan until set and the top is nicely browned, you'll know when you've reached this point for you will start salivating at the delicious smell wafting up, at which point a further act of bravery is required to turn the entire contents of the pan upside down on a plate and slip it back into the pan to finish cooking. This part is also a leap of faith for the uninitiated in hoping that the whole thing will hold together and that it will in fact go back into the pan, all whilst it is boiling hot!
Then, if you have completed all the aforementioned steps successfully, the hardest part is waiting for the hot tortilla to cool slightly before pouncing upon it and then blessing the day that the Spaniards sailed to the New World and discovered potatoes. But most of all, the tortilla is about the sensitive cook, someone who cooks with heart and feeling for the people they love and cherish.
Truth be told, the following is not so much a recipe as guidlines, you really have to make this your own way. Like me, it may take several attempts before you really feel like you've nailed it.
3 or 4 medium to large potatoes*
1 small onion
1 cast iron or lined copper frypan
Peel the potatoes and if large first cut in half lengthways, then cut into thick slices about 5 mm (1/4"), peel and slice the onion into thin slices. Salt the potatoes generously, mix with the onion slices and place in your frypan and pour over enough olive oil to almost cover. Place over medium heat and when the oil starts to slowly plop, plop, adjust the heat to keep it there, the potatoes must braise, not brown. As it cooks, gently move the slices around from time to time, until after about fifteen minutes the potatoes are soft when pierced with a knife or fork.
Whisk the eggs with some salt until combined, drain the potatoes and onions, then wipe out the pan. Place 1 tablespoon of the olive oil back in the pan on low heat and put the potato and onion in with the eggs and gently stir to combine. Pour the mixture into the frypan and slowly cook for about ten minutes until a lovely golden colour appears.
Place a plate large enough to cover the frypan and with confidence, flip it over so the tortilla is now on the plate, put another tablespoon of olive oil in the frypan and slide the tortilla back in, uncooked side down, until cooked, about another ten minutes. Remove from the frypan and allow to rest for fifteen minutes to settle. Cut into wedges and serve with a salad. If there is any leftover, it's also good cold, in fact it makes great picnic food.
*I've used both waxy and white potatoes with equal success.
posted at 8:37 am
The State Government has been searching high and low for a new site for a toxic waste dump to replace the one at Lyndhurst. Nowingi, just out of Mildura in the states north west was short listed as the new site and it appeared to be a fait accompli that trucks would soon be roaring up the highway to deposit their poisonous cargo in huge new pits there. Our State Government was so confident that it would go ahead that they vowed in an election promise to accept the recommendations of an independent panel set up to examine the proposal to set up the new site.
However, even though the Government had had the report since last mid-December, which basically said it wasn't a good idea to site it at Nowingi, it planned up until last Friday to approve the project, when in a meeting someone raised the point that a former minister had made a promise to accept the findings during the last election campaign. In a country where we have core and non core election promises, depending on which way the wind is blowing and the inclination of the newly elected Government, our State Government decided that this was a core promise and should be honoured. So with Lyndhurst filling rapidly, what could the Government do with all the toxic waste?
How about make some of it disappear, let’s say a minimum of thirty percent, maybe more. That’s exactly what the Government has done. With a pen no less. Harry Potter would be so proud.
In the same way that President George Bush is committing more troops to Iraq by calling it a ‘surge’, some of what was formerly toxic waste has been reclassified as non-toxic. You could just imagine the conversation between the minister and his public servant about this one.
M. “Oh dear, what are we going to do now? We have to put the waste somewhere.”
PS. “There just might be somewhere we could put it minister, with no trouble at all.”
M. “And where might that be, the moon?
PS. “Not quite that far away sir, we could put it in one of our regular tips.”
M. “Are you out of your mind man, it’s toxic waste, we can’t do that!”
PS. “But what if it wasn’t toxic waste?”
M. “What on earth do you mean?”
PS. “What if it wasn’t called toxic waste anymore, just plain old regular waste that can go to any tip.”
M. “And just how do we do that?”
PS. “Reclassify it, all you have to do is sign this document and say thirty percent will be taken care of, that’s what we’ll tell the press. Of course if it all goes well there is no reason more can’t be taken care of in the same way.”
M. “It sounds like a great plan, but toxic waste is toxic waste, the public will never buy it.”
PS. “Don’t worry sir, we’ll tell the public that it’s low grade waste from the food industry that is currently classified as toxic, no one will be frightened about that, we should be able to slip a few other things through as well.”
M. “Toxic food waste, what exactly is toxic food waste?”
PS. “I could tell you minister, but then you would no longer have plausible deniability, just never mention toxic and food waste in the same sentence, okay.”
M. “Okay, where do I sign? I’m putting your name forward for a promotion.”
PS “Thank you minister, but working for you is its own reward.”
And that is exactly what has happened. As part of the State Government’s new hazardous waste strategy, a minimum of thirty percent of what is currently classified as toxic waste has been declassified and the only word on what constitutes this waste is that it’s from the food industry.
There is something troubling about this…that the food industry is producing toxic waste and apparently quite a lot of it. What exactly is toxic food waste? Do we need to grow our own food or just stop eating? I’d search for answers, but I suspect none will be forthcoming.
posted at 9:23 am
I didn’t mean to fool around with a classic dish; it was just a simple day catching up with some cooking programs when Rick Stein came on the telly with his Taste Of The Sea show. He’s comfortable, kind of like an old jumper that fits just so, and I pretty much know this series as I have the book, but like a film you might have watched a few times there is always something new revealed.
It’s sort of funny that a lad from Padstow in England has a taste for a dish from the American Deep South, but Rick is also a fan of Mexican cuisine, so it does fit with him. Of course this bloke from Australia has no real idea if what he was demonstrating was authentic or not, but when he said to use three or four cloves of garlic, but rather eight cloves was more to his taste, I was gone, there is nothing like excess to stamp yourself all over a dish.
When I watch cooking programs, a certain arrogance takes over, like I’m channelling Careme or Escoffier or any other great, departed French chef. I believe that I can recreate any dish that catches my fancy. The truth is that a certain part, sometimes the essential part of the recipe, somehow fails to imprint in my memory. Perhaps if I managed to call down an English speaking chef it would go a little better....can you hear me Elizabeth David? For the most part it’s no great disaster, like when Meg Ryan as Sally demonstrated to great effect that it is possible to fake even that most intimate of human moments, so when you produce a dish that may not be the real deal - no problem, so long as you keep it to yourself.
And of course there are no New Orleans secret food police and even if there were, they wouldn’t trouble themselves to travel all the way down under.
Now in making paella, I know that rice is an intrinsic part of the dish, but after that and saffron anything goes. In a way I knew that jambalaya needed rice, it was just that it was separately cooked, not as part of the dish. I found this out later when checking the book that I had in fact got it right. You may have cause to wonder that if I did have the book, why didn’t I just follow the recipe? Call it a memory test. Okay, I failed. There was no problem with what Rick referred to as the ‘holy trinity’ of Creole cookery, that distinctive combination of green peppers, celery and onions - certain combinations are best not tampered with and when the words ‘holy trinity’ are mentioned, it is like a red flag saying don’t touch.
But it was curious to discover that jambalaya is partly based on paella and that rice is definitely a part of proceedings. Now I know all you people from New Orleans and thereabouts are sadly shaking your heads at my ignorance, but please, I did intuitively understand that there must be some rice, even if it was served as a side. But there was a peck of smoked, garlic sausage, a flock of chickens, a school of prawns, plus a good hit of chile heat, even a tin of tomatoes that I thought Rick put in, which in fact he didn’t. All in all, there was quite a lot of jambalaya, so much in fact that I was completely able to retrieve my riceless version a couple of days later.
It was at this point that I had a breakthrough in understanding the name of the dish. There is apparently plenty of conjecture over the origin of the word jambalaya; some hold that it is a corruption of the French word for ham, jambon. When the leftovers were put in a pot with some rice and a bit of extra liquid and cooked until the rice was done, I then lifted the lid to take a look; even though I had no idea what the word jambalaya actually means, the contents of the pot in an onomatopoetic way looked like jambalaya if that makes sense - it is a dish that looks like it sounds, sort of a jumble of everything.
I have to go now; there is a knock at the door. Is that a Southern drawl I can hear….
Not Paying Attention Jambalaya
5o ml (2 fl oz) oil
1 large smoked, garlic pork sausage, diced
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
8 cloves garlic thinly sliced
1 large onion, sliced
2 green peppers, seeded and sliced
4 stalks celery, sliced
4 small hot red chillies, chopped
1 skinless breast and 2 skinless thighs of chicken, chopped
450 g (1 lb) raw prawn tails
1 400 g (1 lb) tin tomatoes
1 cup chicken stock
a few bay leaves, thyme and oregano stalks, tied
salt and fresh ground pepper
In a large pot, heat the oil and gently fry the sausage, then add the paprikas and garlic and sweat one minute more. Add the onion, green peppers, celery and the hot chillies and cook over a medium heat until all the moisture is driven off and everything is a little coloured. Add the chicken and prawn tails, cook for another five minutes, then add the tomatoes and chicken stock, season and simmer for twenty minutes. Serve with rice.
*Note: A certain Southern gentleman is suggesting that there won’t be any charges if I tell you to add 450 g (1 lb) rice and 1.2 l (2 pints) chicken stock instead of the tomatoes and the 1 cup of chicken stock, in which case simmer for only 15 minutes.
For those of you following my computer woes, this is one of the posts that was trapped in my old computer, but thanks to the magic of memory stick is now free. Maybe I should make a New Year's resolution to do a computer course, but where would the fun be? This post also serves as my entry to 'Waiter, there's something in my...' which this month is being hosted by Andrew over at SpittoonExtra.
posted at 7:26 am
Now I'm sure that pretty much everyone knows that Rick split from his wife Jill after 27 years of marriage after Jill found out that Rick was having a relationship with Sarah Burns. Being a fan of his cooking programs, it was always poignant to watch the end of each episode, where Jill and Rick had stood together on a hill looking out over the countryside and after the split Rick stood alone.
Now what I'm about to relate happened six months ago, but this is the first I've heard of it.
Jill is nothing if not the canny business women and even though she considered the marriage over, told Rick that she would continue in her executive role running the businesses they had set up over the years. There are so many businesses in fact that some refer to Padstow where they had their first restaurant as Padstein due to their large presence. In Jill's words neither could afford to buy the other out and they owed it to the local economy and their some three hundred employees to keep going.
But there was a condition; Rick must never bring his girlfriend Sarah to any of their eateries. Or as Jill said, "I have always told Ricky, 'Don't you dare bring that woman into our restaurant or I will kill her'. Fighting words indeed and you would have thought that Rick had heard the old maxim that Hell hath no fury like a women scorned.
So what does Rick do?
He brought Sarah to the flagship restaurant, the rest was tabloid heaven. Apparently after unleashing a torrent of abuse, Jill finished by called Sarah a ****ing bitch and slapped her. Rick said something like 'that was a bit stupid' and copped his whack too. It seems that the restaurant staff and customers all cheered her actions.
Now a part of me shudders at the physical violence involved, indeed there was even a column I found that frowned upon Jill's actions. But there was also a part of me that cheered for her too. Was not bringing his girlfriend to the restaurant Jill and Rick had started from scratch, too much to ask? I don't think so.
How do you feel?
posted at 8:18 am
My tech support team (kids) then helped me to transfer the goodies to the disc, which wasn't any cake walk for them I might add and I've spent the morning trying to download from it only to be told time and again that the disc has no ID address. Tech support have just told me that perhaps we need to format the disc first. Sheesh!
So I will recount for you our Christmas morning. One of my mates who works for a large chain of liquor stores as a store manager has a very nice tradition of opening up a bottle of French fizz for breakfast and we trot along at a very reasonable 9.30 am for breakfast. Not that we come empty-handed either, for every year I cure some salmon (gravlax) for our Christmas Eve dinner in which no meat is consumed. This year 2 kg (5 lb) of the finest Tasmanian salmon got the treatment from a cure that consisted of salt, sugar, dill and fresh ground pepper and 48 hours later the sweetest, salty slices of gravlax with a hint of dill and pepper emerged from the brine.
Of course I also brought along a bottle of something seriously good, a Bindi Cuvee 2 from Prince Wine Store. It's a sparkling wine made from chardonnay and pinot noir and contains several vintages of aged wine, hand crafted by Michael Dhillion of Bindi, who also makes several notable pinot noirs at his Macedon Ranges winery in Victoria. The Macedon Ranges is considered a cool climate region and produces austere fruit with a steely acid spine that is so suitable for sparkling wine production. By judicious blending of the vintages this wine has taken on rich aged characters, but also retains good length, more in the English style, who prefer more mature flavours than the French who prefer champagne young and fresh. Does that reveal something about their respective national characters?
Well after two bottles of wine, I had the feeling that all was right with the world, when the lunch guests started arriving. The glorious smell of roast pork filled the air and we were sorely tempted to stay, but in another kitchen was the scent of a glazed roast ham, scored in the traditional diamond pattern and studded with cloves.
posted at 11:47 am