Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.

31.3.04

Gnocchi should be so light it floats from the plate.

(Well, it should but mine doesn't always. But it's fun cooking it to try and achieve gnocchi heaven.)

The pumpkins were taking over. It was scary.

But we won the battle and I now have several trophy pumpkins sitting up proudly in the darkness of the shed, waiting to be eaten. Oh, there's a couple inside the house, too ... somewhere. In a cupboard? a wardrobe? I forget.

So. Pumpkin gnocchi.

Boil up your pumpkin - do the whole lot at once and then you can make pumpkin soup with what you don't use for the gnocchi.

Take about two large cups of the boiled pumpkin. 'Rice' or mash it and combine it well with a cup of flour and half a cup of finely grated parmesan cheese. Add salt and pepper if you wish. (And whatever else you wish - ribbons of fresh basil, a dash of pesto ... whatever.) As long as the dough retains its firm but very slightly elastic consistency. Adjust the ratios where necessary.

Roll the dough out in lengths on a floured board to about an inch in diameter and cut into one inch segments. Do that rolling thing with a fork to create grooves, or not, as you please. I prefer mine ungrooved because I like that waxy, shiny look as the gnocchi bask away in the bowl after cooking, dressed up in their finest glistening sauce. Yum! Oops, getting ahead of myself.

Boil the water. Most recipes call for vast vats of water. At least make sure there's enough room for the gnocchi to bob around in the roiling water without getting in each other's way, although I have in the past made do with a small pot of water - for example, when camping. Just do them in batches in that case.

As they float to the surface - and you must pray that they do! - let them float about triumphantly for a moment then fish them out with a drainer spoon, let them drain well and transfer them to a serving bowl (or a baking dish if you are going to bake them with something yummy like three-cheese sauce).

How to dress up pumpkin gnocchi? A nice simple tomato sauce is good, its acidity contrasting with the slightly sweet pumpkin flavour. Or you can roll them around in some sage butter - melt some butter in a pan along with a fresh sage leaf for a couple of minutes, then toss the gnocchi through it. Top with parmesan.

And for a stronger pumpkin flavour and a richer colour - more like the top title bar than the second bar on this weblog - simply roast your pumpkin instead of boiling it. This goes for your pumpkin soup as well.

29.3.04

It's not dark yet, but it's getting there.

For me, the annual end to 'daylight saving' is a shock to the system.

In the natural order of things, the days become gradually shorter so that you don't really notice it too much all at once. But with the end of 'daylight saving' (what a dumb term) you are jerked suddenly into instant evening darkness. A bit like going to the cinema by broad daylight and emerging in pitch black. (An experience made worse if it's a depressing or scary movie!)

'Daylight saving' ended here on Saturday night so to savour the hour of light that was to be snatched away from us the next night - and to enjoy the unseasonally hot weather - a barbecue dinner was in order.

The fish: rockling. The meat: T-bone steaks (with fillet).

I have seen rockling at well over $30 a kilo, depending on availability and the season. On Saturday morning, there were two sellers at the market. One had rockling at $17, the other at $21. The $17 seller said the other guy was too dear, and I heard the $21 guy telling a shopper the cheaper stall's fish had been frozen. The truth is that the dearer seller has been there for a long time and has an established clientele, while the cheaper stall is a new arrival and is building his business. He could be in for success, because the $21 guy has just bought a fishshop on the main street, possibly as a defensive move against the new competition. Such fun, shopping at the market. Free market economics in action. (By the way, and I'm getting right off the track, I've seen fish in so-called 'upscale' - pardon the pun! - fish shops sold at portion prices. So you don't get to see the kilogram price. How stupid would you have to be to fall for that?)

So, the rockling. One big piece, about 750 grams, or a pound and a half. Wrapped it in foil with a couple of cloves of garlic, some grated ginger and a generous dash of tamari - my old standbys - along with half an onion chopped into thin rings.

Salad: quartered ripe tomatoes, chunks of onion, rings of red bell pepper, fat juicy black olives, cubes of goat's cheese and nice olive oil. I like this because of the robust chunky size of the components. It's good with crusty bread and a glass of white wine while you're waiting for the fish and meat to cook.

But there's not long to wait! The coals were white hot by 7 o'clock. The rest was easy. I thinly sliced some zucchinis (the fat pale green speckled ones) lengthwise and another red bell pepper into strips of about one by three inches. Then I halved some mushrooms. Placed them all in a bowl and drizzled them with olive oil. This takes like three minutes.

Once on the grill, the zucchini were done in a minute or so. Flipped them over, did the other side, onto a serving platter. The peppers and 'shrooms took a little longer, but not much longer.

Meanwhile the fish had been laid gently on the grill over the coals and pretty soon, the first memerising aromas of steaming tamari, ginger and onion forced an opening in the foil. The fish was done in around ten minutes. Straight onto the serving platter, open out the foil to admiring oohs and aahs.

Throw the T-bones onto the grill, done exactly how you want. I'll burn it black if that's the way you want it.

But in my case, I just walk past the grill with the T-bone on the end of a fork. OK, I do actually place it on the grill. Then I flip it real quick. Then I snatch it off of the grill and slam it on my plate, oozing juices. This is steak, man. I don't care what sauce you put on it - chili, mustard, horseradish, tomato, tabasco, blue cheese (yum), butter and garlic, green peppercorns flamed with brandy and cream, whatever. But the meat under it MUST BE RARE! Or I'll have a tantrum! (I'll still eat it though!)

Dessert: thaw some vanilla ice-cream, mix in some rose water and some pistachios you have ground up in a mortar and pestle, refreeze. Serve with a wafer or almond biscuit and espresso. Maybe have a nice liqueur to go with it, amaretto or averna or whatever. Gaze at the stars while you eat.

The light fades and the coals begin to settle, and as you drain the last of the white wine, you throw the steak bones to the dogs who carry them triumphantly over to the lawn to savour and chew on under the big old plum tree.

26.3.04

Honey, I'm just shooting up to La Porcella for dinner.

Dinner out last night with a bunch of running buddies, after a particularly strenuous run around Princes Park and Royal Park including the Melbourne Zoo.

The group usually goes to Lygon Street close to the university, where our favourite place, Ti Amo 2 (next door to Ti Amo 1!) has wonderful food:

'schiaffatelli bella napoli - traditional Italian homemade pasta almost like gnocchi but with no potato, tossed in napoli sauce & basil $11.00
maccharoni della zia- handmade pasta with mini meatballs, eggplant, napoili sauce & basil $11.00
spaghetti don giovanni - mussels & clams cooked with garlic, oregano, olive oil, napoli sauce, spinach and served with chilli $12.90'


Believe me, they sound even better after an appetite-inducing run, especially with a nice big glass of shiraz beside you to help you decide!

Unfortunately, Ti Amo 2 had been booked out, so one of our party had chosen La Porcella instead.

Oops. The day before, La Porcella had been the location of a gangland shooting.

No matter. The shooter apparently apologised to the owner of the restaurant (as you do).

So off we went to La Porcella. It's all red gingham table cloths and traditional Italian decor. A little old Italian man sits behind a piano in one corner belting out Neapolitan songs, his frequently-topped-up glass of wine shaking on top of the piano.

Apart from being fairly quiet, unsurprisingly, you would never have thought anyone had so much as lost their temper in a happy place like this.

The waiters milled about attentively, replenishing the carafes of thirst-quenching chilled water and taking orders.

The 'main course' size pasta dishes - carbonara, bolognese, al polipo, calabrese, al matriciana, marinara, alfredo - were huge, easily enough for two normal appetites. Pizzas, steaks, chicken 'parmigianas' and enormous salads with cos lettuce and quarters of fresh tomato rounded out the menu.

After we ate, the waiters turned the lights down and brought a huge sponge cake from the kitchen - specially planned for the eighteenth birthday of one of our party. The sparklers decorating the cake crackled and spat, raising just one or two nervous eyebrows around the restaurant.

Then everyone sang happy birthday to Kylie and after a few more songs including 'That's Amore' from the man in the corner the espressos came out.

PS: I forgot to attribute the words to the song I quoted in part in my St Patrick's Day post. They are of course Van Morrison's On Hyndford Street from his superlative, timeless 1991 double album Hymns To the Silence.

24.3.04

Heavenly pasta. All year round.

Over at Il Forno they are talking about one of the most basic pasta recipes of all, spaghetti olio e aglio.

It's simply spaghetti tossed with a little fried garlic and parsley. It's a great way to eat pasta any time. I'd eat it for breakfast. Well, maybe brunch.

The 'raw' version is my favourite, where you simply soak the uncooked chopped garlic and parsley in the oil, drain the pasta and fold it through. (You have to like garlic, but who doesn't?)

I personally don't like garlic to be burned as it often can be when you fry it initially. Instead, I 'score' it and allow it to warm through gently, releasing its flavours (not difficult), without burning.

Sometimes I cook a version of this pasta with anchovies.

Simply cook your spaghetti, drain and toss through with some good oil, garlic and anchovies. Then fire it up with some flecks of finely chopped fresh red chili and add a little parsley.

The silky smooth pasta ... the sea ... the salt ... the heat ... the crunch.

Heaven.

22.3.04

What I cooked last night: an index of sorts.

To save you trawling the archives, here's a list of links to the recipes I've posted over the last few months. Enjoy.

Late-night pasta. And a gin and tonic.
Asian noodle soup. With butterfish.
Barbecue kebabs. With soft Lebanese bread.
Easy spring roast lamb. With rosemary.
Pasta with chicken, pesto and spring vegetables.
Leek and beans: a side dish. (Well, it could be a main course.)
Corned beef hash. But where's the corned beef recipe? I'll get on to it.
Salad nicoise. With a few additions.
Beef stew. With red wine and vegetables.
Simple ragu. Made from the stew juices.
Curry take-outs.
Grilled blue-eye. Fish and mash, yum.
Fish patties.
Caesar salad. My version. (Or one of my versions.)
Several dinners cooked outdoors while camping.
Sweet potato and corn salad.
Pasta Caprese. Tomatoes and mozzarella.
Bean stew. With lemon, garlic, cilantro and pinenuts. And a nice side salad.
Osso Buco. In a hurry.
Picnic ideas for a heatwave.
Lunch: ciabatta with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella.
Don't be afraid of sushi. Plus a quick laksa.
Papardelle with home-made pesto. And shaved Kasseri.
Grilled chicken breast. Marinated in soy, ginger and garlic.
A summer four-course dinner. Bruschetta; pumpkin and red pepper soup; pasta with anchovies and sundried pasta; Italian biscuits and espresso.
Middle eastern spicy burgers. With rice and salad.
Linguine with clams. Garlicky, creamy, delicious.
Veal scallopine al vino bianco.

19.3.04

St Patrick's Day? Well, I'm not cooking tacos, am I.

There's no earthly reason why you should not have tacos on St Patrick's Day. Or anything else you feel like.

But if all you have in your kitchen is a couple of onions, a carrot or two and a bag of potatoes, then it's looking a little like Irish Stew. Instant Irish stew if you're running late.

Of course, no Irish Stew should ever be instant. In fact, it should never be eaten on the day it is cooked, unless you have gotten up in the morning and put it on in a huge rustic pot over a low fire then gone out shopping past stonewall-edged emerald green fields dotted with white sheep to a rain-sodden Irish village, popped into the pub on the high street to sit by the fire with a glass of stout and a bowl of chips while having a chat and a laugh with the red-cheeked innkeeper, then wandered home late afternoon via the old cobbled lane to reach your front door, which you open to be greeted by the uniquely delicious aroma of lamb and vegetables stewing away all day long.

Since that is not correct in any respect in this case (I wish it was, as I'm sure it was for my Kennedy and O'Brien forebears, county Cork) I have taken the liberty of cooking Irish Stew the instant, same-day, non-rustic-Irish-village way.

Irish Stew is variously described as requiring lamb neck chops, lamb shoulder, lamb leg chops or other cuts. I'm impartial. I bought the leg chops as they were the cheapest available at the market (this is Irish peasant food, remember).

Cut off any obvious fat and give it to the dog, having smelt the lamb, slavering (slavering, not slaving) beside you; place the chops in the bottom of your pot, lay thick-sliced or quartered onions over them, add potato slices cut to the same thickness and ditto with the carrots. Quantities? Err on the side of the potatoes. Handful of chopped parsley. Salt. Pepper. Cover with water. Bring to boil, simmer until vegetables are done.

Meanwhile, boil some more potatoes in another pot and when cooked, mash furiously with butter, milk, salt and pepper, as much or as little as you like of each.

Slap a big serve of buttery mash on your old chipped shamrock dinner plate, and place the lamb and vegetables over that, drizzling some of the lovely fragrant juices over the stew and the mash. A sprig of parsley and another shake of the salt and pepper and away you go.

A glass of stout, not too cold, you can't taste it. Have some nice Irish music. Or some raucous Irish music. Or just feel the silence ... as you think of far-off days in an emerald isle ...

Take me back, take me way, way, way back
On Hyndford Street
Where you could feel the silence at half past eleven
On long summer nights
As the wireless played Radio Luxembourg
And the voices whispered across Beechie River
In the quietness as we sank into restful slumber in the silence
And carried on dreaming, in God ...

And walks up Cherry Valley from North Road Bridge, railway line
On sunny summer afternoons
Picking apples from the side of the tracks
That spilled over from the gardens of the houses on Cyprus Avenue
Watching the moth catcher working the floodlights in the evenings
And meeting down by the pylons
Playing round Mrs. Kelly's lamp
Going out to Holywood on the bus
And walking from the end of the lines to the seaside
Stopping at Fusco's for ice cream
In the days before rock `n' roll
Hyndford Street, Abetta Parade
Orangefield, St. Donard's Church
Sunday six bells, and in between the silence there was conversation
And laughter, and music and singing, and shivers up the back of the neck ...

Can you feel the silence?
On Hyndford Street where you could feel the silence
At half past eleven on long summer nights
As the wireless played Radio Luxembourg
And the voices whispered across Beechie River
And in the quietness we sank into restful slumber in silence
And carried on dreaming in God.


18.3.04

Recipe for a cold evening when you're very hungry and want something really tasty.

Had some tomato sauce left over. What to do with it?

I turned it into this provencale thing that I had adapted from a pasta sauce at a cafe I used to frequent years ago - Baker's in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy - long gone now.

It was sensational. The original, I mean, not my adaptation. Well, the adaptation is good too. I've done it countless times, sometimes with variations.

Toss a handful of walnuts into a heavy pan to brown very, very lightly in olive oil - under a minute. Add a scored clove of garlic, half a chopped onion, half a chopped red or green bell pepper (capsicum), a handful of pitted black olives, about a litre of tomato sauce (or equivalent amount of canned chopped tomatoes in their juice), a generous glug of white wine, a few chopped button mushrooms, some chopped parsley and a little chopped chili (the chili is optional).

Bubble it away until it is of a good sauce consistency, adjusting with more wine or water.

This sauce is one of those dishes that works really well without the need for perfectly exact measures (just like many of my recipes!). The olives and walnuts give it a robust flavour and texture, and it's always better the next day as those flavours permeate through the sauce.

It's superb on pasta (as a 'lumpy' sauce, it's better with spirals, rigatoni, gnocchi or similar rather than spaghetti - toss over plenty of grated parmesan) but also on couscous or with chicken.

What do you drink with it? Any robust red or white wine, the flavours will overpower anything too light. Or have a nice cold beer, especially if you go with the chili option.

15.3.04

Sunday lunch, Deakin Street.

So I went to Mum's on Sunday for lunch. There were ten attendees: assorted siblings, partners and children, nieces, nephews; but they weren't all there at the same time. They were kind of coming and going, if you know what I mean. That's how it is at Mum's on Sundays.

She was a child of the depression, a teenager through the war, a bride in the 'fifties and had seven children into the 'sixties. That's a lot of baggage. Oh, and a lot of cooking.

For that generation, the frugality learned during the depression and the war never really went away, and this was enhanced by the economies of scale required to feed baby boomer children, all mixed in with the explosion of supermarket convenience products during the 'fifties plus a sprinkling of the exotic items brought in by migrants in subsequent years.

Then there was the 'seventies. Thankfully, mum never really got into that decade. It just kind of passed by with the food on her table being from the earlier eras.

Time is everything with Mum's cooking - as much time as possible. You will never get food poisoning at Mum's, because she cooks everything to within an inch of its life.

So there's a baked tuna casserole on the table. Nice and crunchy 'round the edges. Nice and crunchy on top, with all that cheese. OK, so you and I wouldn't cook it that long. But it's good! That cheese-and-tuna-bake aroma, you can smell it turning into the street, let alone pulling up the driveway.

Next there's the corned beef (silverside). I knew this was coming out - the hot english mustard in the little crystal dish and its tiny serving spoon on the table gave it away. And the smell of cabbage.

The corned beef is piled high on a huge platter, surrounded by the potatoes and carrots that are all boiled up together with the meat. The cabbage comes in a separate tureen, steaming in its delicious juices complete with peppercorns, cloves and whatever other spices Mum puts in.

In fact, everything goes on the table at once. There was a rice dish - kind of like a risotto of the 'fifties - made with chicken stock and about 10% soup noodles added to make it all slippery and unctuous. It's amazingly good but I've never seen a recipe for it in a book.

There's other stuff as well, like an old-fashioned tomato, celery, lettuce and radish salad with some cubed cheddar and quartered hard-boiled eggs. And a plate piled high with bread - already buttered! If you want unbuttered bread, you have to put in a special order!

A bowl of nuts and dried fruits sits on the table, just in case you want to, like, graze in between stuffing yourself with corned beef and tuna bake.

Mum does come out with some weird stuff occasionally - although with a combination of vegetarians and rabid meat-eaters to feed, I guess she does have to compromise. One time she dumped a huge baking tray of lasagne on the table, announcing, 'This is vegetarian lasagne, but it does have meat in it, right over here,' pointing to one corner of the tray.

Dessert. It's a bit of an afterthought. Mum is exhausted from figuring out the main courses. She does stewed apricots (off the tree) with ice-cream, which is nice, of course; sometimes a rice pudding with sultanas and that delicious creamy nutmeg vanilla crust on top; or maybe an cinnamon apple bake kind of thing with pouring cream.

Sometimes she just buys supermarket cheesecakes and stuff like that to suffice. She always forgets to take it out of the freezer soon enough. 'It's still a bit frozen in the middle,' she says, helpfully. Be careful, or you'll break a tooth on a rock-solid slice of Sara Lee.

I guess it's no different to a typical Sunday lunch in most peoples' extended families. The conversation jumps around all over the place, the phone rings (it's my sister running late), someone leaves the door open and next door's ginger cat (Max, who thinks he belongs to Mum) walks in ...

And Mum just won't stop urging people to eat. Like ten times she asks me if I've had some more of this or that. It's very annoying. Plus she never actually seems to sit down, running around like a mad woman fetching things out of the oven, pouring drinks, trying to defrost the cheesecake, asking about how all the children are going at school ...

I washed up. What's a dishwasher?





Don't burn the cashews.

Got the wok out the other night to cook some steak in oyster sauce with cashews and vegetables. (When people cook Chinese food at home, why do they call it a stir-fry? Have you ever seen someone walk into a Chinese restaurant and say "I'll have the stir-fry, thanks waiter"?)

Some time ago, when I asked a local butcher what he recommends for kebabs, he nominated skirt steak, adding it was also ideal for wok cooking. (Here, skirt is still is a far less expensive cut than some others cuts frequently used for home cooking of this kind. Skirt is either the middle or rear flank, depending on the region.)

First, I soy-marinated about half a kilo (one pound) of the skirt steak, cut into strips, for a few hours, tossing a small handful of sesame seeds into the mix.

Fire up the wok. It needs to be on a high heat. Toss in some oil, garlic and grated or finely cut ginger. You're supposed to use peanut oil, but I didn't have any.

I did all that and then tossed in a handful of cashews to 'brown'. I got sidetracked and they didn't brown, they 'blacked'. I picked out the worst burnt ones and left the rest in. Sometimes, I just don't care.

All right. In goes the meat. Toss it furiously round and round and up and down like Chinese chefs do. (I can never get that really loud hissing noise going, probably because their heat source is probably like about 1000 degrees or something.) In rapid succession, in go the onions, sliced red pepper, sliced broccoli stalks (the inner section, which cooks up beautifully). Then the broccoli florets, a glug of oyster sauce, a dash of soy and finally the snow peas. Toss it round some more and when everything's crisp but still slightly crunchy it should be ready. You may need to lid the wok and let it 'steam' for a while if it's not cooking through simply by tossing.

Meanwhile, cook your rice or noodles. I also made an easy entree (appetiser) of Lup Cheung (that slightly sweetish Chinese sausage made from pork and duck liver) by steaming it then serving it with sliced spring onion, soy and chili. Delicious.

The steak in oyster sauce with cashews and vegetables - okay, the stir-fry, I give in - was fine as well, despite the cashews.



12.3.04

Veal. The other, other meat.

In a little lane tucked away in Melbourne's central business district is an Italian cafe that has been there forever*.

The name dates it, of course: Campari Bistro. When did you last visit a bistro that wasn't trying to be retro-cool? It is also old enough not to have that retro-cool attitude problem. You know, where the waiters are so cool you wonder they serve you.

Campari has the look of the 60s (not the flower power 60s, but the 60s that everyone else lived through) with its timeless menu items hand-painted on wooden slats on the walls. Bizarrely, it also has a feature wall of American motor car number plates.

I first visited Campari many years ago. It has traditional Italian staples including, of course, pasta, risotto, grills and an amazing antipasto section where you point to what you want from huge platters and the lady behind the bar piles your plate high with your selections - salamis and other meats, pickled vegetables, cold sliced fritattas, stuffed peppers, cheeses, devilled eggs, cold marinated calamari, sardines, anchovies, various salads and much more.

My favourite was the scallopine bianco, veal cooked in white wine. So I tried to replicate it at home one night, and I still do it every now and then. Just to remind me of the bustling Campari Bistro.

Take some pieces of milk-fed veal 'scallopine'. Dust in continental flour and salt and pepper, and fry in butter and olive oil, couple of minutes max either side, especially if your veal is cut thinly.

While it is frying, toss in half a cup of white wine and some cream and a little cracked pepper, shake your pan 'til it reduces, remove veal to plate when done, reduce wine and cream a little more. When a good consistency, pour over veal. That's it. Maybe sprinkle it with some chopped parsley.

Serve with scalloped potatoes (baked in milk or cream and a little chicken stock for an hour so), rabe or spinach fried in olive oil and garlic with a little cream, some fried polenta and a wege of lemon.

Any nice chilled white wine is fine, maybe a chardonnay, whatever.

At Campari, I often had the 'trifle' for dessert - with perfect espresso. Layers of sponge cake in some liqueur, strawberries, whipped cream and finely chopped peanuts. I must try to make it some time.

(*Around the corner is a Lebanese cafe that has been there since 1958 and was the first of its kind in Australia. More about that another time.)

9.3.04

Pasta with fresh pipis.

On Blairgowrie beach, you can wade out for a quarter mile and the water is still just waist-deep. You will often see people bending over in the shallows searching for clams (known as pipis) - vongole to the Italians.

Not that it's a difficult search at all, just plunge your hands in and you can feel them in the sand. I think there's a daily bag limit, but they don't appear in any danger of being fished out any time soon.

Yesterday a woman was patiently filling a bag with the little bivalves and I asked her if she was looking forward to pasta with clams for dinner. She said "No, I hate them myself, I only cook them for the family!"

That's dedication - she should send her family out to fetch 'em.

When you get pipis from the sea yourself, soak them in a bucket of salted water for twelve hours so that they expel sand and any other impurities.

Then they're ready to eat.

Cook your pasta. I use linguine for this dish. Throw your pipis in a pan with a dash of olive oil, a slurp of white wine - maybe half a glassful - and some finely chopped parsley and crushed garlic. Do not burn the garlic. Shake the pan, cook for a few minutes. The pipis will open out. If you have the lid on the pan you will hear them rattling around as they open.

Now toss in some cream - a dessertspoon or two - and swirl your pan around until the sauce is of a uniform consistency.

Drain the pasta and pour the pipis, shells and all, over the pasta in a large serving dish. Squeeze some lemon juice, add a little cracked pepper and maybe some extra parsley and away you go. Slurp those beautiful pipis out of their garlicky, creamy shells and enjoy the slinky, lemony pasta.

Sauvignon blanc is ideal with this (if you like it - if you don't, a verdelho will do. Or a beer. I don't care. It's about the food.)

I'll have the Spam, thanks waiter.

A Spam restaurant has opened in the Philippines, where Spam is apparently a staple, or at least a common item in people's larders.

What's for dessert? Spam ice-cream?

Three day break.

Why the holiday weekend? Good question.

Originally the Monday was the Eight Hours Day, then it was simply renamed Labour Day. In 1954, it became the day on which the Moomba Festival Parade is held (a kind of Macy's Parade/St Patrick's Day variant). It still is that, however this particular weekend is better known in Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix won on Sunday by Michael Schumacher in the Ferrari. This day is also
Clean Up Australia day.

Let's just call it a good opportunity for a break. Avoiding the Friday night rush out of town, we slipped out of town early Saturday morning.

Weekends away are extra lazy, so lunch at the Blairgowrie Cafe, which has a large outdoor terrace area packed with tables and umbrellas.

As usual, almost as many dogs as human customers. They were everywhere. Schnauzers, collies, spaniels, terriers and of course labradors and golden retrievers. All pretty well behaved.

Ordered scrambled eggs which came piled high on sourdough toast, with spinach and mushrooms on the side. Then, perfect coffee while watching the twinkling waters of the bay, just across the highway.

Another ship sails down the bay, heading who knows where.

3.3.04

Spicy burgers, rice, salad.

These mini beef burgers are sensational with southern Mediterrannean? African? Algerian? spices. Don't have one of those smoke extractor things? Barbecue them on an open grill outdoors as they produce a lot of smoke.

(My locality has many Middle Eastern migrants. Grills are central to their cuisine and most of them cook outdoors - often year-round. In summer it's a joy to take the dogs on an evening walk around the streets while enjoying the wafting aromas of a thousand different spices melded with barbecuing chicken, fish, lamb or beef. The dogs love it too! In the cooler months people have their grills set up in their garages or carports - winter here is very mild.)

Ground beef, about three quarters of a kilo, mixed with a large minced onion, some chopped parsley, a couple of chopped mint leaves, a teaspoon each of ground black pepper, cinnamon, cumin and coriander and a half teaspoon of cayenne pepper.

Form smallish balls, about an inch or so, flatten slightly and drop them into a heavy pre-heated pan or onto your grill. Flip after three minutes.

Meanwhile cook your rice, maybe add a little saffron for a bit of colour. I cook rice the absorption way, I add two parts of water per one part of rice - by volume - bring it to the boil, stir it round for a bit then turn down the heat, put the lid on and check it a couple times. This is not scientific, try it a few times and you'll refine it, it depends on your pots, the heat source, etc. But I must say it has worked a charm several times, producing perfectly formed rice, just right, and not gluggy.

Serve the 'burgers on the rice, say three to a serve, spoon over some tahini (optional), sprinkle with some pinenuts (I get the long Lebanese ones but all pine nuts are good) and squeeze lemon juice liberally over the top. We're not done yet - now add a dob of plain yogurt and a squirt of medium chili sauce. Sprinkle more parsley or coriander over the top.

Now you can eat.

Oh. The salad. Slice some tomatoes through, place on a plate, lay shredded leaves of basil over them and top that with very thinly sliced spanish onions (the red ones). Add a little salt and pepper then fleck with balsamic vinegar.

The whole meal goes well with very fresh Lebanese bread. Hint: place your Lebanese bread over the burgers for the last twenty seconds of cooking. It will soften with the heat and absorb the aromas.

Eat Middle Eastern-style: just scoop up your burger, with some rice and salad, into the bread, wrap it tight and eat as a sandwich.

2.3.04

I hate the end of summer.

So a kind of summery mixture of things to end the best season of all.

Bruschetta
Dice some tomato as finely as you can. If you have a good knife, you'll get really fine dice. If your knife is not so sharp, it will turn to mush. No matter. Just cut it as well as you can. Now dice some onion in a ratio of one part onion to three parts tomato. Finely slice a few sprigs of parsley and mix them all together. Lightly toast some slices of bread on one side. Spread some home-made pesto on the untoasted side and cut the toast into bite-sized sections. Take a teaspoon and carefully spoon the mixture onto the toast.

Pumpkin and red pepper soup with chick peas
Roast six or seven peeled pumpkin pieces 45 minutes or until soft. Roast a red bell pepper until the skin blackens. Remove the skin and the core leaving just the red flesh. Puree them in a litre of chicken stock. Add a dash of coriander (cilantro) powder. Cook twenty minutes. When it reaches a smooth consistency, add a drained can of chick peas and heat through. Serve with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream, a dash of paprika and a garnish of parsley.

Pasta with anchovies, semi-dried tomato and chili
Slowly bake small halved tomatoes until 'semi-dry', an almost caralemised texture. This will take several hours. Drizzle a little olive oil over them towards the end.

Cook your pasta, ordinary spaghetti works well with this. When cooked, drain and then toss it all in a big white serving dish with some of the tomatoes and a small jar or can of anchovies, drained of most of its oil. The residual oil on the tomatoes and remaining on the anchovies is enough, no extra is needed.

This dish has a salty bite added to by the sweet/acid richness of the tomatoes all carried beautifully by the blandness of the pasta. It's a great dish, especially served outside in the dying light of a late summer evening. A nice rich white such as a semillon is good, some folks find a red doesn't pair well with dishes containing fish.

Dessert
After all that, nothing more than short espresso coffee and those little Italian style biscuits. Maybe some nice lemon gelati to go with the biscuits. OK, or some Tiramisu, if you insist.