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

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

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Friday, March 30, 2007
Making Amends
One thing we know for sure is that large multi-national companies aren't immune from public pressure. One instance of that is McDonald's bringing healthy choices to its menu after the notorious movie Super Size Me and several mooted court cases being brought by people blaming McDonald's for their obesity.

But what is now newsworthy is that another multi-national company is now acting on concerns over animal welfare. Burger King has said it will begin to buy eggs and pork from suppliers that sourced these products from farms that don't keep their animals closely confined in cages and crates. Further to this, they will favour suppliers who use the more humane gas or controlled atmospheric stunning, rather than electric shocks to stun chickens prior to slaughter.

Burger King have set modest targets for the next few months, 2% of its eggs to be cage free and 10% of pork to come from farms where the pigs are able to move around inside their enclosures, rather than crates that currently prevent movement. At the very least it is a beginning. Let's hope that more companies involved in food production take note.

If not, they should take a look at this.


  posted at 12:58 pm

Glaring Omission
GlaxoSmithKline, the multinational company, has been fined $Aus193,ooo for misleading people about the vitamin content of its blackcurrant drink, Ribena, and ordered to run corrective advertisements as well as an explanation on its website.

Two New Zealand girls, Jenny Suo and Anna Devathasan decided to use Ribena from a box carton to perform a science experiment about vitamins. To their astonishment they found that the drink that is heavily promoted for having a high vitamin C content, a claimed 7 milligrams per 100 millilitres, in fact had no detectable vitamin C at all.

In Australia there is a commercial showing a bunch of animated oranges getting into trouble and some blackcurrants coming to their rescue with the clear inference that it is the superior vitamin C content that is responsible for the blackcurrants ability to save the oranges.

The company admitted its guilt to a New Zealand court after giving short thrift to the girl's attempts to question the company about the lack of vitamin content, however the girls, even though they were happy the company admitted guilt, felt that the fine was too small for a multinational business.

Maybe the oranges will sue. For sure, Albert Szent-Gyorgyi must be turning in his grave.


  posted at 10:38 am

Thursday, March 29, 2007
Come Over For A Barbie...Aussie Style
Picture with courtesy and permission M. Barritt & K. May

Feeling peckish? Come over for a no fuss barbie. I'll just nip outback and spear a kangaroo, then build a whopping great fire. No rubs or fancy marinades, in fact we don't even bother to skin the beast (that's him just behind the pile of coals, with his bony limbs sticking up). We just chuck him on the fire and roast until medium rare, turning occasionally.

Now that's what I call a barbeque.


  posted at 1:40 pm

Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Sour Cherry Slice
I was chatting to a fellow blogger and asking if sour cherries would have been a viable substitute in a certain recipe and she replied that she felt sour cherries wouldn't have worked in her recipe and were best matched with chocolate.

Which got me thinking.

I completely understand matching sour cherries to chocolate. Two of my all time favourite cakes, sour cherry kugelhopf and the classic Black Forest cake both show off the wonderful marriage these two can make. For chocolate is such a bully really, pushing other less assertive ingredients to the background, that it needs a strong partner to pull it into line. But that's not all there is to sour cherries. Think of rhubarb for instance, which has about the same tartness. It is very often featured just on its own as the star ingredient and sour cherries are just as confident on their own and need just like rhubarb, a little sweetness added.

The reason I had asked about using sour cherries is that I had made for the first time a cherry clafoutis in which I used sweet cherries and was totally disappointed with its lack of cherry flavour, though I would say it was better cold than warm. I wondered then how it would have been if it contained sour cherries instead. The reason I was thinking this was that every year we go the a cherry orchard and buy many kilos of sour cherries for making various things, like sour cherry jam, cherry vodka and quite a few are simply bottled for cakes and desserts during the year.

Now the thing is every year we eat some fresh, to get an idea of how much flavour they have. Even though they are called sour cherries they are not sour like a lemon for instance, it would be fairer to say they are tart and something else is instantly obvious - the length and depth of flavour, its almost like essence of cherry. Some Europeans actually quite like to eat fresh sour cherries, but the majority of the crop will be preserved in some way. In fact it is European countries that lead world production of sour cherries and it would probably surprise you to learn that of the world-wide production of cherries, which is around three million tons, one third of that is dedicated to sour cherries.

Stephanie Alexander in her book the Cooks Companion goes on to say...

'Cherries are an ancient fruit and originated in south-eastern Europe and western Asia. There are still many cherry recipes that are closely linked to these areas, especially from Russia, Hungary, Turkey and Germany, the latter of which is home to the fabulous Black Forest cake. Kirsch and many other cherry liqueurs are also produced in central and eastern Europe. European cherry recipes are all intended for the sour cherry, which develops far greater complexity and depth of flavour than a sweet cherry when cooked. Inevitably, sweet cherries will have to be substituted most of the time.'

Well, perhaps it's not inevitable if you have a source for sour cherries, as even supermarkets carry jars of sour cherries these days, usually labeled as Morello cherries, which can be used in place of fresh cherries when they are no longer in season. If you like rhubarb you will certainly like this slice, which is my entry to Weekend Herb Blogging, this week hosted by the wonderful originator, Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen.


1 cup sugar
3 cups plain flour sifted
2 teaspoons baking powder
250 g butter
5 egg yolks
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 litre jar sour cherries


5 egg whites
1 cup icing sugar
4 rounded tablespoons vanilla custard powder

In a large bowl mix flour and baking powder, cut butter into small pieces and rub into flour with fingertips, until flour looks like coarse sand. Add sugar, sour cream and egg yolks, and mix until dough forms, do not over mix. Divide dough into ¾ and ¼ pieces, wrap in plastic. Put ¾ piece in fridge and ¼ piece in freezer for at least a ½ hour. In a baking dish 38 cm x 26 cm place ¾ piece of dough and with your hands, push the dough to cover the bottom of the dish. Drain sour cherries and put them on the dough.

Whisk eggwhites until soft peaks form, then slowly whisk in the icing sugar, then the custard powder. Pour this mixture over the sour cherries and level. Take ¼ piece of dough and grate evenly over topping. Bake in 170 c oven for 50 minutes.

Just in an aside, the leftover juice from the jar of sour cherries makes a refreshing drink, more so with a shot of vodka, a cook's bonus if you like.

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  posted at 8:15 am

Monday, March 26, 2007
Risk vs. Reward Reloaded
(Image courtesy Matt Amendariz)

I was checking out Mattbites the other day when Matt pointed to another post in the blog guardedly optimistic titled fruit: a risk vs. reward analysis. It was Justin's too funny assessment of various fruits we eat and when I finished laughing, immediately felt like Oscar Wilde at a dinner party when one of his friends had said something brilliantly witty and Oscar said, "Wished I thought of that." to which the speaker replied, "Don't worry Oscar, you soon will."

No, I'm not exactly stealing Justin's work, but I did ask if he would mind if I borrowed his theme and put my own spin on it, to which he very kindly agreed, and a big thanks to Matt also for letting me use his image to tie the whole thing together. Why I was keen on it was that I thought it would work really well with kitchen equipment, so without further ado, here is my assessment of all things kitchenalia.

equipment: potato peeler
risk: moderate
reward: moderate
analysis: The humble potato peeler is the mousetrap of the kitchen world. No, it will never snap down on your fingers, but it may take the skin from one of your knuckles. A very good example of clever and simple engineering designed to to do but one thing, rid vegetables of their unpalatable outer skins. Unfortunately, what is a great engineering idea is often let down by manufacture. Made to be cheap, the swiveling blade is very often its downfall, sometimes cutting in one direction only, maddeningly sometimes not cutting at all. When you find a good one, a thing to be treasured and hidden when your friends come over, for they will pocket it. There is a wonderful model made by the ever efficient Swiss. Big and chunky, it always peels in both directions, takes just the right amount of peel, and no, you are not invited over.

equipment: mandoline
risk: extremely high
reward: high
analysis: What can you say about a piece of equipment that has a single, large, horizontal, razor sharp blade and many smaller upright blades that are designed to take slices of food whilst you hold that food with your bare and vulnerable hands against the blades and pull it through? If this was workplace equipment, the relevant authority would have banned it for being so dangerous, even professional chefs have been known to slice a sliver of flesh. However the payoff is twofold, what you get are perfect slices of uniform thickness that could never be achieved with a knife alone and there is a certain cheffiness that attaches to using one, it's not your everyday piece of equipment. Other pluses include the ability to shred a cabbage into perfect coleslaw in seconds, perfect julienne without raising a sweat and chips so uniform that you might be bored eating them. These days some models do come with food holding devices, but you still have to clean it when finished...

equipment: copper cookware
risk: low
reward: very high
analysis: So why do people pay three or four hundred dollars a piece when they could have an equivalent pan a quarter the price? Prestige, baby, prestige. Owning a few pieces of copperware says something about you like no other piece of equipment does. If it were a car, it would be a Mercedes Benz. Timeless, uncluttered lines and does exactly what you bought it for, cooks perfectly, thanks to copper's unique ability with heat transference. Copper, tin-lined saute pans, however, are not such a great idea to actually use. The melting point of tin is around 230 C (450 f), which is a temperature your oven can easily reach. These days there are stainless steel lined pans which are less stressful to use, but if you have tin lined, leave them hanging from butcher hooks on a kitchen display rack, that way you will also never have to keep polishing the copper after each use, but then again, if you can afford copperware, you probably have servants.

equipment: sugar thermometer
risk: moderate
reward: moderate
analysis: More useful than you think. Can double up as a deep frying thermometer as well as an easy way to check on the progress of jams. The risk comes from the situations where you use one, rather than any inherent dangers. Interestingly, a hot oil burn seems less worse than a molten sugar burn, which can feel like a drop of lava suddenly attaching itself to your skin even though most stages of sugar cooking are cooler than frying temperatures, ladies who wax would understand why this is so. The only downside is that every time you pull it out to use, you find yourself humming the song from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Candy Man.

equipment: box grater
risk: high
reward: low
analysis: A very basic piece of equipment that does a wholly unremarkable job, for which no-one will ever thank you. It is simply folded metal with various sized grooves for reducing food to shreds, the grooves are not really sharp but it is possible to get a cut. The real danger lies in the side where tiny holes have been punched through producing small metallic shards that will reduce food to a pulp and take the skin straight from your knuckles, staining your food pink, which is amazingly unappetising. It is a bastard to clean as food gets caught up in the tiny holes meaning you are at risk of grating yourself twice. Designed by the devil.

equipment: chinois sieve
risk: very low
reward: moderate
analysis: a piece of equipment that allows you to feel very cheffy if you know how to use it properly, if you don't, you would probably throw it in the bin after a single use. Its principal use is to strain sauces rather than blending which introduces air, so you probably won't find one of these at El Bulli. The problem is that the tiny holes clog up straight away and its conical shape means you can't leave it suspended over a bowl to drain, your stuck holding the stupid thing if you don't know to plunge a small ladle quickly up and down, releasing all the liquid. If you own and use one of these, you are one step away from working in a restaurant. Throw it in the bin. Now!

equipment: truffle slicer
risk: very high
reward: very high
analysis: very similar to a mandoline but without the shredding ability. A little screw enables one to control the thickness of the slices so that for instance if you were showing off to friends that mattered little, you would produce the thinnest possible slices and they would still be very impressed and your stocks would still skyrocket. If it was for you and your partner, you would cut a little thicker being very careful not to cut yourself. There is nothing like emergency medical treatment of any sort for destroying a mood and believe me, truffles for your loved one will produce a mood you won't forget in a hurry.

equipment: KitchenAid stand mixer
risk: low
reward: high
analysis: I don't think there isn't anyone who doesn't want to own a KitchenAid. It is the finest piece of kitchen equipment that America has ever produced. If you could teach it to do your shopping and take out the rubbish, there wouldn't be a single thing it couldn't do. Mixes, whisks, kneads, grinds, blends, juices, opens cans, sausage maker, pasta maker, the list goes on and on. At the heart of it is a motor that is the equivalent of a thumpin' V8, it just never stops or gets tired. You've got one of these babies and you feel like a pro, no matter how your food turns out. Welcome to the dream, risk free.

equipment: wire whisk
risk: low
reward: low
analysis: the wire whisk is probably the first piece of kitchen equipment ever invented. Simple and efficient at what it does, it has largely been superseded by KitchenAid and others. If you were about losing weight, it might be an idea to whisk everything by hand as it does require a fair effort, but whipping cream for instance is just sheer torture, for the moment you start to get tired and cramping the cream actually thickens up making it even harder to whisk. No-one will ever say "Oh, you whisked that by hand, I really noticed the difference." Of course, you will have a very strong arm from all that whisking, meaning you now have a crushing handshake, but why bother? Whisking by hand was the reason electricity was invented.

equipment: wooden spoon
risk: low
reward: moderate
analysis: the wooden spoon is the most elemental piece of kitchen equipment you will ever use. There is something comforting about using one, knowing that our caveman ancestors probably fashioned wooden spoons out of tree branches for stirring mastodon stew and even though mankind has passed through all the metal ages with their possibilities for spoons, the wooden spoon has stood the test of time. Pretty much all of us have happy memories of our parents and grandparents using one and we are continuing a long line of cooks when we first purchase one. Wooden spoons are easy to use and do their job with a complete lack of drama, which makes them quite soothing. Very inexpensive, its easy to build up a collection. There is one teensy problem with them, if you leave one in a pot on a gas stove, there will always be a black, burnt spot on the handle, some think it's not really a proper wooden spoon until it has this particular badge of honour.

equipment: chef's knife
risk: high
reward: high
analysis: there is no more serious stating of intentions that you want and like to cook than buying your first chef's knife, every other piece of equipment you buy is just adornment. Nothing says cooking like a proper knife. The risk here is obvious, you have an instrument that is razor sharp, slicing through food whilst your trembling fingers are millimetres away. The danger strangely lies in inverse proportion to how sharp your knife actually is, the duller the blade the more likely you are to cut yourself. This is because of the greater effort it takes to push the knife when blunt, making it more likely to slip sideways with catastrophic results; the more you grunt and groan when cutting, the deeper the cut. Just as there are fake Rolex's, there are also imitation chef's knives. The real ones come from Germany and Japan and cost a bomb, there is no such thing as a cheap, quality chef's knife. Get your hands on a good one, properly sharpened, and you will feel like a chef, the only problem is, some knife manufactures have more models than car companies. The only function you need to consider is does the knife cut well and hold its edge, 'nuff said.


  posted at 11:08 am

Words From The Grave
I was watching the Two Fat Ladies cooking with rabbit, when something the late Jennifer Patterson said made my ears prick up. She was talking about the reasons why rabbit wasn't so popular and mentioned that it wasn't well liked by older people because during the war, for many it was the only meat available and wouldn't eat it because they were sick of it - another reason could be that no-one like to be reminded of that terrible time.

Jennifer went on to say that some folk were frightened of eating rabbit due to the fatal disease myxomatosis and won't eat rabbit in case they became affected or infected by it.

The third thing she said that affected rabbit consumption was in her words, "The funny bunny brigade...", those people who for one reason or another would prefer if no-one ate rabbit at all and are not at all shy about presenting their view about what is right and proper. I know that many of you already have seen what they have to say, but if you want to see blistering personal attacks, sift through here.

What's sadly funny is that I can see the reason why they don't want anyone to eat rabbit, they look at their pet rabbits and see all rabbits the same way and anyone eating rabbit is like someone who would eat their own pet. The sad part is that they can't understand anyone who doesn't see rabbits like them and these people are only worthy of their scorn, derision and worse.

But like people, not all rabbits are the same.

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  posted at 9:35 am

Friday, March 23, 2007
Nostalgia Event
Wow, sometimes time gets away from you so fast.

It seemed like only yesterday that I read about Ellie from Kitchen Wench's one off Nostalgia event and was thinking why not. When I was noodling around over here, there was a stark reminder that today is the deadline and I hadn't really got around to writing a new post. So Ellie, forgive me for not presenting something new in your honour but please accept an old post of mine that really fits the bill to a tee.

Mum's Scones

Had my mum over for supper a couple of nights ago.

That doesn't sound too strange at all, unless you knew that mum has been dead for a few years. No, Whoopi Goldberg's Oda Mae Brown from the 1990 movie Ghost wasn't there either, channeling her heart out. But mum was in the kitchen with me, helping to make supper.

Mum wasn't the greatest cook going around, she was a meat and potatoes kinda' gal, who was in the habit of overcooking meat of all descriptions. It was from her that I devolped a taste for the fatty end of a loin lamb chop, for whilst the meaty part was dry and chewy, the fat end having had a good part of the fat rendered out, was left crisp on the outside, with wonderful juicy meat inside. She was into molecular gastronomy when Ferran Adria was still in shorts. Not for her something as heavy as a foam, mum preferred the ethereal lightness of smoke, for on more than one occasion, turned a family sized piece of corned beef into nothing more than smoke and a tiny piece of charcoal through her theory of long slow cooking. There was nothing wrong with the theory, but if you forget about the long, slow cooking part before you go to bed....

It was the smoke that did mum in. She loved her fags and had a two pack a day habit. The scent of cigarettes always hung around the house. In winter you could always tell when mum lit up, where ever you were in the house, for we had central heating and the smoke was sucked in to all the ducts. Eventually mum became very sick and lung cancer was diagnosed. She went onto chemo and radiation therapy, lost all her hair but beat the cancer, whilst still smoking. Cancer doesn't always give up so easily and a year or so later, mum was diagnosed with bowel cancer. Despite an operation and further treatment, plus giving up the fags, cancer took her in its final deadly embrace.

On this particular day we had had a late lunch/early dinner and by seven o'clock we were feeling peckish. Obviously a cooked meal was out of the question, but something warm and comforting would be nice. All of a sudden I had a flashback. On Sunday nights when I was a kid, we would have a soup, followed by scones with jam and cream. Despite what I have told you about mum's cooking, she was a really excellent baker, with her sponges as light as a cloud and her scones as tall as skyscrapers. My brother and I plus our two sisters eagerly anticipated the scones, which we slathered over with jam and placed scoops of chantilly cream on top, heavenly.

One thing that I have never been able to do, is to cook someone else's signature dish and serve it back to them. When I shared a house with a married couple, the wife prided herself on spag bol. I felt that my version was pretty good too, but in the whole time I lived there, never did I cook it. It feels like you are saying that mine is better than yours, even if you don't mean to. So it was with scones. Perhaps I was intimidated by mum's perfection, for I have never tried to cook them before and I'm ashamed to say I didn't even have her recipe. The only part I played in their construction was to whip the cream and flavour it.

But on this night, I felt like homemade scones, so searched out a recipe, went to the kitchen and started getting everything needed. It was about this moment that I sort of felt mum in my fingers as I rubbed the fat into the flour. It was like that I knew exactly what the texture should be and it was the same when I added the milk, preternaturally I knew exactly how much was enough and when the dough felt exactly right. However mum hadn't taken over my body completely, for when it came to patting out the dough and cutting the scones, I simply cut them out with a knife, rather than using a special round glass just for the job as mum did. The reason I did this was that mum would have leftover dough that she reshaped and cut again. These scones would always be the runts of the litter, never destined to rise as high as their brothers and sisters because of the extra handling.

I popped my little batch of scones in the oven and fifteen minutes later, mini skyscrapers emerged. Took them out, placed them in a basket wrapped in a tea towel just as mum did and served them with some jam and cream, and we all tucked in. Were they as good as mums? Well it has been some years since those childhood days, I felt that I could taste the baking powder, maybe I could back then too, but what I can say is that I felt mum smiling down on us.

Mum, scones, jam and cream, yeah, it was pretty good.


  posted at 10:58 am

Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Rabbit Ears
Yikes, when one of your comments starts like this, 'Your writing is ultra-homosexual out-of-reality that you enjoy experiencing yourself express.' , you know you've pushed someone's hot button. Suggesting that, 'you have the same mentality as a Nazi during WWII.', might also give you the feeling that your subject matter for the post was somewhat controversial.

I've been reading Hungry In Hogtown for a while now and I've never known Rob to shy away from any cooking challenge, especially if it involves either el Bulli or molecular gastronomy. So when Ferran Adria put rabbit ears on the menu in 2003, it was really only a matter of time before Rob ran with the ball. The only surprise was it took this long, perhaps there was some intuition that things might heat up a bit.

Sure, it's out of a lot of people's comfort zone, but the French have been chowing down on pig's ears for centuries. Maybe it's not that which has sparked such rancour. More to the point is that rabbits are very often kept as pets, but in this world, one man's pet is often another man's dinner. Think guinea pig, think dog, think cat, think pigeon, think anything you like.

But what I don't get is why are a lot of dissenters talking in the language of hate for what is after all an animal, which for better or worse has been eaten by humans for thousands of years, and in Australia at least, considered such a noxious pest that we have tried to eradicate with diseases that cause rabbits to die a horrible death.

I've never seen a single protest about anyone eating rabbit meat and I'm wondering if rabbit lover's being unable to protest against a commonly eaten meat feel more empowered to slang off at someone using a more symbolic part of the beast and in language best reserved for dictators and despots. I think a few people need to get a grip.

I for one, applaud anyone who uses up as much of a dead animal as possible and whilst I wouldn't go to the trouble of preparing rabbit ears, if Rob or anyone else for that matter served them up, I would do what I have always told my kids to do when looking at something new - try it.


  posted at 12:10 pm

Well, the results are in for my spice survey. Thirty-two of you took the trouble to vote, there may have been more but I lost the first few votes when I had to reset the poll to take multiple votes.

As expected black pepper was way out in front with thirty votes, what surprised me about that was two people didn't list it as a favourite - to me black pepper is a universal spice that I would expect to find in any kitchen, but there you go. Next favourite with twenty-five votes was cumin, a spice with a particularly dominating flavour and much loved in Middle Eastern cookery with its smokey, pungent presence. This is one spice that has a regular turnover in my spice rack.*

Third with twenty-three votes is cinnamon, that sweet, musky spice that is at much at home in savoury dishes, particularly Moroccan, as sweet. The surprise here was that cassia which is very similar, didn't poll a single vote, but that may come down to availability, I have never seen it anywhere.

Next up were two spices from the same family, namely chile powder(19) and paprika(20). Paprika is a spice that can turn up in pretty much any cuisine you can think of, perhaps with the exception of Chinese and Japanese and chile powder is essential in any cuisine that prides itself on heat. Close to these was ground coriander(17), another spice with a dual personality.

We start to get to the spices that are mainly used in baking and sweets with vanilla (16), which can have a surprising role in meat cookery, I've seen it used with pork for instance and close behind vanilla are other baking spices such as nutmeg(12) and ginger(13) that also have a part time savoury role. Also with a similar vote was tumeric(12), that essential Indian spice that gives a gorgeous yellow hue to dishes, similar in the way the much more expensive saffron(7) also colours and flavours.

Behind these spices were a whole raft of other spices that are essential to certain dishes but aren't used much outside those such as cloves(7), allspice(7), mustard seed(10), tamarind(7), capers(9), sesame seed(9). Then come the spices that you often buy for just one dish you want to make and they then hang around your pantry for years without another use, for instance juniper berries(1), dill seed(1), fenugreek(1) and the charmingly named asafoetida(1).

What struck me most about this poll was that the majority of spices were for savoury dishes. There is an old chestnut going around that the reason spices were used in savoury food, in the bad old days before refrigeration, was to mask the taste for one reason or another, usually that the food was starting to go off is mentioned but I don't believe it. I think the reason we use spices so widely is that they bring something extra to a dish that raises it to a different plane. Also people, in some circumstances, like the flavours of food that have gone off in a sense, like yoghurt and buttermilk or even salamis which are fermented the same as cucumbers are in Eastern Europe. We use spices because we like the taste of them and they are as firmly entrenched in cookery today as they became when they were first discovered.

Thanks to everyone that took the trouble to vote.

*I'm kidding here, there is no spice rack at my place, just opened plastic bags stored in a container and random bottles scattered around the pantry.


  posted at 7:10 am

Monday, March 19, 2007
Barbecued Octopus
In a recent post, I mentioned something about barbequed octopus and received an email about how to go about it. Well the first bit of advice I have concerning octopus is make sure it's dead...very dead. There is a rather notorious post written by Eddie Lin of Deep End Dining that captures every wiggle and squirm of live octopus tentacles as Eddie tries to eat them and the veiled warning that you could in fact die from attempting such a thing if the tentacle managed to attach itself to the inside of your throat in its attempt to not be eaten.

So that's the first requirement - one dead octopus.

Secondly, we're not talking about baby octopus either, what's needed are the large specimens that you often see on ice at specialist seafood retailers, nestling up to the squid. Now if you like, get your fishmonger to cut off the tentacles, because you won't be needing the head part either, but it's very easy to cut the tentacles off yourself, then the tentacles need to be thoroughly washed of slime and any loose bits encouraged to fall off.

Now large specimens of octopus have a bit of a reputation of being a bit tough and chewy, personally I think it's part of the charm, but others are not so forgiving and over the centuries ways have been devised to tenderise the tentacles, this from La Tant Claire by Pierre Koffmann as he observed a fisherman in the act of tenderising an octopus...

'...(I) was watching a fisherman repeatedly hurling a dead octopus on to the stones of the quayside in order to soften its tentacles, and to make them more palatable. Each time the creature hit the pavement it made a noise like a revolver shot, and this was the sound that first attracted my attention. A small crowd collected to watch the fisherman and maintain a critical running commentary on his technique. A large, dead, wet octopus is very heavy, and its slime makes it difficult to grip. The man got hold of it, walked away a few yards, turned, and, with a great effort, threw it up into the air as high as he could. Down it came with a resounding crack. The fisherman then walked slowly around it, preparing himself for the effort of the next heave, and, like a skilled artist, gripped it again, braced himself, and hurled it up once more. Between each throw he did a slow, jaunty little walk which brought the whole thing into the realm of theatrical performance. The octopus must have soared up into the air and landed flat on the stones a good twenty or thirty times before the fisherman was finally satisfied.'

Now I don't think that any of you should engage in such behaviour, you might finish up wearing a very tight fitting jacket! Do you think anyone is going to believe you when you say, "But doctor, I was just tenderising my octopus..." If you were concerned to tenderize it, you could try lightly hitting it with the flat side of a meat tenderizer mallet, not too hard as it does squish fairly easily, or simply do as I do and marinate it with some lemon juice and oil for an hour. But the real secret of tender octopus is not to overcook it. To this end, you need your barbeque to be cranked up as hot as you can get it, the heat needs to be fierce to quickly char the outside and cook it through in the minimum of time. Octopus is similar to squid in the way that the cooking is either short and sweet for a few minutes, or slow and easy for about an hour, anything else renders it tough and rubbery.

The flavours of the Mediterranean seem best suited to this style of cooking, especially Greek flavours and if you like to eat it meze style, a small glass of Ouzo will just about transport you to the sparkling blue shores of some deserted island...

Barbequed Octopus

1 kg octopus tentacles
2 lemons, juiced
200 ml olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
salt and fresh ground pepper

Thoroughly wash the tentacles removing all the slime and any debris that falls away and dry thoroughly. Place in a marinating dish and pour over the oil and lemon juice, add the oregano and seasoning - leave in a cool place for an hour, no more as the lemon juice will cook the flesh. Heat your barbeque as hot as you can and place the marinaded tentacles on the grill bars. The flesh will change colour to dark red in parts, as well as pick up char marks. Cook for one to two minutes, depending on the thickness, before turning over and charring the other side. Goes well with a Greek salad.


  posted at 2:56 pm

Mussels in Cider
What a great weekend for the Irish. They booted Pakistan out of the cricket World Cup and celebrated St Patrick's Day as well. Only the French rained on their parade, knocking off Scotland by enough points in their Six Nations rugby union match to snatch the crown from the very grasp of the Irish. But I think in the euphoria of the cricket result, the Irish will be either too happy or too drunk to care. Just to put that result in context for American readers it would be like Monaco knocking out the USA from a baseball tournament.

So what does my family with Irish roots do to celebrate St Patrick's Day? We cook up a feast straight from Belgium, that's what. There was no disrespect meant and we did have a little toast to the Irish or at least we mentioned them.

My daughter P had been asking for a while if I would come over and cook some Belgian food. She has become rather enamoured with all things Belgian lately since discovering Belgian style pubs and even went and bought a Belgian cookbook to facilitate matters, faxing the recipes to me last Friday. Can you guess which ones?

It might have been helpful to our cause if either one of us had remembered to bring the recipes home, but that didn't happen. No matter really, for what P wanted was a classic beer garden menu of chips, mussels, potato croquettes and mayonnaise, which I can do straight from the top of my head, though I put the kibosh on the croquettes as it seemed like a bit too much potato. In honour of the occasion, I even bought some Belgian beer, a couple of stubbies of Leffe.

Well, Belgian style chips are easy enough, they're like chips everywhere, first a blanch in some low temperature oil until they are cooked but not coloured, cooled, then a blast in high temperature oil to turn them golden and crispy. Belgian style mussels are essentially cooked with wine, but I brought along a recipe from the Roux brothers, an old Norman staple of mussels cooked with cider and cream, rich and delicious and even though it wasn't a Belgian recipe, they do speak French so it was in keeping with the spirit of the day. We probably didn't need the mayonnaise, but P was keen for it, so we whisked up a batch together.

My son A was also keen for the chips, he wanted them especially crispy and I would have to say that he did cook them a little longer than was strictly necessary, but his wish was granted, they were crispy...very crispy indeed! My other son N was there as well with his girlfriend E and much to my surprise for this avowed seafood hater, tucked into a few mussels, though he did say the more he ate, the fishier they became. I cracked the tops of the two stubbies and offered everyone a beer, but there were no takers, everyone still had things to do, so poor old dad was left to drink them up, not really a hardship, but at in excess of 8% alcohol I was feeling a little happier than expected.

Abbey beers as they are known, were originally brewed by monks in monasteries, but nowadays are mostly brewed under licence, with royalties going back to the monasteries. These beers are considered to be the aristocrats of all beers, tend to be darker with rich, creamy flavours with not as much apparent hop bitterness. My daughter P is much taken with Belgian cherry beer and it is easy to replicate at home if you have access to sour cherry syrup, which is readily available in Melbourne at least, most Polish outlets carry it as well as Russian ones. Simply pour a measure of sour cherry syrup in a glass and top up with beer of any kind. You can give any flavour to the beer you like really, raspberry is also popular. These fruit beers are very girl friendly.

P was concerned that there wasn't enough food, but with the rich nature of everything, one doesn't need a lot to be full. With plenty of fat in virtually everything, it's not everyday food, but I particularly recommend the mussels to you, maybe with crusty bread instead of chips to mop up the plentiful sauce, though to be fair the Belgian recipe we should have cooked looked nowhere near as rich. I'm sure St Patrick would have approved.

Mussels in Cider
(adapted from the Roux brothers)

1 kg mussels
3 shallots, finely chopped
80 g butter
400 ml dry apple cider
2 bay leaves
1 sprig thyme
200 ml double cream
salt and fresh ground pepper
finely chopped chives

Clean and debeard the mussels. In a large pot, big enough to hold the mussels, sweat the shallots in 20 g of the butter until soft. Add 300 ml of the cider, bay leave and thyme and boil hard until reduced by a third, then add the cream, bring back to the boil, add the mussels and cover the pot, boil hard until the mussels have opened* in two or three minutes, shaking the pot occasionally. Strain the mussels and keep warm, return the liquid to the pot and boil hard to reduce until sauce like. While the juices are reducing, pull off one half of the mussel shells, discard and keep the mussels warm. When the juices have reduced enough, add the rest of the apple cider and whisk in the remaining 60 g butter, season to taste. Put the mussels in bowls, pour over some sauce and sprinkle on the chives. Hand around the rest of the sauce in a sauce boat. Eat with crusty bread.

* Conventional wisdom would have you discard any mussels that don't open as being bad, we always open and eat them. Some mussels simply won't open in death even though they are alive when cooked, let your nose be the guide. Think also of opened oysters that you consume many hours later after buying...they are all dead.


  posted at 10:07 am

Thursday, March 15, 2007
Traveling Through Time
It never rains, but it pours. Kind words indeed from Ximena as she tagged me for a meme, just after I had completed one that had been hanging around for an age. So that I won't have to go through that feeling guilty bit again, here is my take on it. The meme is about your life in leaps of five years right from when you were born and you have to say what you were doing and eating in any year that ends in a two or seven, so here goes.

1957, born! I don't remember much, but I'm reliably told that mine was a breach birth for which I'm not sure my mum ever really forgave me, she apparently nearly died. Drinking breast milk.

1962, we moved to a bayside suburb in 1960 and spent our summers at the beach. War was a then acceptable pastime for young boys and I used to battle with my mate from across the road with our toy soldiers, I actually coveted his soldier with a machine gun. Comics were another thing that I loved and I think Scrooge McDuck was my favourite character. I so wanted to have his money vault and to dive into it like he did. It was about this age that I started to take an interest in cooking, mixing up all sorts of concoctions from mum's jars of whatnot, fortunately no-one ever ate anything I made, though there was that one time I made myself a pepper sandwich...

1967, one of my pleasant memories of primary school was ordering a pie and cup of tomato soup from the canteen, it's funny because nowadays no pie ever tastes as good as they did back then. For some stupid reason I was very good at working out fractions, my grade teacher actually took me to a higher grade class and I was made to take on the entire class at fractions and won. Lunch time was spent hiding from that class.

1972, at this time I spent most of my free time outside either playing cricket or kick to kick depending on the season, right in the street outside my house. Those of you who have seen the movie Sandlot Kids would know of Hercules, the fearsome dogbeast that took their baseball when they hit it over the fence. We had our own version of that with a fearsome old women who lived alone and terrorised us whenever we kicked or hit a ball into her yard. It was like "You go", "NO, you go", followed by a sprint that would have qualified any of us for the Olympics, whenever it was time to retrieve the ball. Food was pretty basic at the time, usually meat and three veg. Mum had this way with meat that required it to be dark brown on one side and almost black on the other, which incidentally makes the tail end of a lamb loin chop very tasty. Steaks invariably meant oyster blade which I still love to this day.

1977, rugby union was my passion at this time. I was playing for Brighton at Elsternwick Park as well as the Victorian under 21's. I don't know why I picked up a love for rugby in the heartland of the AFL, maybe as a tighthead prop it was the almost ton and a half of raging testosterone that packed in on me. The Brighton side I played in had a bit of a reputation for biffo and I still laugh when I remember the a wife of one of the opposition players who felt that her husband was getting some uncalled for attention, grabbed a sideline marker and chased one of our players all over the pitch trying to belt him around the head and warning him off, the rest of us just dissolved in laughter. I was into cooking big time and my very first dinner party featured chicken Veronique on a potato rosti, with peeled grapes mind you.

1982, I'm married by this time and have a two year old daughter. We're living in a flat in East Malvern and entertaining freely, I would invite anyone for the chance to cook. Some in the building didn't see it that way, once there was a knock at the door and ten hard core bikies were telling me to turn down our music, which was a bit rich coming from them, we moved shortly after. I'm working in the family business which is sadly not food. We are eating tons of Middle Eastern food and it was my wife that taught me how to make tabouli - please, not too much cracked wheat. By this time I had given up rugby due to injuries and was now playing competitive tennis for the East Malvern Tennis Club.

1987, a son has also come along by now and we have moved into our first house in East Oakleigh, right next to Scotchman's Creek. We landscaped the front yard and put in light bollards, someone dug them up and stole them. There were also loose pebbles in a rough sort of path that the local boys like to scatter. I caught a boy at it one day and made him sweep them up. His mate was laughing at him so I barked at him that if he was a real mate he should be helping his friend, my pebbles were never touched again. There was also the time my brother-in-law was over and we were drinking Arak, the Lebanese version of Ouzo and eating barbequed octopus. We were sitting on stools on the lawn, when all of a sudden his front stool legs started to sink into the lawn, tipping him over. He couldn't see what was happening and the look on his face was like - I'm not so drunk, why am I falling over for no reason? - it all happened in slow motion and it was exactly as if he was drunk.

1992, by now I'm single and going out a lot, there is also another son. Some friends of mine had a holiday house in Wood's Point, a tiny hamlet that was once a thriving gold mining town. I think we singlehandedly turned it into a gastronomic centre with the food we used to cook and the wines we drank. More than a few bottles of Grange Hermitage and a few of the first growths of Bordeaux met their end here. It was here that I discovered the reason to pierce or slash chestnuts before cooking, when a batch of chestnuts blew the heavy lid of a Dutch oven clean off on the open fire.

1997, this is about the start of a ten year dry spell, bad news if you like picking mushrooms. My morel spots are still giving up plenty, but the decline is noticeable. The best year I ever had we got seventeen kilos, now the yields are down to about five kilos. I have had some newspaper articles on food published by now, one featuring morels. It was also the year I sold my wine cellar to start up a business, I still cry when I think about it, there was one bottle of Chateau d'Yquem that I wished I kept, but that's life.

2002, I'm remarried by now and have another daughter, this is the year she was diagnosed with autism. It felt like the worst moment in my life but I have come to accept what it means and that is we have a truly wonderful daughter. That is not spin of any sort, I marvel everyday at M's spirit and the things she can do - having a child with autism has given me a whole new way of looking at the world. Sure, if there was a choice, neurotypical would have been it, but now I wouldn't change her for anything. Polish foods now figure in my life and boy do I love them. A whole new window has opened up and I'm eating new foods for the first time in a long time. Apart from the sweets, which I recently sent to a fellow food blogger, my favourite thing would have to be pierogies, filled pasta parcels that might feature wild mushrooms and cabbage or potato and cheese, every sort is delicious including those made from fruit such as raspberries or wild bilberries.

2007, I'm now into my second year of food blogging and having a blast. It's great all the people I've met in cyberspace and are now friends with, it's such a wonderful community. My writing seems to have improved since the early days and posts are still coming easily. I have a secret, I do have a digital camera, we got it last Christmas but I haven't got around to working out how to transfer pictures to the computer. No doubt I will kick myself when I discover how easy it is. It's interesting how I approach things these days as there might be a possibility of a post in the things I do. My eyes are always open.

So that's it in a nutshell. I'm not going to do tags this time as I have just tagged a few people earlier last week, but as always, feel free to join in.

Edited to add: I've changed my mind, I'd like to see what Kitchen hand has to say. You're tagged mate!


  posted at 9:21 am

Wednesday, March 14, 2007
The Spice Is Right
There is a very sad part of my pantry. We have a little section where we keep all the spices we use in our cooking. Mostly they are in little jars, but there is the odd packet or two floating around. I was searching for some cumin last night which we were out of, and that meant looking at every jar in the pantry.

There were two bottles of cloves because one had gone out of date but we hadn't tossed it yet - you never know. Allspice and juniper berries were in attendance and I can honestly say I would need only one hand to count the amount of times I have used either spice in my life. Vanilla pods were lurking at the back, vanilla extract at the front along with the more commonly used spices - paprika, coriander, pepper, cayenne pepper plus a couple of nutmegs, one half grated.

I'm willing to bet there are more than one or two of you that have similar pantries with a collection of spices that have been bought for a particular recipe but hardly used since. But what I'd like to know is, what are the spices you use the most of and to this end I've constructed a poll.

I'd like you to vote for the spices you use the most, say anything you've used within the last month. You can vote for more than one spice, this poll is about finding out what's in use for most people. Don't vote for something just because it's in your pantry, only vote for what you actually use.

Sorry if I've left anything out, leave a message in comments for any other spices. I would also be interested to know of any spices that have only been used once in a single recipe and consigned to the back of the pantry, leave a message in comments also.

Edited to add: Okay, for those who've already voted, I've fixed the multiple votes thing, nominate as many spices as you like!

What are your most used spices?
black pepper
white pepper
Szechuan pepper
chilli powder (including cayenne)
coriander (cilantro) seed
juniper berries
caraway seed
mustard seed
ginger powder
star anise
dill seed
celery seed
sesame seed
pollcode.com free polls


  posted at 9:11 am

Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Hanging Rock
Photo courtesy of Hanging Rock Recreation Reserve - does it look like a nipple to you? Look closely now.

It's funny isn't it?

You can live your whole life near a major attraction and yet somehow, you never bother to go. Well this state of affairs is now rectified and I have finally been to Hanging Rock. There was a near miss a couple of months ago when we toured Mt Macedon and we found our way to the gate of Hanging Rock Reserve, but with an $8 entrance fee and being late in the afternoon, we decided to come another day and explore the reserve properly.

So with two other families, we packed up the cars and off to the rock we went for a barbeque. It's an easy drive up the Calder Freeway, about one hour out of Melbourne and is well sign posted. Not that you would easily miss it, for as you round Mt Macedon, Hanging Rock rises steeply from the surrounding plain. The rock itself was formed about six million years ago when lava was forced up through a narrow vent and formed a mamelon, a French word for nipple, which is a quite apt description of it.

The park itself is completely fenced as far as we could see and contains a horse racetrack, tennis courts, a cricket pitch, children's playground and plenty of covered barbeques and picnic tables. There is also a cafe and gift shop. We easily found a vacant barbeque under shade, the barbeques are coin operated with dollar coins only, but at least they work well, unlike council run free barbeques that never seem to work properly. Because it was a last minute decision to go we had only supermarket meat, but we made up for that with our salads.

After the food we went on the walk to the top of the rock. At the start there is an interpretive centre that gives plenty of info into Hanging Rock and of some interest is the part about Picnic At Hanging Rock, the atmospheric movie that was shot here. Where's Miranda? You can find out for yourself.

There is an asphalt path that climbs the one hundred and five metres to the top and parts of it are quite steep, there are also some stairs that I meant to come down on the way back. The walk to the top is amply rewarded with the superb views across the countryside all around. A second mamelon is clearly visible on nearby Mt Macedon and are apparently the best examples of this geological structure in the world.

At the top is a bit of scrambling around the rocks to gain access to the views so carry as little as possible to make it easier. Also sturdy footwear with a good grip would be great, for weathering has made some of the rocks smooth and slippery. We moved around the top for about half an hour and it is surprising how quickly you can lose track of others, a point the film makes well, you could be five metres from someone and be completely unable to see them.

After a look and a chat about whether the rocks were hanging or dangling, plus a photo session it was time to go back down and it was then that our party had a Bugs Bunny moment - we shoulda takin' that left turn at Albuquerque. We simply followed some others that were leaving the top and the track we took got progressively rockier and steeper culminating in a ten metre drop to the base. Truth be told it was a little scary but also exhilarating at the same time. At times I felt like a contortionist as I slid and scrambled down the steep rocks. I'm not recommending this route to anyone! A couple of our party did find the right way back and traversed the steps telling us the view was great from this direction too.

Back down the rock, we came across a female kangaroo with a joey in her pouch that entranced all the kids and provided more photo opportunities for us. All in all it was a great day that kept the kids as well as us busy, always a sign of success. Don't wait as long as I have to take a look, it's a great day out.

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  posted at 10:56 am

Friday, March 09, 2007
A Vegetable Meme
I'm such a bad blogger. Honeybee from the lovely Swiss blog, Beurre et Pain tagged me for this meme an eternity ago. At the time I was busy, then I forgot for a bit, then I remembered and felt bad for a while, now it's done. Forgive me Honeybee for my tardiness, it's such a great subject.

1. Is there a vegetable you hated as a child, but came to love as you got older?

One vegetable that I loathed as a child was cauliflower. There was just something about it, perhaps it was the way my mum cooked it until completely soft and mushy and slightly cabbagy; it is a member of the Brassica family after all. These days I’m quite fond of it, unlike parsnips which I was most definitely right about – they are still awful. We usually have cauliflower plain, but I think that a good béchamel sauce flavoured with cheese, cheddar or gruyere, is a match made in heaven.

2. Most underrated vegetable?

A very hard question, but I think the gong would go to broccoli. It’s one of those love or hate vegetables, fortunately I love it, but it does tend to be ubiquitous. It always turns up in Chinese stir fry or in a bain marie at buffets badly cooked, but when it’s cooked well it adds just the right freshness. It is also two vegetables in one with the florets and the stalks. One of the nicest pasta sauces I know uses both parts and is really the essence of broccoli.

3. Name one favourite summer vegetable dish.

I love all the summer salads, but there is one dish that is really the taste of summer, even though this particular vegetable is available all year. The dish is lesco from Hungary, made from a variety of peppers, we use mild sweet ones flavoured with paprika. Stewing the peppers seems to add an extra dimension, but it is the summer peppers that seem to have the most sweetness and depth.

4. And one for winter?

One of the things I like the most is a soup my wife makes from beetroots. Being Polish she calls it barszcz, though most people know it as borscht. In the old days the soup was fermented to make it sour, but these days it is much easier to use vinegar. When it’s made well this soup has real depth but is also quite light. To make it more substantial, uszka (little ears), little pasta parcels filled with a mushroom mixture can be added.

5. What vegetables are in your fridge and freezer right now?

Olives, tomatoes (fresh & passata), potatoes (mashed & placki), horseradish, capers, red cabbage, lettuce, carrots, radishes, beetroots, spring (green) onions, cauliflower, cabbage (preserved bigos) water chestnuts, mushrooms and peas.

6. Is there a vegetable you really like but don't make much yourself?

Any member of the radicchio family, I really like the bitterness but my wife doesn’t share my taste with this one and I can appreciate that if you do find it too bitter you won’t enjoy - it can be a trial to eat them. Not that it stops me when I’m in the mood, though my suffering wife is starting to enjoy them a bit more.

Because it's so long since I was asked to do this, I won't tag anyone, but throw it open to all those who love vegetables, this might mean you, you & you. Only if you want.


  posted at 7:28 am

Thursday, March 08, 2007
Time Is Money
Tired of call centre phone calls and don't know how to get rid of them politely?

We've been trialing a new strategy at work that seems to stop those pesky callers right in their tracks meaning you can hang up the phone with dignity, if they don't hang up first.

What we do once we have ascertained it's a sales call, which these days often masquerade as business proposals, is to simply ask for their billing address. It works like this...

"Ring, ring."

"Hello, this is Ron from XYZ and I have a business proposal for you."

"That's great Ron, can I have your billing address?"

"What do you want that for?"

"So I can bill you for the time I spend listening to you, I will listen as long as you want, but you have to pay."

At this point they usually hang up, but you still have to be on your toes and insistent if they don't. We've been using it for a month and it works like a charm. My business partner loves it and finished up chatting with a call centre operator who said it was the best reply she had ever heard, there just isn't any way around it. No-one becomes upset.

It's not for all calls, but when you get those persistent sales calls where they don't take no for an answer, it's a nice, polite way out.


  posted at 4:01 pm

Tuesday, March 06, 2007
The Dark Side
Picture by Michael Blamey

There is a terrible secret about someone who has been a resident of St Kilda for ninety-five years. You can see his face just to the left, waiting for his meal to come walking by. He is St Kilda's dark secret. You see, Mr Moon is not only the hungriest person in town, he is also a cannibal. Every week he devours thousands of men, women and children, alive.

Yes, that's right, children too! Shocking!

Picture by Michael Blamey

Here is a shot of a local resident being eaten alive! His hunger for humans knows no bounds.

Photo courtesy Tourism Victoria

Here is Mr Moon on a feast day, gorging himself sick. Is there no end to his gluttony? Well fortunately, Mr Moon in common with most St Kilda residents prides himself on his looks. Even though he will gobble up every last person he sees, Mr Moon suffers bulimia. Every person eaten is usually disgorged by the end of the day, none the worse for it.

Unless they had lunch before going on the Spider.

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  posted at 8:44 am

Monday, March 05, 2007
Value Or Villany?
What exactly is a farmer’s market?

It would seem I’m not the only one asking this question; Ed from Tomato is also seeking some answers. The short answer would be a market that seeks to put the farmer or producer in touch with a local community, where the farmer gets feedback directly from the consumer, unfiltered by middlemen (read supermarkets) pushing their own agenda and where the consumer can find out more about the offered goods and chat to the producer in a friendly and informal manner. A farmer’s market should also provide the highest quality produce and some items that are not mainstream, so that the public is stimulated by different ingredients not carried in supermarkets or regular grocery stores.

Another feature of these markets ought to be cheaper prices, it was this idea that came under strong challenge on the weekend at the St Kilda Farmer’s market. I went along to get some sorrel for some soup, but unfortunately the regular herb supplier wasn’t there. Thinking that maybe someone else might carry it, I did a reconnoitre of the stalls and was shocked at some of the prices being asked. The man selling oysters was offering unshucked for $15 a dozen and $18 shucked, there didn’t seem to be much business for him, completely understandable when a short drive up the road, fishmongers at Prahran Market were offering shucked Sydney rock oysters at $13 a dozen.

How does this oyster farmer defend asking more for his produce than the market that is not just renowned for the quality of produce but is considered the most expensive market going, servicing as it does the most exclusive and affluent suburbs of Melbourne? The oysterman had just a refrigerated van and trestle table, hardly horrendous overheads but sadly his produce was a snip compared to the price of organic apples on sale at a different stall.

We regularly buy apples from an orchard that is as close as spitting to organic and we pay between $1.50 and $1.75 a kilo depending on variety, at one stall, organic apples were selling for $6 a kilo, more than three times what we pay. That is an absolutely scandalous price even given their organic status. How can they possibly justify it?

I think I know.

When people get a taste of apples from an orchard and not the supermarket the difference in flavour and texture is immediately apparent, the difference between straight from the orchard and organic is not so discernible. When people get a taste of organic apples for the first time, they think that the organic factor is responsible for the superior taste and the people selling organic apples like you to think just that when in fact it’s just the fruit has been picked riper than supermarkets prefer, looking as they do for shelf life.

What has got me hopping mad about this is that it affects the stall holders who are living up to the ideal of what a farmer’s market should be, the ones who are bringing in hard to get herbs like sorrel or black kale, or the stall holder who is selling milk, not just any milk but bath milk. This is unpasteurised milk sold not for drinking but cosmetic purposes - they can’t tell you that it can be drunk, I can’t tell you that either, but I accidentally swallowed some and it was the richest, creamiest milk I have ever tasted.

Compare that to the stall selling a goat’s cheese that I can buy at any good cheese shop for the same price as the market. Why would I bother to buy here, when at the cheese shop there is the full range of cheeses? I understand that their cheeses can’t be too deeply discounted, as the cheese shops would eventually find out that they were being undercut and stop stocking them, but even if it was just a dollar or two cheaper it would make all the difference and could be justified to the cheese shops as marketing the brand.

Another stall that had me shaking my head was Sunny Ridge Strawberry Farm. This is a multi-million dollar business that is the major strawberry supplier to Coles Supermarkets. Their annual production is in excess of three million punnets of strawberries and over two hundred thousand people visit the farm every year. I can tell you from experience that their retail shop on the Mornington Peninsula has some of the highest priced products that you will ever see. One such was a packet of chocolate mousse preparation. Now I'm a home cook and it shocked me that I could have produced the same quantity as this packet using the finest quality chocolate such as Valronha for half the cost.

The feeling I was getting is that some vendors see these farmer’s markets as cash cows and are milking them for all they can get. The public will wise up in time and attendances will fall, making it harder for everyone. I love the farmer’s markets for the different things available, for the little discoveries such as unpasteurised milk or the stall selling single variety beef or another selling venison, for the small guys having a go or just getting their message out.

What I don’t love is the feeling I’m being touched.

Edited to add: Ed is running a poll on farmer's markets, you can vote right here.


  posted at 7:59 am

Thursday, March 01, 2007
A Morel Dilemma

Well, it looks like this must be just about the last entry for the month to Waiter, there's something in my...

I can't say its been exactly pie weather during a very hot February in Melbourne but I've eventually managed to pull it all together. There were a couple of false starts, Stargazy pie got a lot of thought, but after a long look through my library and a troll of the Internet couldn't find a recipe that actually sounded as if I would want to eat it, so I left Stargazy to the good people of Mouse.

Since I was into the unusual I thought about an offal pie featuring brains, but the hot weather put me off that idea as well. What was needed was something simple and classic, how about a chicken pie? Not any old chicken pie but one that involved a couple of other ingredients in a menage a trois, where each attends to the other needs and the sum becomes greater than the whole. A love-in if you like. But what things would propel chicken to orgasmic heights?

One of them was lurking in the pantry cupboard, well our linen press really. We are avid mushroomers and pick and dry a significant part of the forage. A couple of 2 litre preserving jars are full to the brim with prize morels. Chicken with morels is a timeless classic, one that makes for a very happy marriage, but do you think that either could say no to another partner, one that has been flirting with both, toying with their affections?

It was time to make the love circle complete.

The season for this particular vegetable is nearly over, what that means is the plump early spears have given way to slender stalks of asparagus, perfect for a pie. And asparagus is perfect for chicken and perfect for morels, the love triangle was set.

Now it is time for me to own up. Am I a leg or breast man? Each has there own undoubted attractive qualities and at times it can be impossible to choose betwixt. There is nothing so comely as smooth, rounded breasts - but that must be weighed against a shapely set of legs, full of promise and mystery. One could almost imagine Meatloaf singing one of his operatic ballads about being torn between the two. But not me, I'm a leg man.

So the chicken I chose for the pie was skinned and boneless marylands. Meat from the thigh has more flavour and can stand up to the cooking better than the breast meat which can so easily dry out. There is also another thing to consider. I know that I'm extremely fortunate in having some morel spots to pick and that if you have to purchase them, even though they are so worth it, they are very expensive. But if they are unavailable or out of price reach, this pie would still be good with regular button mushrooms, quartered. You could even add some anyway to bulk up the pie and make it a foursome after Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.

You have to decide where your morel centre is, that may be kind of hard after eating this pie.


2 shallots, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
50 g butter
1 kg skinned and boneless chicken marylands, cubed
20 dried morels, soaked in boiling water (retain the soak water)
100 g small button mushrooms, halved or quartered (optional)
1 heaped tablespoon flour
1 cup chicken stock
100 ml double cream
10 slender asparagus stalks, chopped in 1 cm segments
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
salt & fresh ground pepper
4 sheets bought puff pastry

Method: sweat the shallots and garlic in 25 g butter and when soft add the chicken cubes, soaked morels and button mushrooms if using and fry until lightly coloured. Meanwhile make a veloute sauce. Melt the remaining butter in a pot and add the flour, gently cook for a minute or two, then slowly add the hot chicken stock, whisking all the time, then add the cream, leave to simmer for ten minutes. When the chicken is lightly browned add the mushroom soak water and boil until nearly evaporated then add the veloute sauce, asparagus and parsley, season to taste and simmer for one minute, leave to cool. Line two pie dishes with the puff pastry and fill with the cooled pie mixture. Top with the other sheets of pastry, brush with eggwash and scallop the edges. Bake in a 220 c oven until the pie is a dark golden colour all over, if you pull it out too early the bottom pastry won't be cooked. Cool slightly, cut into wedges and serve.

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  posted at 7:09 am


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