Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Hooray hooray it's pancake day!

OK, so I’m harking back to my Catholic schoolgirl observance of this pre-Lenten, mardi gras food tradition. But despite my rejection of organized religion, I see no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water, as it were, by rejecting sensible and appetizing food traditions. And anything that encourages rampant, laissez faire crêpe consumption is all right with me. I just don’t follow through with the abstinence afterwards until Easter. But I’m not your thick buttermilk blueberry pancake girl (unless of course they are Bill Grainger’s ricotta hotcakes with honeycomb butter which are another story altogether). I like the lacy, airy thinness of the French variety that I learned to cook when I worked in a French Restaurant in my youth. We used to make them on enormous hotplates fashioned specifically for the purpose, smoothing out the batter to diaphanous layers to be made later in suzette style or whatever else chef had in mind.
I love them for breakfast with tartly lip-puckering lemon juice and a generous sprinkle of sugar, hot from the pan, so they soak up the topping. Yay for pancake day!

Crêpe batter
1 ¼ cups of plain flour sifted with a pinch of salt
3 eggs, lightly mixed
1 ½ cups of milk
1 tbsp brandy
1 tbsp light olive oil

Combine eggs, milk and oil together, and into a well in the centre of the flour, use a whisk to gradually combine the liquid with the flour, then add the brandy. Whisk until there are no lumps and set aside for at least one hour. After the batter has rested, check the consistency: it should be like runny (single) cream. If it’s too thick, add a little more milk.

Heat a non-stick crepe pan and add a little butter, mopping up any excess with a kitchen towel so the pan isn’t too greasy. Add a ladle of batter (or if you prefer as I do pour from a jug as you swirl the pan) and swirl around the pan to make a thin crepe. When the batter dries out and sets it’s time to turn it. I like to judge this based on the point at which the edges of the crêpe lift of their own accord from the pan and have a slight golden tinge to them. This sign will usually mean a perfectly browned base. Flip the crepe to cook the other side for a minute or so and slide out of the pan onto a plate. Squeeze over lemon juice and a sprinkling of sugar, fold into quarters and douse with more lemon and sugar.
This batter makes about a dozen large crêpes (about dinner plate size), but there is an immutable law of the universe that holds that the first and the last crêpe will always be wrong and must be relegated to cook’s treat status. The first will be too floppy and greasy, the last will have holes in it and be small because there’s not enough batter left to make a whole crêpe. So that means 12, minus 2 mutant ones for you to gobble daintily.

If there are leftovers (yeah right, as if) they keep in the fridge for a few days and freeze pretty well too. Use them for wrapping up other leftovers, smothering with cheese and baking in the oven.

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Monday, February 27, 2006

Pai Gwut

Pai Gwut: Steamed black bean pork ribs

The sweet and succulent rib delicacies are usually served up as part of yum cha, but I see no reason to relegate them to a weeny part of a yum cha spread when I love them so much.

You can get any Chinese butcher to chop your ribs – ask them to chop then ‘for steaming’ and you’ll get the right size. If you do it yourself make sure you have a strong cleaver and chop them into bite size 1-2cm square pieces. I don’t know how authentic the following recipe is, but my god it tastes good!

For about 1 kg of chopped ribs, marinate for 30 minutes in a mixture of:

1 tsp chopped or grated garlic
1 tsp grated ginger
1 red chilli, chopped
½ tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp corn flour (yes, tablespoons)
2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp slated black beans, rinsed well and drained. I like to use ‘3 rings’ brand
1 tbsp peanut oil
1 tbsp shaoxing rice wine
1 tbsp soy sauce

Divide ribs and marinade into small bowls and steam for 30 -40 minutes until tender.

Serve as part of yum cha or with rice or noodles.

Chicken and corn soup #2, comfort food#3

Described elsewhere in my blog, this is another all-round comfort treat, and with corn so fresh and sweet at the moment it’s a great way of taking advantage of the abundance of the piles of corn at roadside stalls, markets, or even your local fruit & veg shop. I’ve been lectured many times by Canadians about the only way of eating corn: bend the stalk of a corn plant over the simmering pot, take back the husk and silk and as you plunge it into the boiling water cut it from the plant. Rustic, cute and absolutely delicious, but not, I fear, practical in an inner city apartment. However I do love fresh corn in soup, so after the production of Jewish/Asian Penicillin, this is a lovely way of using fresh corn.

Heat the stock, add a spoonful of grated ginger, a crushed garlic clove, a spoon of soy and Shaoxing rice wine and good slug of sesame oil. Add some shredded poached chicken meat. Take the kernels off two or three cobs of fresh corn and add to the soup, bring to the simmer for 5 minutes or so, until the corn is cooked and the chicken meat heated through. Serve garnished with spring onions. Optional extra, for a more hearty meal, is a handful of cooked noodles in the bottom of the bowl before you ladle over the soup.

Eat well and prosper!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Hey Noni Nonya

Beef Rendang

This should have been one of my food challenges for 2006. I’ve tried for quite a while to master the delicacies of this luscious Malaysian or Indonesian dish, but it always turns out wrong. Not spicy enough, too spicy, not enough lemongrass – something always missing, too runny, too gluggy, too oily, not oily enough, no depth of flavour. Maybe my standards are unrealistically high. For years, every Xmas when I used to visit Wellington, NZ, I went to great restaurant called Istana Malaysia, just off the main drag that does the best Rendang outside KL. Mine never tastes that good. Or maybe I’m a gweilo trying to cook Nonya and I’m fated to never get it right. But this has at least changed a bit today. I’ve managed to lift my game and produce a palatable and pretty good tasting Rendang. I’d need an opinion from a taster with south east Asian heritage to pick up any problems and give me feedback, but my willing guinea pig Miss Liss reckons it was ok. She had 2 helping so I know it wasn’t just politeness.

Those of you out there who know better, please give me some tips if I’ve missed an ingredient or done it wrong. All feedback greatly appreciated.

For 1kg of cubed and trimmed chuck steak -

Spice paste to pound, or wiz in Mr Buzzy:
2 stalks of lemongrass, tender part sliced
3 small or 2 medium onions, chopped
2 cloves of garlic
5 chillies, chopped
3 teaspoons ground coriander
3 teaspoons ground cumin
6 candelnuts
5cm piece of fresh galangal, chopped

Buzz it all up, and in a medium-heated wok, with 2 tablespoons of peanut or vegetable oil, fry the paste with:

1 stalk of lemongrass, bruised
4 star anise
2 cardamom pods
2 cloves
½ stick of cinnamon

Add the beef and coat in the spice paste for a few minutes then add:

500 mls of coconut milk
2 tablespoons of tamarind concentrate (or 1/2 cup of tamarind water made from a big tablespoon of tamarind pulp)

Let this simmer for an hour uncovered until the meat is tender.

Add 2 tablespoons of kecap manis and a chiffonade of 3 kaffir lime leaves. Simmer until the liquid has all but evaporated and the Rendang is quite dry. For me this took about 5 hours to get really thick and unctuous.

The taste was great – the flavours all married together, the chilli was there but not too dominant, it was fragrant with galangal and lemongrass. Despite all that really slow cooking the meat was still just a little resistant. Perhaps I should vary the cut of meat? Whatever the case it was my best attempt to date so I’m a well pleased gweilo :)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Comfort Food # 1

Last week I was called away on a culinary mission of mercy to help restore the strength and failing appetite of an ill family member. So Min (that's her, left) and I packed up, equipped with my pack of chef’s knives and supplies aplenty. Comfort food was in order. Things that taste yummy and make you feel good as well as being good for you (well in some cases only sort of good). Little souvenir d’enfant that remind you of mum looking after you when you were a kid sick in bed with the day off school.

So the following posts are a selection of what tempted this particular appetite into recovery and ultimately (I’m glad to say) wellness.

First job upon arrival was a big batch of Jewish/Asian ‘penicillin’, set to bloop on the hotplate for a few hours – the rich chicken stock that has scientifically proven restorative powers and can be turned into any number of limpid golden delights like chicken and corn soup, or a light gingery broth with silken poached chicken breast infused with lemongrass and a hint of chilli. Mmmmmmm ….. feeling better already. In addition to whole chicken use a few kilos of chicken necks for extra flavour and remove the chicken and take the meat off before it overcooks, put the carcass bones back into the stock and let simmer for a few more hours. This way you have abundant sweet chicken to lace through finished soups.

Another request:


60 mls olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 large bunches of baby spinach or English spinach
1 bunch shallots, finely chopped
2 tbsp finely chopped dill
250 g feta cheese crumbled plus 150 g ricotta cheese (or you can use all ricotta if you prefer)
4 tbsp kefalotyri or parmesan cheese, grated
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg.

1 packet of filo pastry
Lots of melted butter.
A brush.

Heat the oil and fry the onion and garlic till softened. Set aside in your mixing bowl.

Blanch the spinach, refresh in ice cold water, then in your hands squeeze the spinach until you get most of the residual water out. You should end up with a densely packed handful. This process concentrates the flavour and ensures that the finished pie won’t be watery and soggy. Watery spinach is the natural enemy of spanakopita.

In the mixing bowl, combine the onion and garlic with spinach shallots, cheeses, dill and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper.

Brush your baking tray with butter start layering the pastry, pushing gently into the sides to fit the tray. Don’t cut the layers, let them drape over the side. Trust me. You’ll see why you have to do this soon. Brush each layer with butter as you build up the base. Use about 8-10 sheets.

Before you put the filling in, sprinkle the base of the pie with about 1-2 tablespoons of fine breadcrumbs. This also helps with natural enemy as mentioned above. Spread the filling out evenly and Then use more layers of filo for the top, this time trimming to size and tucking the edges over the filling and into the base layers. Fold those draped layers back into the tray over the filling. See! I told you it would work. This makes for a better seal and makes a neater pie. Brush the top with butter and score the pie with a sharp knife into serving portions into the top layers – in squares or diamonds or origami patterns or the shape of your current favourite pop star. This makes it easier to cut when baked and saves you spraying cooked crisp filo all over the dining room floor and the guests. It also saves you from totally destroying and crushing your pretty pie and serving up a lump of green and white goo with shards of filo scattered all over it. Not a good look. Bake in a 180-200C oven for about 45 mins or until the top is golden brown.

Comfort food # 2

A constant problem – all those medications that say ‘must be taken with food’ which is quite impossible when you’re not hungry. The answer is the cupcake. Enjoying a resurgence in fashionable foodie circles, the cupcake is a perfect medication companion in my opinion. Not too big, not too insubstantial, definitely tempting and it tastes so nice.

This one is made with a basic butter cake recipe and topped with a lime butter frosting. With a fork, cream about a tablespoon of butter with finely grated zest of a lime and a few teaspoons of lime juice. Add sifted icing sugar until it reaches frosting consistency.

Fettucine (or spaghetti) alla carbonara

So called because of the simple origins of the dish which was traditionally make by the carbonai or charchoal makers who worked for long stints in the Appenines in the Lazio region outside Rome (if only Ennis and Jack had known about this up there on Brokeback Mountain …).

Rule 1 – no cream.
Rule 2 – if you can’t get a piece of guanciale – cured and from the check of the pig – use a good pancetta
Rule 3 – very fresh eggs
Rule 4 – no cream.

To serve 2-3 people use about half a pack of good Italian dried pasta (my current favourite is Giuseppe Cocco brand) 3 large eggs, a big handful of grated parmesan (or if you like the salty sharpness, half pecorino romano and half parmesan, which is actually more authentic), one clove of garlic cut into slivers, freshly ground black pepper.

Make sure the eggs are at room temperature and warm the bowl in which you will serve the pasta. Beat the eggs lightly and mix in the cheese thoroughly. Heat a pan and fry the chopped pancetta until crisp. Just as it finishes cooking turn off the heat and add the garlic. It will turn golden in the residual heat in the pan. Cook the pasta (you know how to do that).

I prefer to do the next bit off the heat. Drain the pasta and quickly transfer it to the warm bowl, pour over the egg and cheese mixture and start tossing before the egg has a chance to set. Keep tossing and the egg sauce will thicken and start coating the pasta. Add the bacon and lots of black pepper and a drizzle of EVOO, keep tossing. You will end up with a rich glossy creamy sauce. Add extra parmesan if you wish. Yum.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Toms chicken

... otherwise known as Thai-style spicy grilled chicken.

I credit my friend Tom with this recipe coz he was the first to cook it for me years and years ago. I re-discoverd it this weekend and had forgotten how yummy it is and how much of a hit it is with hungry BBQ crowds. This is enough paste for 1kg of chicken thigh fillets, trimmed of fat and cut into 2 or three pieces each.

In a food processor, or big mortar and pestle, put

4 cloves of peeled garlic
1 teaspoon of coarsely cracked black peppercorns
2 teaspoons each of sugar, turmeric powder and paprika (not the smoky kind)
1 teaspoon of garam masala,
1 tablespoon of chopped coriander roots,
2 fresh red chillies, chopped and
1-2 tablespoons of peanut oil, or enough to bring it to a thick paste.

Blitz or pound this ‘til thick and luscious.

At this stage, wear latex gloves. Scoop the paste out and massage into the chicken pieces so they are totally covered. Hands are really the best way. The first time I made this I didn’t wear gloves and looked like a yellow-fingered chain smoker for three days. The earthy sharpness of the pepper and coriander is delicious. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight/ 24 hrs.

You can cook the chicken under a grill or on the BBQ. You can cook it in individual pieces or if you’re doing a big batch, thread it onto metal skewers so you can turn many pieces at once.

Have the grill/barbie on medium-hot and as the chicken cooks baste it with coconut milk using a brush. Baste it with a little milk each time you turn it. This keeps the chook ultra moist and prevents it from charring too much as you cook it. It usually takes 15-20 minutes to cook. On the last turning, omit the coconut milk to let the outside crisp up a little. Serve with fresh coriander and a Thai dipping sauce of sugar, lime juice, fish sauce and chilli. Goes really well with cucumbers as a garnish.

Tarragon and garlic mustard

Mustards are easy to make. You can buy many striking ones when you’re on holidays in country towns, cute jars with gingham cloth covers and handwritten labels … rhubarb, quince and chocko mustard … or whatever. Inventive combos, and they may sit in the cupboard and desiccate for a few years before you chuck them. I’ve come to like purpose-built mustard. I know what I like it with (croque monsieur/madame, welsh rabbit, roast beef, steaks, grilled veal) and in (creamy chicken pie fillings, deglazed sauces, salad dressings), so I know what flavour I want from my little jar.

This one suits so many dishes and situations. I love tarragon – the anise sharpness that raises vinegar to peppery heights. Warm caressing garlic to round out the sharpness. And no ordinary tarragon or tarragon vinegar, mind. I have a tarragon plant (she says smugly) – one of the treasures of my balcony's mini herb patch. You can rarely buy tarragon plants in shops, green grocers, supermarkets, plant nurseries, or shady underworld dealers. Proper French tarragon, not that saw-tooth leaved weed they pass off by calling it something like ‘Russian’ tarragon. May as well be from outer space. Don’t bother, it tastes like sour grass clippings.

Real tarragon is hard to find because it’s hard to grow and nurture. It doesn’t seed (so no progeny, no passing on to happy seed savers) hates the unprotected bitter cold, hates being dried out, but loves the sun. Gets miffed if you ignore it, has a hissy fit if it’s left in a wet spot, but if you love it and treat it right, it will become abundant and happy and keep you in a lifetime of rich béarnaise, Spanish chicken, salad garnishes, egg dishes and flavoured vinegar. It has an affinity for good wine sauces. Sounds a bit like me really.

If you have a really good friend who has a tarragon plant, ask them to give you a divided offshoot when it goes dormant in late Autumn, then wait til Spring for it to sprout. My family and I divide and share around our tarragon plants and have done for about 10 years. It’s the only way we can be sure of the real thing.

Soak 100 grams of yellow mustard seeds in ½ a cup of tarragon vinegar overnight. Pour this into a food processor, liquidiser or long goblet of you have a stab blender. Add an extra 2 tablespoons of tarragon vinegar, 2-4 teaspoons of lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of fresh tarragon leaves, 1 tsp of salt and one chopped clove of garlic. Set Mr Buzzy to work and process until you have the consistency you like. The food processor will give you a coarser result with more seeds evident, like a whole grain mustard, the other two methods produce finer and smoother mustards. The more you crush the mustard seeds the more liquid you may need, either water or more vinegar of you like a really sharp intense mustard. Muck around with it as you go. and add other flavours if you like. Gingham covers optional.

Friday, February 10, 2006

It's here!

After waiting what seems an eon, my copy of the English translation of Il Cucchiaio d’Argento (the Silver Spoon) which was G’s Chrissy pressie for me, finally arrived. All (almost) 1300 pages of it. This is a serious cookbook with few glossy pictures and buckets and buckets of information. Dubbed the Italian cooking bible, it has so many interesting recipe categories and stuff you don’t really find elsewhere.

There is no section, however, for puppy dog tails.

Pesto lamb

Another instant flavoursome meal to whip up if you have some leftover homemade pesto (ok you can use bought but it’s not as nice). Take frenched lamb cutlets – or trim them up yourself – or trimmed lamb loin chops and arrange in a foil-lined grill proof dish. You need to get as much of the excess fat off the chops as the pesto will provide enough moistness to coat the meat and prevent it drying out. Smother with pesto to coat all the chops and pop them under a hot grill until the pesto releases its oil and starts going crunchy on top. Turn the chops once during cooking, trying not to disturb the pesto crust too much. You’ll find the pesto as it cooks and melts provides a self-basting kind of thing, keeping the chops ultra moist and adding the basil taste all through the meat.

I like serving the meat with a simple salad of fresh ripe tomatoes that are so gorgeous this time of year, dressed with pepper and salt. The basily oil left when you remove the meat from the dish provides a lovely drizzle for the tomatoes.

Pink peppercorn chocolate

A yummy pressie from Miss Liss.

Having coffee at Two Good Eggs in Goulburn St., this unusual flavour of Belgian choc was spied and hastily purchased. Now, even though I’m not an ultra sweet-tooth type, I still relish an unusual flavour combo. This particular variety is a rich and ultra dark chocolate with warm bitterness, and well complemented by the mild zing of the ‘pepper’.

Pink peppercorns are the semi-ripe berry of the schinus bush and therefore not a true peppercorn but more closely related to the cashew family. Originally they come from Peru (see Peruvian pepper tree pictured below) and Brazil, but grow wild in warm climate countries today. Their flavour is sweeter and milder than green or black peppercorns, with a hint of mild aromatic citrus zest and sweet spicy berry.

Given its profile, it works deliciously with dark choccy, almost imperceptable on first taste but building up in your mouth to a warm, lush pepperiness as you roll it around your tongue. It stops just short of being actually ‘hot’ but rather leaves a tingle like sherbert fizz on your tastebuds. Very, very different and a new experience!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The White Horse Bistro, Surry Hills.

Happy Birthday to Giovanni!

Birthday boy chose the restaurant and luckily it was open on Monday – it’s so goddamn hard to find nice spots open on Mondays. I suppose that’s reasonable given it is a bit of a slow lunch day. I’ve visited the WHH many times and have had both good meals and average meals, but today’s experience is stupendous. The menu’s been re-worked and Italianated since I last lobbed in, to exceptional effect.

There are separate lunch and dinner menus (plus function-y stuff) and although the lunch menu has some alluring choices, like children locked away from lollies we yearn to try the more glamorous range of evening offerings. Possibly influenced by a near-empty lunch bistro and a pouting birthday boy, chef takes pity on our gastro souls and opens up the full menu for our eager tummies. We are very happy little campers, and fuelled by a round of martinis thank him profusely in the manner of deranged Sahara explorers wandering into an oasis. The selections of antipasti, primi, secondi and dolci are tightly packed but impressive and you can have a squiz at www.thewhitehorse.com.au from their downloadable pdf menus. Not quite sure how often these are updated, but you’ll get an idea of what to expect.

While we ooo-ed and aahh-ed at the choices, we grazed on complementary bread and oil which was just as well because reading the menu works up a hunger. (You might notice that my pictures today are better quality than usual. Photography is courtesy of Dru. You can see more of Dru’s stuff here.)

Hard choices, but we settle on the sardines al forno, duck breast, and char grilled quail from the antipasto menu, all of which are simply delicious. The sardines are little stacked delicacies packed up like baby railway sleepers and baked, with currants, lemon and breadcrumbs, served with a rocket salad. They are so delightfully mild, yet sweetly flavoursome, with a lingering taste of the seaside.

The quail is crisp-skinned and redolent of smoky charring, pinkly succulent and wonderfully offset by the bitter grilled treviso lettuce and balsamic dressing. The seasonings are subtle, but if you close your eyes you can imagine Morocco in the distance.

The rare duck breast is a work of art, artistically fanned and bejeweled with pine nuts and a balsamic glaze.

I opt next for an entrée sized spaghetti vongole while others tuck in to char grilled spatchcock. An inspired choice by me in hindsight, as the generous little birds are a challenge to struggle through in a lunch sitting and there’s plenty to go round for extra tastings!. The clams nestle among the perfectly al dente pasta, peeping out like juicy pearls shimmering under a thin veil of oil, adorned with chilli and parsley. I am wistfully reminded of the colours of the Italian flag and with tear in eye appreciate that I am allowed to eat it. I would be ruthlessly prosecuted for such abasement of the national ensign in my own country (thankfully there is not much around in the way of blue food, so I’ll probably be safe).

The moist wee chooklets are luscious and packed with flavour sitting astride a sweet corn purée and partnered with an eye popping chunky read onion and tomato salad with baby cress.

Chef Henry also sends out a bonus treat of potatoes, and rocket & parmesan salad which was very thoughtful and much appreciated To wash down these treasures from the robust wine menu we sip on a 2004 Vavasour savignon blanc, one of my favourite boutique Marlborough vineyards, its heady lemon and gooseberry, cut-grass nose marrying adroitly with the summer spice scents of the meals.

The dolci looks way tempting but the spatchcocks have quite done us in. All we can manage is a heart-starter coffee to finish before we head out into the sizzling afternoon.

The WHH bistro is a treasure in Surry Hills. Since opening its swish renovated space it has always pleased with decent food and exceptional service. I believe the food has been racked up a notch, representing excellent value for money and a worthy detour for any famished punter. The service is friendly, helpful and you get the feeling that nothing is too much trouble. And as it turns out for us nothing is, and we left happy and full of birthday good humour.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Gambas al Ajillo

Garlic prawns (Gambas al Ajillo)…

…how my mum cooks them.

Fresh from a drizzly Pyrmont growers market and the round trip to the fish markets, I picked up some glistening fresh medium kings prawns. In retro Spanish tapas style, I thought “garlic prawns”, and to cook then the way my mum always used to when it was tres soignée and cosmopolitan to serve such ethnic things for dinner parties (come to think of it, with the Bourguignonne I did the other day, maybe I’m stuck in a 70’s dinner party time warp).

For one dozen peeled, butterflied green prawns (tails intact), chop 3 big cloves of garlic (don’t crush the garlic, it must be finely chopped) and a small de-seeded red chilli. In a very high-heat-friendly dish, add this to about ¼ cup or so of olive oil with a generous pinch of salt and a good squeeze of lemon juice. Tumble the prawns through the oil and garlic and leave to marinate for 30 minutes or so. Turn on the gas full bore and place the dish directly on the heat. It should start to bubble within about 15 seconds. (If you don’t have gas it’s a good idea to take the prawns out and heat the oil mixture for a while ‘til it comes up to temperature and starts to sizzle, then put the prawns back in. This way they won’t stew.)

Stir the prawns from time to time tossing them in the hot bubbling oil until they turn electric pink and opaque and the garlic is pale and golden. Plonk straight on an industrial strength heat mat at the table and don’t burn your salivating lips on the oil. Provide lots of crusty warm bread for dunking. Don’t be offended if people take two steps back from you the next day.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Five food challenges for 2006

1. Cook more game. I used to cook lots of it but I’ve fallen out of the habit. Pheasant, guinea fowl, pigeon. Roast, pot roast, braised, whatever. This will of course send me on a research mission to find the best suppliers for domestic cooking so I will of course spread the information around here.

2. Dust off the pasta machine, pick up some 00 flour and create and make more fresh filled pasta. Invent new and yummy insides for ravioli and new pasta flavours to wrap them in.

3. Accept every food and eating opportunity or challenge that comes my way.

4. Never ever to buy inferior produce, especially chicken. And even if I’m tired and can’t be bothered seeking out the best, never to use those tired, beige, lumps of unidentifiable muck under plastic at the supermarket that pretend to be chicken fillets.

5. Make more pastry and now that we can finally buy it here, eat heaps more Roquefort cheese.

Friday, February 03, 2006

10 random facts

Others have done it, so here goes: 10 things you might not know about me …

1. I was about 10 when I first started cooking. The first recipe I made was stuffed veal rolls (paupiettes de veau). It called for … among other things … a clove of garlic. Not knowing the difference between a clove and a whole head of garlic I erred on the side of abundance. My polite family ate it all up and no one could get near us for a few days.

2. I am addicted to cooking programs. I am a self confessed cooking TV slut. I’d watch someone boil water if that was all that was on, and watch nearly anyone cooking anything (except, of course, Ian Hewitson).

3. I learned how to make pelmenes (little Russian dumplings) from a neighbour who fled Russia for Shanghai and ended up in Australia. They are probably my favourite and most laborious thing to make and then eat for special occasions and this started my lifetime love affair with dumplings of any kind.

4. I love martinis. They must be made with Bombay Gin and Noilly Pratt vermouth and served straight up with a twist, not an olive. Next to that I love sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, especially Marlborough region.

5. I am an inveterate food perv. I try never to order in a restaurant until I see some dishes sailing past and have to have a squiz at what other diners are having, sometimes to the point of asking exactly what they’ve ordered. I always return the favour if someone’s perving at my food and let them know what it is. This has led to some of my greatest food and alcohol discoveries like s’groppino in Venice, and Averna amd Montenegro digestifs.

6. I was originally a psychologist. My mother is an archaeologist.

7. I learnt piano for many years when I was young. My music teacher ended up with a nervous breakdown. I decided to quit before ruining any more lives.

8. Terribly unfashionable I know, but I don’t like goats cheese. Not fresh, not aged, not at all. I just don’t like the taste of it.

9. Although I have been an accomplished cook for ages, I only recently mastered the perfect poached egg. So often we leave the simple things til last.

10. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but cannot under any circumstances resist a dessert soufflé. Ever.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Test drive

My favourite pressie from Xmas was a new and very large Le Crueset cast iron pot. It has many good uses, not the least of which is developing serious upper body strength and eradicating bingo wings. Try lifting one of these babies in and out of an oven a few times and you can forget all those gadgets at the gym.

Cast iron speaks to me of slow cooked unctuous things, but it’s February and 35C with 85% humidity which does not really motivate the casserole cook. So after looking at the latest pictures from my buddy in Montreal, Canada, where everything is covered with a couple of metres of snow, I cranked up the air con and got serious about test driving my new toy. I mean I couldn’t let it sit on the bench unused until winter, could I? I reckon if they started selling Easter eggs at Coles on December 29th I can jump the gun with slow cooking for the colder months.

Of course the first thing that leapt to mind was Boeuf à la Bourguignonne. I don’t need to tell you the recipe – I use a combo of Elizabeth David (French Provincial Cooking) and Larousse – and use a whole piece of kassler rather than sliced bacon. I’ve found it hard to get a decent piece of bacon even at specialist suppliers, and in my opinion commercial bacon frizzles up to nothing because of the high water content and so intensifies the saltiness of the dish too much. Kassler keeps the shape of the lardons more uniform through cooking adding smokiness without too much salt. I also make sure I flambé the meat cubes with a decent slug of brandy or cognac prior to adding the wine. The rest you know or can look up.

Two hours later a meltingly tender, rich delight emerges from my oven – I’m sure well and truly enhanced by the cast iron doing the job it was invented for. Vive la France!

My next favourite Xmas pressie will be my copy of the The Silver Spoon when it arrives at Borders. They sold out before Xmas (what bad planning!) so I’m looking forward to some more slow cooked yummy stuff when I can pour over its pages.


No posts for a while during the Xmas and New year break but there were some memorable meals while on hols. The spectacular roast Thirlmere free range turkey (thank you Vic’s meats at Mascot) with sour cherry stuffing for Xmas Eve (thank you for the cool change weather gods) and a whole lot of fun leftovers including a jambon persille made from the odd bits of leftover ham and some cute little indvidiual cherry ricotta cakes (see Elizabeth David’s Italian Cooking in the ricotta section for the basic recipe) to use up the last of the ripe black cherries.