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

30.4.04

Creamy garlic mashed potato and ...

Braised steak and onions.

What a combination. The dense creaminess of mash, laced with butter or cream, and the homely, honest flavour of beef and onions in steaming gravy which has been cooking away for hours on end, filling the house with an aroma so tantalising it is impossible to resist.

If you're salivating already, as I am writing this, here's a quick and easy way to make this all-time favourite dish.

Seal your beef, cubed, in oil after dusting it in plenty of flour.

Place it in a heavy ovenproof lidded baking dish, place your quartered onions (about the same in weight as the beef) over the beef and cover with beef stock, salt and pepper. Dash of paprika if you wish.

Cook away for as long as you like, but at least a couple of good long hours.

Prepare your potatoes. Cook them (with garlic if you wish, just toss a clove or two in the water with the spuds) then place them in a big mashing bowl, add copious amounts of cream or butter or both, garlic if you wish, a few flecks of parsley, whatever; then mash like crazy until they go silky smooth. Or not, if you prefer 'lumpy' mashed potatoes. To each his or her own.

Slap a massive great wallop of mash on a big plate, beef and onions on top, then drown it all in some of the gravy which will run in rivulets through the mash to the edges of the plate like rivers running home to the sea. That means plenty of gravy to mop up with fresh, white crusty bread.

Glass of red and you're in heaven, bro.

27.4.04

What to cook on a boring Monday night.

What to do with a zucchini, a red pepper, a green pepper, some pumpkin and a carrot?

Chop them and steam them while you cook up a pot of rice. When it's all done, place the rice in big bowls and top with the colourful steamed vegetables.

Now it gets interesting. I combined in a mixing bowl some tahini, chopped spring onions (green onions), a tablespoon of pinenuts and a handful of raw sesame seeds. Then I spooned this nutty, yummy, crunchy mixture over the steamed vegetables.

Delicious Monday night dinner. More, please.

25.4.04

Lemon tree very pretty. And very productive.

That old song - 'and the fruit of the lemon is impossible to eat' - couldn't have got it more wrong. What were they thinking (or smoking) in the 'sixties?

A couple of years back in my previous house I had a lemon tree that produced in excess of a thousand lemons annually. I never counted them of course, but I was always able to go out and pick a bucket of fifty or so lemons, and I did this at least every fortnight.

The tree was perfectly positioned in a sunny north-sloping corner, receiving all the benefits of full sun with protection from too much wind - in fact, total protection from southerlies. (Bear in mind this is the southern hemisphere.)

There were so many lemons we did not begrudge the scores that were eaten by (o)possums - only the way they ate them: they ate the peel off of the lemon, leaving dozens of perfectly naked lemons hanging on the tree.

With lemons in abundance you need to be more prolific in cooking with them than just by squeezing a wedge over your grilled whiting every now and then (although that is sublime!)

Chicken with lemon, garlic and chickpeas.

Notice I list lemon and garlic ahead of chickpeas. This middle eastern style chicken is great on couscous or for lunch in Lebanese bread with some hummus and yogurt, maybe some sliced onion, tomato and lettuce.

Dredge some chicken thigh fillets in flour and seal with olive oil. Remove from pan.

Add more olive oil to the pan, toss in several scored cloves of garlic - say one large clove for each fillet - half a cup of white wine, dash of cumin, dash of pepper, juice of a whole lemon, two if they're not big ones. Place the fillets back in the pan along with a can of drained chickpeas. Now - take your juiced lemon outers, squeeze them convexly, so the rind expels their lemon oil, and toss them in with the chicken. The lemon oil will add to the lemony flavour. (Squeeze a lemon rind like this and you will see the lemon oil come out like a little puff of zesty steam.)

Place a close-fitting lid over the pan and simmer the whole thing very gently until the fillets are cooked through. This will depend on the heat source and the type of pan and your liquid level. Adjust where necessary.

When done, discard the lemon outers, and serve fillets over couscous, rice or however you like. The sauce should have reduced and thickened very slightly due to the flour.

Tabouleh salad is nice on the side. And don't forget to squeeze more lemon over the top!

Eat with a nice chilled white wine, maybe a flavoursome chardonnay.

I wonder how my lemon tree is doing - we moved house and I miss that tree badly.

22.4.04

The aroma of this fills the house.

This is a dish I grew up with, because lamb shanks were cheap and the meat, when it falls off the bone, is unctuous and delicious. The soup's OK too:

Lamb Shank Soup.

How easy is this?

Place your lamb shanks, trimmed to your liking, in a large pot with a cup of soup mix (barley, lentils and dried peas), a diced onion, a diced carrot, a diced turnip, a couple of sticks of chopped celery, a bay leaf, maybe nip the top off a rosemary sprig and toss that in too. Season.

Cover with water. Boil. Turn down. Simmer very slowly for a couple of hours or until the yummy aroma gets too much and you have to have a big, steaming bowl of delicious lamb shank soup RIGHT NOW.

Dice a potato or two and place in the simmering soup half an hour before serving (or earlier if you like your 'tatties to turn to mush, they're yummy that way too).

Decorate with parsley. Eat with dark beer (Guinness) or a strong cup of tea.

There are, of course dozens of variations on this recipe. But the basic principle of boiled seasoned lamb with aromatic vegetables always comes out a winner, no matter how you do it.

Play around with it.

16.4.04

Had some meatballs left over ...

Well, I was hungry, so it was obviously going to be spaghetti and meatballs, wasn't it?

Nothing is homelier or more satisfying.

You need spaghetti, of course, don't ever use any other kind of pasta. I had some of my favourite spaghetti with the grandi firme lady on the label.

This cooks up beautifully, not al dente at all, but that luscious, slurpy kind of texture that really goes well with the meatballs and the tomato sauce.

I cooked the meatballs in the sauce (tomatoes from the garden which had been previously cooked up and then frozen - with onions, olive oil and basil - complete with the tomato skins and pips, resulting in an earthy, robust sauce, not one of those thin imitation napoli salty concoctions you get in trendy restaurants), letting it simmer away until the meatballs were done and the meaty, tomatoey aroma filled the house while the cooking spaghetti steamed up the windows.

A generous shake of bitey parmesan cheese and a glass of red.

Heaven in a bowl. A big ceramic bowl.

Children should be fed and not heard.

Firstly, I don't believe in cooking special meals for children.

I've seen parents actually ask their children what they would like for dinner. What is that?

The kid gets used to the routine and starts saying no to everything unless it's ice cream. Or maybe ravioli with meat sauce if you're lucky.

Hey - put the food in front of them, don't enter into any discussions should they say 'I don't like that' and simply remove the plate after a period of time. As for 'Eat that or you'll get no dessert', don't even go there. You don't negotiate with terrorists.

Whew, I can't believe I just said that.

Lest you think I'm a tyrant, let me assure you I'm not. Most of the time.

I even like to have a little fun with food and children, like making 'face meals'. As long as the adult calls the shots.

Whatever.

The other night, the girls came over to stay. It was one of those 'what's in the cupboard' nights, and we weren't going out for pizza, so I had to use my imagination.

I had some fresh ground beef from which I made small meatballs, adding finely chopped onion and capsicum, an egg, a little salt and pepper, a good dash of tamari and a slurp of steak sauce, forget the brand, Caribbean, I think. I threw in half a cup of wheat germ for health's sake. That stuff can go undetected in all sorts of foods; meatloaf, bolognese sauce, etc.

So I'm rolling out these little balls of meat in flour, giving them a good coating. Shanra, 2, watched.

- Come and give it a go, I said.

They can be quite dexterous if they're the slow, deliberate kind of child, which Shanra is. She gently pushed the meatball through the flour with little dimpled hands until it was all white. Then another. And another. She'll make a good cook, to be sure.

I cooked the meatballs in a little oil and then assembled the children's 'face meals' like this: quarters of Lebanese flat bread on the plate. That's the face, V-side pointing towards you. Meatballs for eyes. Quartered boiled eggs for eyebrows. Half a cherry tomato nose. Florets of broccoli ears. Two-minute noodles for a shock of blond hair. A 'shoulder line', or necklace, of cold halved salad potatoes. And a snowpea mouth. Beautiful.

They didn't eat the snowpeas, of course. But additional eyebrows, eyes and ears were called for. And more hair.

That's another rule: while negotiations on the contents of their plates will not be entered into, they are alwayswelcome to extra helpings.

Eat, eat, eat!



13.4.04

Easter holiday weekend in the country.

Easter eve.
So we visited Lisa in her cow milking shed.

She wasn't milking cows, she lives in it. Lisa is converting a cow milking shed into a 'house'.

The property of around fifty acres is nestled in rolling emerald green hills in a region once clothed in towering Mountain Ash forest with an undercanopy of treeferns. In the nineteenth century it was cleared for grazing.

Sure, a cow milking shed is stark and sparse but it's a roof over her head, right? A little render, some ochre-toned wash, some basic plumbing, a few earthy rugs to cover the concrete and hardened earth floors, some more for the walls and you've basically got your Tuscan-style farmhouse. There's electric light and gas cooking. What more could you want?

Most of the family had gathered for an Easter weekend, about a dozen in all; each contributing some food due the limited catering resources.

For Saturday dinner we had a blazing camp fire, over which were barbecued various goodies; steaks, lamb, sausages, sweet potatoes in foil.

To complement these we cooked up huge pots of pasta on the gas cooker and made up large platters of salads. The pasta was an old favourite, the reddest and ripest of the last of summer's tomatoes, simply sliced and folded through the hot pasta with cubes of mozzarella, basil, sweated garlic cloves and a dusting of parmesan. Simple but magnificent eaten outdoors. The salad; big fat olives, fetta cheese, onion and tomato. Drizzled with almost-green olive oil.

Everything was dumped on to a big table, adjacent to the campfire area, along with trays of bread and bottled of red wine. We feasted around the flickering fire in the dying light. Someone conjured an apple cobbler with pouring cream, a chocolate fudge cake and coffee from the 'Tuscan' kitchen along with a bottle of Morris liqueur muscat.

Then Alinta, Kiara and Brian took up their musical instruments and played. Somewhere afar, a cow lowed and a dog barked. Music!

Easter Day.
A burst of rain beat on the tent around five in the morning (those not sleeping 'inside' had pitched tents, including myself). It had been a warm night, easy to sleep, and despite the rain, everything was virtually dry by nine o'clock.

An informal breakfast stretched over a couple of hours as sleepyheads emerged. The children shared chocolate eggs around. A morning walk to the rainforest preceded lunch, a combination of various things including baked beans, eggs, fresh sandwiches and 'refreshed' salads and cold meats from last night's barbecue. Yummy.

7.4.04

I've hardly been home.

The family lunch.
A kind of pre-easter gathering as several of the party will be away at Easter.

Two brothers, one sister, one brother-in-law, two nieces, one daughter-in-law, two grandchildren, one mother, one wife.

Roast beef. Roasted parsnips, potatoes, pumpkin, carrots. Salads. Bread. Red wine. Tea. Cheesecake.

The yellow labrador which lives next door wandered over to see what all the fuss was about.

Well, we are loud sometimes.

The birthday dinner.
Saturday night at Atami Japanese restaurant, a favourite with local families. After all, you can't introduce small children to raw fish too early.

Sukiyaki passable, seaweed salad sensational, sashimi good but only two types of fish, service typically excellent.

The birthday party.
Sunday night at Andrew and Natalie's for a birthday dinner.

Andrew showcased his yummy fish curry with tamarind - not too hot, just a nice slow burn. The kind of heat that gives a warm inner glow without cauterising taste buds. (Mind you, I like it that way too!)

Accompaniments: hot, fluffy garlic naan, yogurt, green salad, chardonnay. dessert: trifle, chocolate log (thank you Delia).

Canisha, 6, presented me with a home-made card. It read: 'Happy Birthday. I can't believe you're just 47!' Don't kids say the cutest things! Plus, she had placed a $2 coin in the envelope as a gift for me! Kids are just so cute.

Morning coffee in the plaza.
Saturday mornings, we often visit Coburg market, a busy magnet for locals who are drawn to its vast variety of inexpensive produce. It's a meeting place for the elderly Italians and Greeks - the menfolk of whom stand around in vigorous conversation with each other while the women fetch the shopping.

Everything you need is here - fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, smallgoods, cheeses, eggs, grains, nuts, dates, beans and more wonderful goodies. There is even a honey stall and a religious artifacts stall.

There used to be only one coffee shop on the plaza. Now there are four. They all operate from small shops and have allocated tables and chairs outdoors. having finished our shopping, we sat with our coffee and watched the passing parade.

1.4.04

You ate how many turnips?

Appetizer:

Lebanese pickled turnips. (You've eaten them, sliced, in your felafel sandwich from the Lebanese takeaway, but you can buy them by the jar - whole, about an inch or so in diameter - from middle eastern shops*.)

And a small dish of tahini or hummus or baba ganoush; the latter two topped with a splash of olive oil, a squirt of fresh lemon juice and a sprig of flat-leaf parsley.

Dip.

Eat.



*I buy mine from A1 Lebanese Food Store, just up the street from oh my god not again! That's two in a week!