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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Tuesday, February 27, 2007
First, Make Your Beer...

I have a small confession, with all the hot and humid weather we've been having around here lately, my cooking mojo is somewhat ailing. It's not that I don't want to cook, rather eating has seemed a rather tiresome chore, so things that would normally have me leaping about the kitchen, like Soup, Glorious Soup seemed like a river too far.

However it wasn't that I didn't have an idea about the kind of soup that I wanted to do, there was a recipe I've had for some time, it's just that it entailed a bit of mucking around in that the base for the soup has to be started three days before the actual soup making can occur. There was a cheat to be had in the form of bought dark beer, but where's the fun? It was the chance to ferment the soup base that caught my eye in the first place.

Now I'm sure Homer Simpson would approve of any soup made with beer or beer like liquid, as he says in that coveting way, "Mmmm, beer." Well not beer in the strictest sense but kvas, a fermented liquid made from rye bread and flavoured with molasses (treacle). What this liquid possesses is a pleasant sourness that is essential to several Eastern European dishes. Fermented soups have a long and proud tradition throughout the region including Poland, Ukraine and Russia from where this particular soup, botvinya, hails. Another soup, borscht or red barszcz, is nowadays mostly soured by the use of vinegar but was traditionally made with fermented beetroot juice, but white borscht or barszcz can only be made from fermented rye bread as this is what gives the soup its particular character.

There is a second confession to make. I haven't actually made the soup - yet. What I have made is the kvas which kept me up to 1.00 am last night. Now I'm not taking you on a journey and throwing you out of the car half way, it's just the kvas has to ferment for three days and by then the Soup, Glorious Soup event will be over. I blame my failing mojo, cooked as it is with the summer heat. But I do promise another post with the completed soup.

The kvas making was a bit of a trial itself. I kept forgetting to buy the molasses even though I had been to the Russian bakery for the dark rye bread, no problem as rye bread has the ability to keep forever and it does need to be dried out. When it came to the drying part, it took the best part of an hour in a low oven. There was a further complication in the amount of liquid required. The recipe said to use two litres of water to soak the bread, then strain it off, the soup needs two litres of kvas. See the problem? Well I didn't straight away, it wasn't until the kvas was straining that I realized there was no way that the eight slices of rye bread sponges were going to give up two litres of liquid, more like only half a litre came out. So a further steeping was required with another two litres of water.

But eventually it got done and when I tasted the result this morning it did have mellow, dark beer nuances. It was even a bit foamy like a good beer. The kvas needs to ferment for a couple more days in well sealed bottles, the recipe suggested a cool place like a cellar but because I don't want exploding bottles, I'll keep mine in the fridge. Then it will be on to the soup. There are several versions of botvinya, the one I'm making contains salmon, prawns, spinach, sorrel, cucumber and spring (green) onions and is served cold, perfect for a hot Australian summer.


8 slices stale rye bread, dried out in a low oven
4 litres boiling water
50 ml molasses (treacle)
1/2 teaspoon dry yeast
4 raisins or sultanas

Break up the bread and put into a large bowl or pot. Pour over the boiling water, cover with a cloth and leave until lukewarm. Line a sieve with a cloth and strain the bread, do not press or squeeze it. Add the molasses to the strained liquid along with the yeast and stir to mix. Cover again and leave for twelve hours, strain again and pour into bottles with tight seals, adding two raisins or sultanas to each one litre bottle. Seal the bottles and leave in the fridge for two days before using. Kvas will keep for two months.

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  posted at 9:02 am

Monday, February 26, 2007
Where's The Beef?
A couple of weekends ago, we went to a barbeque at my wife's sisters for which we bought the meat, some rump steak and a few bratwursts. When we all sat down to the steaks the compliments started rolling, not for me who cooked the steaks but for the meat itself. It didn't really surprise for we rarely buy any supermarket meat, preferring to buy from butchers that know how to handle meat and in particular beef, properly. By properly, I mean those butchers that age meat their beef for no less than 14 days but up to a month, compared to supermarkets that takes beef from the paddock and has it for sale within the week.

Ever notice how the supermarkets are putting their meat into sealed plastic containers with a little absorbent pad underneath to soak up the blood? Ever noticed that over the last twenty years or so that beef is getting pinker and pinker? The real reason supermarkets are packaging meat this way is that it's better for their profits. As unprotected meat ages it loses weight through evaporation, if profit is your prime imperative rather than flavour, you need to get the cattle processed into cuts and sealed in plastic boxes as soon as possible to retain as much weight as possible and then sold as quickly as possible, this gives the supermarkets a price advantage over High Street butchers. But what happens when the High Street butcher closes? The supermarkets up the price.

Doubt it?

Look what's happening during our latest drought. Farmers are destocking as the land cannot support the cattle and record numbers are being sent to market. This month it's twenty percent higher than the corresponding period last year. Has anyone noticed that the price of meat has not fallen? The farmers are certainly getting a lot less for their livestock, the abattoirs aren't charging any more, so who is making the money? What do you think will happen when the drought breaks and farmers rebuild their herds, sending less to the market? There were huge complaints here when the supermarkets, who control the petrol pumps, didn't drop the pump price for some weeks after the price of crude oil had fallen, but seemingly put up the price of petrol as soon as there is any upward movement in the price of crude.

Now the thing with supermarkets moving meat meat so quickly is that it is no longer aged to allow the cow's enzymes and natural bacteria to soften the meat. So the problem is now, how to get tender beef when aging is out of the question? What about buying younger cattle that have had no time to toughen, say at about one year of age? That is exactly what's happening. In my lifetime the age of cattle at market has dropped from about two years old to one, so that the darker coloured meat that is the sign of well aged, older cattle is no longer prevalent. It is as far as I know completely unheard of in Australia to have cows up to seven years old as they do in France, though not on any large scale. But the point is they do have older cattle.

The way cattle are handled has changed completely to suit the supermarkets and in doing so has changed our perceptions of what good beef actually is, to the point where if there were two identical cuts, one nicely pink and the other a dark, dark blood red colour, how many would know to choose the well aged cut over the meat that was barely out of kindergarten? Not many, one would think. What has happened is that so many people have forgotten what a great steak actually tastes like and when they get one, like at my sister-in-law's barbeque, there are invariably comments about how good the meat is and the thing is, my sister-in-law pays exactly the same as me for rump steak at her supermarket.

I know who I'd rather support.

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  posted at 11:08 am

Thursday, February 22, 2007
Parent Program
In light of my recent post regarding parenting and autism, I talked to the principal of M's school about whether she would like me to post details of the parenting course that both my wife and I have done. This is her reply, posted here with her permission.

Hello Again Neil

I got to read your blog yesterday before the parent meeting started and I have to tell you that last Friday I saw M run to greet you and the hug you shared and I remember thinking that that was a beautiful moment between a dad and his daughter and how privileged was I to see it. So thank you for sharing the love and patience it took to get there. Never underestimate and never give up – just try and find a different track if needs be – is what I believe BUT I can understand how wearing and, at times, disheartening it can be.

Now, of course I had forgotten, temporarily, the Parent Program being run at St Kevins on Monday mornings – 9:15 – 10:45 for five weeks ( March 19, 26 April 23, 30 and May 7) Cost $100.oo for the 5 sessions – contact St Kevin’s Parish School, 76 Glen Orme Ave Ormond Telephone 9578 1172.

This Parent Program is probably one of the most important things I have ever done, it helped enormously with raising our daughter. It gave my wife and I, a completely new way of looking at being a parent. This course is suitable for any parent with children of any age, from babies to teenagers and it is not autism specific in any way. All the teachers at M's school have done the course and acknowledge how good it is.

What I promise you is that it will give you a whole new way of thinking about parenting. You need to commit to the whole five week course as each week builds from the previous. If you have some intractable problem with your children, or even if you just want to find a new way of relating to them, this is the course for you. I highly recommend it.


  posted at 12:09 pm

Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Learning To Fly
M is starting to become quite interested in cooking. The other night she asked for homemade pizza, so I made up the dough, rested it and then she helped to roll it out and put the topping on, though in her case she hasn't evolved past margarita level yet, just tomato and cheese for her.

She must have really enjoyed the experience for last night we had meatloaf and plain boiled potatoes with some salad. We all ate together and after we finished, M took the plate with the meatloaf and the bowl with leftover potaotes to the kitchen, announcing that she was going to cook.

After about five minutes she emerged from the kitchen with a plate. On it were the potatoes she had squashed flat into a neat circle and over the top she had sprinkled crumbled meatloaf. The squashed potato had been marked into wedges.

"I've made pizza!" she exclaimed, "Would you like some?"

Full or not, we both had a slice of her pizza. Homemade, the best kind.

Thankfully it was better than the last drink she made for me, perfumed pepsi.


  posted at 1:07 pm

A View From The Hill
Autism is a dual condition in that it affects not only those born with it, but also those who are in close contact with it. Siblings can feel left out because of the extra attention that must be afforded their brothers or sisters, parents can feel that they are not doing the right thing either, by not paying enough attention to their neuro typical* children in the effort to bring out the potential of autistic offspring, or even by their autistic children for whom it seems you have to throw away the child rearing manual as everything appears to be turned on its head.

Sometimes parents can also feel like they are not doing the right thing by each other. I watched a program about two parents that had not one but two autistic boys and the effort required had virtually stopped them from having thoughts and desires about each other. It wasn’t that they didn’t love each other anymore, rather they were worn out by it all. In the mother’s case she also felt that she was hopeless at raising her boys.

It seemed autism was insidious rust eating her from the inside out.

Now autism is a benign word that means neither good nor bad, it simply describes a medical condition with no rhyme or reason to it that strikes randomly. To think it is bad or give it any other negative connotation, colours your thinking about the peoples affected with and by it. Autism is what it is, no more, no less. Mom-nos wrote a moving post about how it felt when someone carelessly used the word autism as if it meant idiot. Judging by the comments she received, all parents of autistic children have had similar experiences, I know we have - sometimes it’s not even a word, just a look can convey disapproval.

There are times we have all witnessed the badly misbehaving child and wondered why the parents seemingly have no control. If the child was neuro typical it may be a fair question, but what if autism was involved? What is acceptable behaviour for such a child reacting to painful stimuli, like noise for instance, or some other stimulation over which they are powerless to control? What is difficult for the outsider to grasp and also the parents of that child, often the stimuli is invisible and can suddenly unleash a meltdown from nowhere that makes sense to only one person. Imagine what it would be like for you if the very act of hearing was painful.

But the point is, if you saw an out-of-control child do you automatically label the parent, even subconsciously, as poor? What would you think if you witnessed my Friday afternoons when I pick up M from school and every week without fail, she would tell me to go away, that she hated me and only mummy could pick her up, with all the passion she could muster, crying real tears? Once it took me half an hour to actually drive out of the school grounds with her. Does that make me a bad parent? Have I somehow mistreated my daughter so badly that she doesn't want to be with me? You might just think that. If you were I, you might think that too. But I don’t. What M is railing against is the change in her routine, not me, it's just that as the embodiment of change her tantrum is directed at me. But it's all too easy as a parent to believe that somehow it's your fault that your own child is behaving like that and as days become years it can become part of your core belief system, rust eating away at you.

For three years I endured M's Friday afternoon anger. I understood what was going on and that M was not yet mature enough to deal with changes that weren't to her liking. But slowly, painstakingly, the wheel turned. Last Friday I was walking towards the school gate when M spotted me and bounded towards me and instantly wrapped her arms around me in a giant hug. I have never loved her more than I did at that moment, kissing her on the head and returning her hug. But what if the rust had eaten so much of me away that I was unable to respond? How would that affect my daughter and how would it have looked to the casual observer seeing a cold and distant father, not knowing the previous history?

One of the best things I ever did was a better parenting course. My wife D did the course first and I would have to admit that I was skeptical when she suggested that I do the course as well. After all I had raised three other children, parenting didn't seem that difficult that I would need a lesson and how could it relate to our autistic daughter? Don't autistic children need special parenting that can't really be taught by a stranger. A sort of learn-on-the-job deal. Earlier I mentioned throwing away the child rearing manual as if it only applies to neuro typical children. What is that saying saying about those with autism, that they are somehow different in a way that they don't respond like other children? Nothing could be further from the truth. In most cases, children with autism respond exactly like all other children to parenting, it's just that it takes longer to get them around. Sure my daughter is different, but not in any way that doesn't respond to parenting.

Autism will affect M for her whole life in ways that I probably won't fully comprehend, but autism hasn't affected the way I see her as a normal, loving child of whom I'm quite proud. Yesterday she was quietly drawing pictures and I was gazing at her. She looked up and I smiled at her, the return smile was everything that I needed.

*Neuro typical is a term to describe those without autism or other neurological disorder.

Edited to add: If you want further information about the Parent Program that I attended, email me and I will give details of new courses as they begin.

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  posted at 7:20 am

Monday, February 19, 2007
Over at Food Blog S'cool, Sam has written a heads up to a post over at Almost Vegetarian regarding gifts from PRs to food bloggers. In the post, AV points out the pros and cons of accepting gifts from PR (Public Relations) and persuasively argues that accepting a gift is akin to making a deal with the devil, unless you can accept that gift on your own terms.

I wrote an article for The Age newspaper about vinegar some twelve years ago, before they changed their policy about accepting gifts and I recall all the vinegar samples that were sent to me and The Age; I simply boxed my gifts up and forwarded them to the paper who got a nice photo for the article. Okay, it was only vinegar, but I wonder if it was a truffles or foie gras how I would have gone? Of course if it was for an article I would have had to try some, but exactly what do you say about a freebie. Do you unconsciously write a few more encouraging words than you otherwise would? It's impossible to know, so why put yourself in that position?

Something that's been on my mind a bit is that I often write about food and wine retailers and one in particular, Prince Wine Store, has featured several times on this blog. Whenever I write about a store it's because something about them has piqued my interest and an article just flows from there. But because I've mentioned Prince Wine Store a few times, I've wondered if some readers might think that I have some special interest, financial or otherwise, in them.

So just to set the record straight, the only interest I have in the Prince Wine Store is as a customer. I shop for wine at three different stores, the other two being Dan Murphy's and Vintage Cellars. The main reason I write mostly about Prince Wine Store is that consistently they have the more interesting wines and to my mind they don't seem unduly expensive and the wines are very often put on tasting - absolutely free. Which I think you, gentle reader, should know about.

I know that, having attended several tastings, these people are not only passionate about wine, they are also very knowledgeable to boot. They have never approached me to write about a wine or publicise their tastings; the champagne I wrote about for one post, I purchased myself and in that instance they went out of their way to help locate a bottle that had just gone out of stock and charged me no more than the stock price list despite the champagne having gone up in price and not knowing that I was going to write it up. I like stores like that.

Back in December when I was looking for some donated prizes for the Menu For Hope campaign, I emailed them and asked if they would like to be involved. Because I wasn't sure if they understood the concept of blogging I did point them at some posts that were written about them and they very kindly responded with a prize voucher. That one instance is the sole time there has been any financial gain, not for me though, rather the world's hungry.

So that's it. I shop at Prince Wine Store as a customer. There are no special discounts or free bottles to try other than their regular free tastings which any person in Melbourne can attend on the same basis as me and I will continue to alert you to these tastings because I think you should know. Very often with tastings at other stores, they are promoting a wine or group of wines because there has been a deal done to push them, at Prince Wine Store, the feeling I get is they put certain bottles on, more because they like them. They are like proud parents showing off their children rather than pushing a wine because they have been paid to do so.

That's my kind of shop.

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  posted at 12:01 pm

Thursday, February 15, 2007
I went shopping last weekend and bought a few different things. After getting home, I parked the groceries on the table and went to get changed before putting the groceries away.

If only I was fast enough.

My wife D is in the habit of inspecting what goodies I have brought home. There was a bit of a screech from the kitchen and some darkly muttered words as she made her way to the bathroom for some tweezers.

Not knowing what I'd bought, D had reached in and grabbed a prickly pear.



  posted at 9:02 am

Spied in the banner at Kalyn's Kitchen.

cook. eat. loose weight

There is no finer collection of words in the English language.
  posted at 8:46 am

Tuesday, February 13, 2007
A Sign
I've got a mate that has been predicting the end of the drought on the basis of phases of the moon and other impenetrable signs. He is bound to be right soon, because he has predicted the end of the drought every year for ten years. I was chatting with him the other day and told him it was my gut feeling that the drought might break this autumn, to which he replied he was certain it would be raining by then.

Fair enough, the weather bureau is sort of cautiously agreeing with him too. This from the latest seasonal outlook.

The outlook for total February to April rainfall, shows a moderate shift in the odds towards above average falls in western Victoria and also along parts of the central coast. The pattern of seasonal rainfall odds across Victoria is mainly a result of higher than average temperatures in the Pacific Ocean (because of El Niño).

The odds of greater falls in the nominated area are about 65%. But I reckon the most interesting sign pointing to the end of the drought came from another mate who was talking to an old farmer on the Murray River at Echuca. The farmer was telling my friend that he had not seen so many joeys* in pouches in a very long time. That means the kangaroos must be feeling there is going to be plenty of feed soon.

Come on Skippy, I know you can do it, make it rain.

*Joey is the name for a baby kangaroo that lives in its mothers pouch and is dependant on her.

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  posted at 2:35 pm

Monday, February 12, 2007
Say Cheese
I went shopping at the Italian shop on Saturday. It's not really called the Italian shop, it's just what we call it, run as it is by Italians, the real name is Balaclava Fresh Centre. It used to be a bit closer to us, but Safeway made an offer for the site, the owner didn't refuse and the Italian shop relocated further down Carlisle Street. Which in a way really improved things as the shop at the old location was looking a bit tired.

We don't shop there all the time, but when we're after something a bit interesting that's where we go. The grocery section is like an Aladdin's cave full of great products from around the world, it puts Coles gourmet section to shame. Things that we have discovered here include smoked cod's liver and mackerel fillets in tins which is not the whole story, wonderful jams and preserves, imported cakes and biscuits, the full range of genuine Italian pastas and tinned tomatoes plus a freezer groaning with unexpected treasures like pelmenis (pierogies); this is the Jewish end of Carlisle Street after all and the recent influx of Russian Jews is having an effect on the foods here. There is a wonderful deli section with an Italian slant - some of the more artisan salamis can be found here plus a great range of cheeses, again, featuring good Italian products. There is also the full range of greengrocery items.

They were running a cheese promotion and it was the first time in over a year that I wished there was a camera with me, to share with you the cheese stand that was set up and manned by an Italian chap dressed up in the full cheese makers kit, surrounded by huge wheels of cheese and one giant Provolone sausage, girded with rope that must have weighed close to 100 kg (220 lb). I have a confession to make here - it pains me to say, good foodie that I am, until about a year ago I had never tasted Provolone and now that I'm eating it, can't think why on earth I didn't try it sooner.

The Italian was busy talking in his native tongue to another customer so I had a little try of the Auricchio brand Provolone and Grana Padano while he wasn't looking, both of which were excellent. The next stop was the deli counter where they had some wonderful looking pancetta, not rolled but flat, which I hadn't had before so ordered a piece. The last time I had pancetta it was rolled and fairly dry and I struggled to see why it is so popular, but with this new piece it was like chalk and cheese. Pancetta simply put is Italian bacon, made from pork belly. It is either rolled into a sausage shape like a salami, or left flat, it is gently spiced and cured for about three months, though not usually smoked it can be. If you had a piece like mine that was unsmoked, it tastes a little sweeter than smoked bacon, adding subtle cured porky hints to whatever dish you add it to.

Back from the deli and past the cheese stand, the Italian motioned for me to come over and taste and I explained that I already had, when he pulled out a little plate of Parmigiano Reggiano that he wanted me to try. The kindest thing I could say about it was that it tasted like an upmarket version of the aforementioned Grana Padano. There was no real sharpness, no character, no crunch of grittiness that is the mark of the best parmigiano, it was like the cheese maker had decided to make a better Grana Padano and slightly succeeded.

Perhaps Auricchio should stick to Grana Padano at which they are very good.

I called the shop to get some more details and asked about that giant Provolone on display. It looks like my eye is pretty good for it weighed exactly 100 kg. The man I spoke to told me at another store there was a 1000 kg Provolone put on display that had to be brought in by crane!

Balaclava Fresh Centre
316 Carlisle Street

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  posted at 12:46 pm

The Means With Beans
When I worked a job at the World Congress Centre, one of the chefs nicknamed me the hound dog for my persistance and ability to track down scarce or unusual ingredients. Funnily enough, that is exactly how I feel when trying to find something - first I get a scent, then I'm off baying at all and sundry. So it should come as no surprise that I've tracked down a source of tinned flageolet beans that were mentioned in a previous post.

I half remembered seeing them in a butcher's shop many years ago and when I went to check the shop had changed its name but still carried a stock of flageolets, Eureka! From there I emailed D'aucy in France who let me know the name of the distributor here and I'm now in contact with them and have at least one new option, the Renaissance Supermarket, Fitzroy St, St Kilda, who carry a full range of D'aucy products.

So let me tell you about the tinned flageolets. They were the rich, creamy ones that I remembered from La Madrague. I'm not saying that La Madrague opened a tin or anything like that, I'm sure they knew how to cook the dried ones, but now I have a great, easy option - it's like tasty beans on the table in ten minutes. My daughter M loved them as well, what's not to love with beans in a creamy, butter sauce with loads of garlic and parsley? She even helped herself to an extra scoop.

Which made what happened next a bit funny. I made up a pasta sauce with flageolet beans and pancetta a day or two later and served it on shell pasta. Shell pasta is great because it's hard for the kids to pick out the good for them bits of the sauce, like vegetables for instance. But after M had scoffed her pasta, there were random beans scattered around her plate.

It's the old story isn't it, one day a rooster, the next a feather duster.

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  posted at 8:32 am

Friday, February 09, 2007
Take A Peek
From The Age newspaper yesterday.

'England's West Country Farmhouse Cheesemakers have put a webcam on maturing cheddar cheeses to let aficionados watch in real time the process of mould growth for a year. "It puts watching paint dry in the shade," a company spokeswoman admits. The site, www.cheddarvision.tv, boasts 85,000 visits already.'

Of course I know that none of you would want to waste your time watching cheese growing mouldier, but if you did, at least you can watch the real time timer in action.

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  posted at 7:51 am

Thursday, February 08, 2007
A Grate Adventure
Being married to someone from another country other than your own has huge advantages on the culinary front. It means that you are exposed to many other dishes that in the normal course of events you may never try. Before I met my wife D, there was not a single Polish dish I had tried.

Now there are plenty of Polish dishes that I have grown to love and happily eat over and over again. It seems to me that Polish people love their food, more so than most other Eastern European countries and I can't think of a single country that loves sausage (keilbasa) as much as the Poles, who have raised their making and consumption to an art form. The array of smoked porky bits stuffed in intestines is mind boggling and you had better be paying attention when you are told the names of each sausage.

In one shop, Wisla, that used to be in Chapel Street, Prahran we regularly bought sausages. One time I saw some frankfurters and ordered them and looked away to find something else to purchase. When I got home and unwrapped my frankfurters I was shocked to see they had given me another sausage instead. When I returned to the shop they told me that they had indeed given me frankfurters and what I wanted was called another name. It was no loss really because their frankfurters were fabulous.

Funnily enough later on when I was shopping at The Polish shop in Queen Victoria Market I saw the same sausage and asked for some frankfurters and they tried to give me what was really a frankfurter. I should have realised that The Polish Shop is a bit more Australianized!

But along with their meat, Polish people lurrrve potatoes, in the same way Asians love their rice; no meal is complete without them. Mostly they are plainly boiled, thank goodness, but when D is a little homesick there is one potato dish she invariably makes, placki (pronounced plach-key). It comes from a whole line of grated and fried potato dishes common to most of Europe which includes latkes (Jewish), kartoffelpuffers (German), rosti (Swiss) and rarakor (Swedish).

The particular version D makes calls for finely grated potatoes with none of the potato liquid poured off, it's a very wet mix. This produces a flat pancake with crispy, lacy edges that are impossible to resist. It's not the sort of dish for making and serving at the table, it's the kind of thing that you all need to be standing in the kitchen, family style, and eat them as soon as you can handle one hot from the oil. D likes hers with a dollop of sour cream, me, I prefer the pepper mill, our daughter M eats them plain. But whatever you put, keep it simple. We also never serve anything else with them, try them and you'll see why!


1 kg (2.2 lb) white, starchy potatoes
2 eggs
2 tablespoons flour

Peel and finely grate the potatoes into a large bowl, keeping all their juices. Add the eggs, flour and salt to taste and beat in, the mixture will be very loose. Place a heavy or cast iron frypan on the stove and turn the heat to high. When the frypan is hot add a layer of oil to cover the frypan well. Place large spoons of potato mixture evenly in the pan and fry on high heat until browned, then turn over and fry the other side till brown. Remove and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the rest of the mixture, adding more oil when necessary. Serve with sour cream and some fresh ground black pepper. Eat until full.

This is my entry to Weekend Herb Blogging, this week hosted by Kalyn from Kalyn's Kitchen. Unlike last time when I couldn't decide which vegetable to nominate, this week it's potatoes which are probably not served in any South Beach diet approved way! But it is vegetarian, though not vegan.

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  posted at 9:53 am

The Operation
A mate of mine dropped into work yesterday. He is fairly recently seperated and is going into hospital shortly for a minor operation. After a bit of a chat he asked for my home address and as I gave it to him, he wrote it down. Then he asked for my phone number and wrote that down too, then my work phone number as well. So I asked,

"What's that for?"

"It's for the hospital, I have to give them emergency contacts in case something goes wrong."

"You'd be better off giving them your ex's details than mine."

"Why's that?"

"Because if the hospital calls me because somethings gone wrong and you're a bit dodgy on the life support, I'm going to tell them to pull the plug."

"Why would you do that?"

"Because I know where your wine cellar is."

He laughed, somewhat nervously and said,

"That's okay, just save the Grange Hermitage* for my son."

"Sure mate, no problem."

I'm not sure whether he believed me or not as he has several bottles of it, but I did my best to sound sincere.

*Grange Hermitage is Australia's greatest wine and retails for a few hundred dollars a bottle.
  posted at 7:49 am

Wednesday, February 07, 2007
The Dark Recesses
I was having a quiet chuckle reading Tanna's confession that despite not using pre mixes for any of her baking, she does use - and like - Bisquick. There would be more than one or two of you that has a packet of something not quite kosher for a dedicated food blogger to possess, a dirty little secret if you like.

There are are more than a few such packets and boxes floating around our pantry, but the one I'd really like to see is not there. Probably because it hasn't been invented, though when noodling around eBay I discovered it's day can't be too far off. There was for sale a book of restaurant recipe secrets - no, not your more usual kind of restaurant, but the big chain restaurants. You know, McDonalds, KFC, Wendy's, Taco Bell et al.

It's ironic really, fast food made at home and I'm betting it would be quicker to get in the car and buy it before you could have it ready yourself. But the thing is that there must be some demand for the recipes for someone to have gone to the trouble of making a book about them. And here is my confession. If someone packaged up the coating to KFC, I would buy it. In a heartbeat.

We make at home from time to time Southern fried chicken. Only the best free range, corn fed bird is bought and carefully jointed and coated in spiced flour and gently fried to finger lick'n succulence. But in my heart of hearts, I know what I really want is the eleven secret herb and spice mix surrounding my bird. The Amateur Gourmet recently found a way to roast a chicken without fat, with only a whisper of a few herbs and spices and he waxed lyrical about his creation. Oh Purleeease! Where's the nice crispy coating that has all the flavour? A bird that tastes just like the juiciest chicken ever - who would want just that when there is so much more to be had? That's like getting to the home turn in a foot race and stopping.

One of my sons worked a while at KFC and I drove him mad trying to find out what was in the mix, but to his everlasting credit he never told me - my own son! Like some deranged scientist, I have been secretly working on a version of the Colonel's formula and have even had some success. The coating seems to be about half and half breadcrumbs and flour. For the first time I can reveal - Gasp! - two of the spices...salt and pepper. From the amount of water that I drink after eating KFC, it would be no surprise to learn that MSG is a third.

So there you have it - my dirty little secret. I bet there are more secrets out there than Tanna's and mine. Care to share? The Food Police aren't watching - promise.
  posted at 7:58 am

Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Here I Am
Just in case some of you have become alarmed that I'm not posting my usual output and may be turning into an idle slump, rest assured it is because things are a little busy right now. There are several planned posts that just need to bump into a bit of fruition.

However, all is not lost because I'm writing for St Kilda Today Extra. Well one post at least. Check it out, oh, and the great photos of my suburb as well.
  posted at 1:23 pm

Monday, February 05, 2007
Texturally Speaking
I had many wonderful meals at a little French restaurant, smack bang in the old industrial heart of South Melbourne. La Madrague was started by Jacques and Annie Heradeau in 1979 and they ran it for 24 years before selling it in 2003. There were many things on the menu that I tried for the first time here including bone marrow sauce (sauce bordelaise) and a sinfully decadent chocolate fondant dessert.

But one of the dishes that has stuck in my mind is the wonderful flageolet beans that they served in a creamy sauce of garlic and parsley. There was plenty of garlic in it, in fact for me it was the large presence of garlic that made the dish. For years I have wanted to recreate this dish at home, but for the most part was unable to locate flageolet beans either tinned or dried.

Flageolet beans are a small green pulse much loved by the French and they have a particular affinity for lamb. Some consider them to be an immature kidney bean, but here is a very scholarly article about them.

Recently I was very happy to find a supply of the dried beans at The Essential Ingredient in the Prahran Market and embarked upon a journey to recreate my taste memory. Besides the garlic my other strong memory of flageolets was their creaminess and it was this that has proved to be my stumbling block. When I got home with my treasure, I consulted a few cookbooks to determine how long to cook the beans; the general consensus was for between one and two hours after a preliminary soaking.

So I followed the directions to the letter, but after an hour and three quarters of simmering they really weren't creamy at all, there was a definite crunch to them. Afterwards I rang the store to find out more and after being questioned if I added salt to the cooking water (I didn't) there was no real answer. The beans still tasted great, but they weren't melting in the mouth.

This last weekend I went again, this time I simmered them for two and a half hours, but I would have to say they were still al dente and I was becoming concerned that they would fall apart. They were again very moreish but without the texture I was looking for. So now I'm down to this. Do they in fact need to be cooked longer, perhaps three hours or more or was La Madrague in fact using tinned flageolets which would be creamy and soft?

If any readers know the answer to either, I would love for you to let me know. Because when I find out I will post a recipe for them that will knock your socks off. Also if you could let me know where to find tinned ones as well.

In an aside when I was googling flageolets I discovered it was a name for a musical wind instrument related to the tin whistle. Do you think the consumption of flageolet beans would make you a better player? Probably!


  posted at 7:48 am

Friday, February 02, 2007
A Right Fritter
Yesterday was the anniversary of one of crickets most infamous incidents - the underarm ball. Even though it happened more than twenty-five years ago, it is still so well remembered that it is mentioned in the papers to this day. It was the cause of much anger and consternation of New Zealanders towards Australia. This from Wikipedia...

Trevor Chappell bowls underarm

An infamous incident involving an underarm delivery occurred on February 1,1981 when Australia was playing New Zealand in a One-day International, the third of five cricket matches in the final of the Benson & Hedges World Series Cup at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

New Zealand needed six runs to tie the match from the final ball, with eight wickets down. The Australian captain (Greg Chappell) ordered the bowler (his brother,Trevor Chappell) to bowl underarm: rolling the ball along the ground to avoid the possibility that the No. 10 New Zealand batsman (Brian McKechnie) would score a six from the last ball to tie the match.
Australia won the game, but the New Zealand batsmen marched off in disgust, and since that day the underarm bowling incident has been a source of discussion, both heated and jocular, between Australians and New Zealanders.

It was described as "the most disgusting incident I can recall in the history of cricket" by the then Prime Minister of New Zealand, Rob Muldoon, who also observed that "It was an act of cowardice and I consider it appropriate that the Australian team were wearing yellow". Even the Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, called the act "contrary to the traditions of the game".

I wonder how the Kiwis (New Zealanders) are going to react when come whitebait season in August I'm going to unveil a new way of cooking them. The classic New Zealand way is to prepare them as a whitebait fritter made from eggs, similar to an omelette, or even more loosely as an ingredient in scrambled eggs. Having had both versions, it seems to me that the flavour of the eggs is just that little bit too strong for these little fishes and another way of cooking them that would highlight their delicate flavour is needed.

You would think that a fish not much longer than 5 mm (1/4") wouldn't be all that expensive, but guess again. Last season they were retailing for more than AU$100 kg. They didn't always command such high prices, but for a variety of reasons the catch rate has declined in recent years. Whitebait is a fish much loved by Kiwis and is as much a part of their psyche as rugby, so hopefully messing about with it won't cause an international incident.

We'll see in August.

Labels: ,

  posted at 9:50 am

Thursday, February 01, 2007
Spain in a Bottle
There is one wine I enjoy above all others in our hot summer and that is Spanish sherry. Most of the time there is a bottle of Manzanilla lurking in the fridge, not far from the anchovy stuffed Spanish olives, so when we don't feel like eating or drinking much in the heat, we can refresh ourselves with a little tapas. It just seems so right.

It would be fair to say that sherry is Spain's best known wine with many examples right across the flavour spectrum, from the bone dry Finos through to the sweet, concentrated Pedro Ximenez. Cream sherry was my mum's favourite tipple, just ahead of a good gin and tonic. But sherry is far from the whole story when it comes to Spanish wine. From here comes the legendary Vega Sicilia Unico made from mostly Tempranillo and a little Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes are from ancient vines and the finished wine is aged for many years before being released to the market. It also costs a bomb.

However for many years Spain suffered from a poor reputation for its wines, many were badly made or had faults and the much cleaner New World wines left them in their wake with their bold flavours and well made wines. As always, there were winemakers doing the right thing and making interesting wines from indigenous varities such as Albarino, Godello and Verdejo for white wines and the red wines from Tempranillo, Garnacha and Manto Negro.

There have been much effort put in over the last few decades to improve the wines, but sadly the whites have been somewhat neglected, though their quality has improved markedly. I was surprised to learn that Cava is the biggest selling sparkling wine behind Champagne in world sales and some of the still white wines that I have tried recently have been impressive as well as interesting.

For those of you interested in, or looking to try something different, there is a tasting of Sherry, Cava and white wines from some of Spain's best producers at Prince Wine Store this weekend. To show them off in a natural manner there will be a selection of tapas, for like all good wines these examples are food friendly.

Saturday, February 3rd, 12.00 to 2.00pm
Prince Wine Store
177 Bank Street
South Melbourne
Cost: Free


  posted at 4:33 pm


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