Wednesday, October 26, 2005

What to say about...

…Gordon Bloody Ramsay

“Women are better off mixing a gin and tonic than meddling with modern cuisine, says the celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay” (SMH 25/10/05). Rant, rant, rant. He continues that most women can’t cook to save their lives. Most chicks I know could boil an egg if someone was holding a gun to their heads – even if it was hard boiled. Unfortunately this is yet another case of GBR shooting his mouth off, rugby thug style, for no real reason, saying nothing that’s either interesting or has any bearing on reality (we all know GBR does not, in fact, live in the same reality as anyone else but in the parallel universe of Claridges' kitchen, which I often imagine is somewhat like an English public school playground plus sharp knives and ladles). I’m sure if the female chefs of the world united to prove him wrong he’d quickly add “yeah, well I bet you can’t boot a commis chef out the door with a hobnailed boot ya sissy!” … Well maybe Chris Manfield could. Sadly, abuse is a thing where victims graduate to perpetrators, so GBR must have had some ugly experiences at the heels of a woman who was somewhere near the kitchen. Maybe his mum burnt his toast and he’s exacting his revenge on the rest of the gender. Thing is, there is a ring of truth to his ravings. I know I’m way better off with a chilled Bombay & tonic with a slice of lime in my paw, and if GBR wants to do the cooking while I sip away, so much the better. But what GBR doesn’t get is that with women it’s the choice – I can be better off diving headlong into a cocktail but I can equally choose to put together a stunning meal. See, women do things coz they want to, and we choose to do it when we want to. So transport that broken nose back over the heated hob, GBR, and rustle me up a little gorgeous bit of something while I chill and think about a new recipe!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Chicken and corn soup

In a large pot place one whole chicken and whatever chicken trimmings you have hanging about from other culinary adventures/disasters – wings, necks, bones, carcasses – a few slices of green ginger, a few whole star anise, 6 peppercorns, a few cloves of garlic (unpeeled and slightly bashed about) coriander stems, tops of spring onions, parsley stems, a few bashed up lemongrass stems, a quartered lime or lemon and a teaspoon of salt. Add a glass of white wine, think twice, and drink it yourself rather than waste it in the stock. No one will taste the difference and you will feel more creative.

Pour over cold water to the top of the pot and place on the heat. Let it come to the boil and when it does, turn down to a simmer and skim it a few times with a large spoon to get rid of the grungy bits of foam on the surface. This gets rid of all the muck and fat and stuff that comes out of the chook and you get a clearer stock. But it’s a horrible job so have a glass of wine.

Simmer for 90mins – 2 hours … not an exact thing, but try not to let it go past the 2 ½ hr mark or it will get a little bitter. Cool it a bit (the stock, not you) and then take out the chicken carefully (doesn’t matter if it breaks up a bit but rescue the chicken meat from the liquid). Then strain the stock through a fine sieve lined with a chux superwipe (or hand crafted French muslin if your name is Packer or Murdoch) remembering to have something to catch the strained liquid, unlike my friend Dave who once tipped the whole lot down the sink and had to start again. Straining it will give you a nice clear stock. So clear it reminds you of a glass of white wine. Good idea.

Leave the stock in the fridge to cool, taking off any remaining fat that solidifies and rises to the surface. While in the fridge, notice how lonely that last glass of wine looks in the bottle. Help it to be reunited with its friends.

Attack the chicken and discard the skin and bones and shred the meat with your fingers. Become one with your inner Viking. I’m sure Vikings drank wine or something too – go for it.

Put enough stock for you and however many freeloaders are lobbing in to your house coz you’re such a fab cook, plus some extra for leftovers to take to work the next day. Stuff it – you’re hungry now after all that wine so use the lot. Bring up to the simmer and add a can of creamed corn, 2 tbsp of finely julienned ginger (or do it yourself if julienne isn’t about), a little slosh of sesame oil and some shredded chicken meat. Chop some spring onions fairly finely without adding the tops of your fingers or fingernails. At this stage, not as easy as it sounds. It’s hot near the pot so some cold wine will help. Add some soy sauce to the soup – f*(k that stuff comes out fast! If you’ve really got the munchies cook some Chinese noodles to add to the soup bowls too.

To serve, add the spring onions at the last minute and add fresh chilli and soy to taste. Yum. Optional extra is to add some chopped ham or even nicer some diced Chinese BBQ pork. Well done. Have a glass of wine.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Reb and prospective handbag (too small for lunch) Miami, Florida. Posted by Picasa



I was astounded when my buddies Giovanni and Dru-burger came back from their recent trip to the Shaky Isles laden with scrumptious chocolate, that their mega-find was unavailable to buy in Sydney. ‘Unavailable’ and ‘Sydney’ are not two words I find sit easily together. This chocolate is amazing, with capital Zing. Roger Simpson’s Schoc chocolates combine the wildest and most innovative of flavours with superb chocolate to give a spectacular mouth explosion of flavour. At present I’m surrendering my way through the Lime Chilli block, which in addition to the bitter dark chocolate flavour delivers little micro bursts of intense lime and chilli. I would love to try the Cardamom, Frankincense, Myrrh and Gold, or Pink Peppercorn, but alas I can’t buy it here. And I think a trip to Greytown, NZ, up the windy road from Wellington over the Rimataku Ranges every time I feel like a hit is really pushing a food addiction to a ridiculous level. Not that I’m a chocoholic (so many addictions, so little time) but I do adore a well crafted, interesting bit of chocky from time to time. The goss, as told to me by G & D-B, is that snooty old David Jones stores and the Essential Ingredient refused to stock it on the basis of the feeble excuse that there were already enough chocolatiers in and around Sydney. Bollocks, I say. I’ve never tasted anything like this before and so cutely wrapped up in packets that resemble a tobacco pouch, you know there’s addictive material inside. I’ve only tried the ‘tablets’ – easier to transport back home by plane – but you can see on their website they have many more tempting morsels.

Admittedly TEE stocks it in Melbourne, but step up to the plate Sydney food providores and get in some of this good stuff. So what the All Blacks won the rugby! Give this pioneer from the land of the long white-chocolate cloud a go.

Schoc Chocolates, 177 Main St Greytown, NZ.

Dumpling Diva

I admit it. I love a good dumpling. I think it’s one of the major indicators of a civilized society. The minute anyone wants to take the time to wrap a little bit of something in pastry we have the indicators of higher thinking and regard for one’s compatriots. The highest form of dumpling culture is of course Cantonese yum cha. I’ve visited restaurants in Hong Kong where you can get up to five floors that fill from the bottom up starting from mid morning, with every shape and size of mysterious pillows and other delights that often defy definition. On one such occasion the accommodating hostess directed a proud cart to our table announcing in her best English that these were goldfish – highly prized and very special. Smiling, I reverently accepted the kind offer of a steaming basket, upon which my compatriot whispered with wide eyes “I’m not eating goldfish!!!” These prawn and pork wonders were shaped and painted to resemble goldfish, I assured her. And if not, we’ll never know.

For many years I’ve enjoyed the same experience in Sydney. My favourites are East Ocean in Dixon Street, the Regal in Sussex Street and sometimes Silver Spring or Kam Fook. But sometimes you might not feel like the full experience. Your quiet Sunday morning assaulted by trolley pushers operating like Benzedrine-fuelled flight attendants jousting down the aisles between the tables with steaming weapons, proffering bamboo baskets whose names urgently uttered sound like some grave Chinese insult rather than a tasty little morsel. Although this is somewhat part of the whole idea of yum cha, there are other alternatives. The home yum cha. But you need to know what to get and where to get it, then how to cook it.

I’ve often been disappointed with take-away Chinese meals. Convenient, yes, but somehow the honey prawns lose some of their crispness. Anything but the simplest of stir fries loses its architectural grandeur and careful garnishing and looks kind of unappetizing squished into a flat clear plastic container. But with yum cha you can cook on the premises with similar building blocks to those used in the big restaurants. You can go all out and start from scratch, as I have done many times. Make the Jao Tze pastry and whip up a steaming array of pot stickers with crisply crusted bases and astringent vinegar dressing. Fold your wanton skins into feather light cloud swallows, pungent with shitake mushrooms and tasty sweet pork. Roll your mini spring rolls who when fried reveal the crisp bean sprouts and carrots within so lovingly micro-julienned by hand. But there goes your Saturday and you fall into bed with an aching back, flour caked under your fingernails and strained eyesight from looking too hard at miniscule pieces of food.

So where’s the happy medium? The pre-prepared frozen dumpling, ready for whatever method of cooking serves its shape and texture perfectly. Now, before you stop reading right there, I’m not talking your jumbo sized marathon dim sim or your hoi mai pre-cooked heat-in-the-oven jobs. A friend of mine once told me he was convinced that with the number of restaurants serving yum cha, plus the array and variety of items, multiplied by the average per capita consumption in the normal hour or so it takes to eat, there must be some great cavern underneath Haymarket with rows of illiterate Chinese refugees tirelessly folding and chopping and rolling vast quantities of dim sum until their arthritis and failing eyesight had them carted off to make way for the next process worker. Sort of like a Dante-esque yum cha circle of hell. Sounded paranoid at the time but if you think about it, someone’s making the dumplings.

Lucky for us that cavern doesn’t exist under Haymarket (or the district may have collapsed into the abyss years ago) but there are a number of good quality local dumpling manufacturers whose efforts eventually make their pilgrimage to the dim sum mecca of Chinatown and are for sale in their supermarkets. Head to the Tai Kee IGA supermarket in Market City, the Burlington Centre in Thomas Street, or the newly opened Chinese grocery and bakery in World Square (cnr George and Goulburn Streets) and you’ll find a good choice to put together your own yum cha. The defining feature of good pre-prepared dim sum is that they should taste of the things claimed to be contained within, rather than some gluey sawdust paste. Texture is important, as is the taste of the seasonings like garlic, ginger and spring onions. They all have to be cooked from frozen. Don’t thaw beforehand. Here are my recommendations.

Jin Fung Goy Chinese Dim Sum (made in Wetherill Park). You’ll recognize the brand by the leaf motif on the front of the packet. They have a few different varieties but I like the Peking chives pork dumplings for flavour. These are very versatile. They can be simply boiled, steamed or the fry/steam combination used for pot stickers (see below). $4.90 per 700g packet (about 2 ½ dozen small dumplings). Other flavours include pork and cabbage and pork and spinach.

Ho’s Kitchen Dim Sim Food Company, Pitt Street, Sydney, pork dumpling (War Tip). I find these indistinguishable from the pot stickers served at the East Ocean. They are large and juicy and taste of clean fresh ginger. The ideal way to cook these is on a medium heat, warm about a tablespoon of peanut oil in a non stick pan that has a tight fitting lid. Place the flat bottom of each frozen dumpling into the oil and leave for a few minutes until the base starts to brown a little. Then put in a small amount of water or stock (the actual quantity will depend on the size of the pan) to cover the base and up to ¼ cm up the side of the dumpling. Cover and turn the heat down to low. The liquid will evaporate and the tops of the dumplings will steam while the inside cooks through. This will take about 10-15 minutes. Towards the end of the cooking time I partially uncover the pan to let the liquid completely evaporate leaving just the oil film in the pan. The bases of the dumplings then crisp up to a golden brown leaving the tops pale and steamy. Serve on a plate with the dumplings sitting on their sides showing off their crunchy bottoms. These are best served with Chinese black or Chin Kiang vinegar, and chilli paste if desired. $5.40 per packet of 6 large dumplings. Other flavours for steaming include combination duck dumplings ($5.25 for 6 – see gow gee instructions below).

Lai Shing Dim Sim Shop, Haymarket, prawn gow gee. These need to be steamed and I find the delicate rice flour wrapping can be a bit messy and sticky if you over-steam them. These are best in individual bamboo steamers so you don’t have to take them out of a large steamer to serve. Make sure you always line the base of your steamer with baking paper that has been pierced with a few holes to let the steam through, or the bases may tear when removed from the steamer losing all the luscious juices and you’ll be picking bits of pastry of the bamboo rungs for days ($7.50 for a pack of 12). Also good for steaming are prawn and pork dim sum (sui mai) $6.30 per pack of 12. For frying, Mini Spring Rolls $6.30 per pack of 12.

Traditional accompaniments include fresh hot chilli sliced into soy sauce; vinegar; a sweet and sour dipping sauce for the fried items, and my own concoction which packs a punch. Dumpling dip: in a bowl combine 2 finely chopped chillies, ½ cup light soy, ¼ cup homemade tomato ketchup, 1 tbsp Worcester sauce, 1 tbsp Maggi sauce, 1 tsp of wasabi and a few dashes of Tabasco.

Complement these selections with a plate of Chinese BBQ duck, chopped and served with the plum sauce that comes with it (topped with roasted peanuts for an authentic presentation) and a plate of warm sliced BBQ pork. Unlike the vast tracts of linen tables in Chinatown restaurants, you can actually sit in the sun and enjoy your own yum cha.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Besto Pesto

When spring is in full swing, pesto isn’t far behind. The first of the whispering green leaves of young basil waft their redolent peppery scent across the greengrocers’ shops all over Sydney. A trip to Fratelli Fresh always puts me in the mood to cook Italian food. It presents the endless possibilities and ingredients for dabbling in fresh, simple cuisine. Every time I visit I come away inspired and ready to piece together tables full of gorgeous flavours. The entry floor food section offered up the freshest quivering basil – two bunches to turn into the electric green delights of pesto. I bypassed the carcioffini (baby globe artichokes) with a wistful smile embedded in the memories of eating them lightly crumbed and deep fried whole the last time I was in Florence. Upstairs for a packet of robust spaghetti from the bronze dyes of Guiseppe Cocco and the unfiltered cold pressed Il Casolare olive oil whose pepperyness matches the basil’s anise edge perfectly and whose slight cloudiness is reminiscent of a springtime morning fog. While not immediately on the menu, I couldn’t resist the Florentine Filli Chiaverini crushed tomatoes – must be those globe artichokes messing with my mind – and the teeny weeny Loison panettone – sooo cute and a sure sign Christmas is coming. They can wait. I can see those tomatoes wrapped around fluffy gnocchi, and a crisp toasted breakfast slice of panettone with honey and ricotta somewhere in my future. But back home and to the pesto at hand.

While the pine nuts (about 70 or so grams) are lightly toasting in a dry pan, flicked occasionally to make sure they don’t burn but tan up like they’ve been hanging around the cinque terra for holidays, I pick off those delicate leaves ready to process. Half a dozen fat cloves of garlic go into the processor (sorry – not traditional I know, but my mortar and pestle aren’t big enough hold the load) with a few pinches of salt. Toss in the basil, pine nuts and olive oil enough to emulsify and whako – my apartment smells like a Ligurian trattoria, complete with cat lolling in the sun.

A load of pasta in fast boiling water adds some urgency to proceedings. Out of the processor with the pesto and stir in about 80 grams of freshly grated parmesan, taste – ouch! Garlic and basil unblock my nose as the heady combo hits the taste buds. I always have thought that pesto is a kind of hand-to-hand combat pasta sauce. No need for anymore of anything. Just wait for the pasta. I rarely time pasta, I pick bits out and taste them til they only just give in. Then a few good spoonfuls of pesto into a bowl and pick out the pasta from the pot with tongs, leaving the water still dripping, and load it into the pesto, tossing it around. A spoon or so of extra pasta water makes sure the green lightning slips its way round every strand, embracing it and tumbling over the plate.

To accompany, a crisp NZ sauvignon blanc, the pepperyness and grassyness perfectly complemented.

Sitting down watching a spring shower outside, that ozone smell of daytime rain, drunk on the king of flavours combined in garlic, basil and oil floating around on a hand painted Florentine plate. Spring has definitely arrived and summer is not far away.


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Lunch on Friday

The girls. It’s always a blast when we get together. I love them all dearly but thankfully we live some degree of geographical remove from each other or I’d be on the liver transplant list. But we all love lunch! Lissa, Bernadette and yours truly in Sydney, Karen from Canberra, or variously Cambodia and Indonesia, Rita from Montreal (sans enfant: read PARTY!).

Friday lunch was a warm up. Nick’s Seafood at Cockle Bay. We hit the sauvignon blanc mercilessly. Wither Hills from Marlborough in NZ. Scallops, oysters, palm beach calamari, grilled prawns, Moreton bay bugs, tender salmon. Yum.