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

31.5.04

Big sister's new house.

She's only been in it for a year or so, about time she hosted lunch.

In my family, when we have lunches or dinners, everyone brings something, even though whoever is hosting always says 'No, don't bring anything, everything's provided', so there's always w-a-a-a-y too much food. It's like a smorgasbord, and we don't even have Swedish blood. (Well, not as far as I know.) Are other families like this, or are we totally weird?

Twenty-two attendees, big sister and partner, four children with assorted partners and friends, little brother with partner, littlest brother without partner who is overseas, son and partner with three children, mother. And me. And partner.

The spread yesterday included:

A mild yellow curry made by my mother (the one she's been doing since like about 1959) cooked for a long time so that the chicken is falling off the bone and the potatoes are almost melting.

Another, hotter, green curry made by my brother. (After mum, he's the best cook in the family. He does something I never do: measure ingredients.)

A tureen of rice to go with the curries.

A casserole of my Tortiglioni Provencale (onions, white wine, garlic, canned tomatoes, chile, capsicum, olives, walnuts, peas, mozzarella, parmesan - sounds weird, tastes great).

A vegetarian casserole featuring eggplant, chickpeas, corn and other yummy vegie favourites.

More casseroles that I forgot. Maybe some that I didn't even get to see, like they were hidden in the oven or something.

A tureen of couscous.

A mountain of Greek salad on a platter the size of a truck wheel.

A mountain of potato salad - quartered Desirees still in their pink jackets with a tangy vinaigrette-like dressing and scattered with chopped green onions.

More salads that I forgot.

A platter of buttered bread.

Meanwhile, brother-in-law was outside on the deck through the double doors grilling marinated chicken and beef kebabs on the barbecue.

Someone brought along a magnum of Mitchelton Blackwood Park Riesling.

After all of that, how can you eat dessert (this question not applicable to teenagers and children)?

Which was:

An orange syrup cake, a blueberry cheesecake, my mother's trifle (actual quote from yesterday: 'Is the trifle OK? Is there anough wine in it? I've been making this forever but I'm still not confident with it. The jelly didn't set properly and it's not very creative is it?' Are all mothers like this, deconstructing their perfectly good cooking?), ice-cream and a rich chocolate birthday cake for my sweet and beautiful niece who just turned seventeen.

Over coffee, someone was saying they knew someone who had just called their new baby Cherry, so there was a discussion about people naming their children after fruit, like that British actress naming her baby Apple.

Food. You can't get away from it.



28.5.04

Shepherd's Pie.

Italian-style, with the fragrance of the four Italian essentials, onion, carrot, celery and garlic.

Sweat onions and garlic in oil. Do not burn. Add carrots and celery, diced as finely as you can be bothered doing (I couldn't be bothered last night so the pieces were larger than they should have been!) stirring around and adding salt and cracked pepper.

Sweat them for a couple minutes then remove them to another dish. Now add your minced beef or lamb (shepherd's pie is by definition lamb but since you're not a shepherd the meat your pie comprises doesn't have to be lamb). Brown it well, then add the vegetables along with a can of diced tomatoes and a generous slosh of white wine, maybe a cupful or so.

Let it simmer away while you prepare your potatoes by cooking, draining and mashing them well with whatever you fancy - milk, butter, olive oil (I like potatoes with olive oil whipped until they are creamy, seductively, unctuously smooth like velvet!), parmesan cheese, whatever.

When the mince has reduced a little (there's no rule here, you can make it as 'wet' or as firm as you like) place it in a baking dish, top it with the mash, then sprinkle a little paprika or maybe some gremolata on top. Bake until golden brown and enjoy with some spinach or rabe cooked with a dash of cream and black pepper on the side.

And a glass of smooth, spicy, seductive red.

25.5.04

I hope you've eaten, there's no food in this post.

My partner took her special education students on an excursion to the new museum yesterday. (It's less of a museum than a politically correct 'space' featuring angular architecture, minimalist exhibitions and post-modern jargon. I preferred the old one, packed with more old stuff and fewer 'interactive' exhibits and curated 'opinions'.)

When they arrived back at school, she asked the students what they liked best about the museum.

One nominated the elevator.

Another said the autumn leaves in the park outside the museum.

And a third was most impressed by the seagulls flapping around in the park competing for lunch crusts.

Gotta love those kids - they are sweet!







Udon noodles.

Make a stock of miso and add asian greens, green onions, and meat of your choice - I used cubed chicken breast. I also used some soft tofu, cubed. (Be careful, it falls apart but is delicate, sensous and yummy.)

Cook the Udon noodles - plunge into boiling water, drain, repeat.

Add the noodles to the soup.

Also add chile or soy or both. (Miso is already salty.)

I like to mix a little soy through some wasabe for a sensational salty hot combination. Add it to the soup or have it on the side and dip your tofu in it. Yum.

20.5.04

It was a dark and stormy night.

On a cold, rainy night after a long run in the park, where better to dine out with some friends than a cosy Italian cafe?

TiAmo is a good place for our running group (motto: 'for some people training is just an excuse to meet people'!) to eat - they actually sponsor the club and understand our needs, plying us with huge platters of fresh bread and copious bottles of chilled water. (Runners have massive appetites - one of our group is a 6'7" 200lb+ marathoner in training for the Gold Coast Marathon.

What to eat? The schiaffatelli bella napoli, almost like gnocchi but with no potato? The maccheroni della zia with mini meatballs and eggplant? The spaghetti don giovanni with mussels, clams and chilli? The risotto nero with cuttlefish? The veal shanks, tender and falling off the bone on a huge bed of garlic mash? The veal scallopine in white wine and cream? The tortellini tartufe?

With a menu like that, I don't care, give me anything! I wound up with the schiaffatelli. Light, fluffy, cheesy, floury pillows dressed seductively in a tomatoey sauce.

Then there's dessert. How does this sound: chocolate pudding baked with walnuts, sultanas, apples and served with a caramel sauce, cream & ice cream?

After a fifteen kilometre run and a dinner like that, it was all I could do to drag myself home and fall in a heap.

13.5.04

Not sure whether this is dinner or an economics discussion.

There are several markets for commercially made pasta.

First is the commodity market - cheap pasta at a low price. This is fine, after all, you can't really go wrong with pasta. Good for families on a budget.

Then there's the gourmet pasta market. This comprises a wide range of brands at wildly divergent prices. I've seen dried pasta at anything up to $20 a kilo, favoured by foodie yuppies who think mama is out in the kitchen caressing the stuff in her loving hands. If you want that fantasy, learn to make it yourself.

Case in point: I can pay 89c for a 500 gram pack of perfectly acceptable Ambra pasta from my local shop. Or I can pay $8.10 for what is largely much the same thing.

There is a third market.

This third segment grew out of post-World War Two immigrants wanting 'genuine' home-style products, but who were not willing to pay a 'gourmet' price. They were catered for by small manufacturers - often originally set up by European immigrants making products for family and friends which then grew into successful businesses - that turned out products on a scale too small for mass distribution via the two large supermarket chains, but whose market base was big and stable enough - mainly families with lots of children to feed - to allow the manufacturer to keep prices relatively low.

La Triestina was such a company. It is still quietly manufacturing pasta in Melbourne after, maybe, forty or more years.

La Triestina remained small, carving out a niche market in the continental deli and small supermarket trade. It appears never to have changed its pack designs which have a quaint sixties look - they're not even online so I can't show you an image.

*

We had La Triestina ravioli with ricotta - little pillows of delicious white yumminess.

Made a kind of made-up sauce comprising silverbeet, tomatoes, olive oil, a little stock, onions, garlic and pepper. (Much silverbeet on hand from the school garden.) Unusual, but it boiled down very nicely into a tasty deep greenish-reddish ragu.

A splash of that over the ricotta ravioli and a dash of parmesan on top. Simple and tasty.


*

Companies like La Triestina are, of course, a dying breed. Consumers are turning increasingly to the large supermarkets - in Australia, the two major supermarket companies hold a whopping 77% of the market - or to fast food chains for the family dinner.

As well, the original market - the post-war migrant generation - is itself dying out.

Enjoy your smaller manufacturers while you can.

10.5.04

Three figs.

Five years ago exactly, my partner bought me a fig tree, a fifth anniversary gift.

It was just a little one. I put it in the ground on top of plenty of rotted matter in the back yard of our beach shack. We wondered how many years it would take to fruit.


The last few weeks have been busy. We hadn't been down the coast for a while.

We left the city early Saturday morning and within ninety minutes we could see the twinkling waves.

Arriving, we unpacked the car and put the dogs into the yard. There sat the fig tree, now doubled in size, enjoying the sunshine all on its own.

On its still-slender branches were three perfect, ripe, purple-black figs, warm and soft to the touch after a morning in the autumn sun.

I sliced the figs lovingly (if using a sharp knife on something can be described as loving!), and lay the slices on a plate. Then I sliced some fresh mild mozzarella and lay that on the figs.

I grilled it and we had tenth anniversary figs and cheese.

Now I just have to figure out whether it is an entree or a dessert. I'm thinking entree, although what you drink with it could be the decider. Eat it with say, a chardonnay, it's entree. Eat it with a dessert wine, it's dessert. We didn't drink anything with it, so I don't know.

Whatever. It was delicious.

Ten years.







6.5.04

Sometimes you just open the refrigerator and dinner jumps out.

Food 'bloggers don't always eat gourmet meals.

Sometimes they just stand at the 'fridge and eat last night's cold pizza. (Well, I do. I'm not speaking for others.)

Last night I opened the 'fridge. Inside was a couple of cold roasted potatoes, some olives, half a pale green zucchini, a leek sausage (Greek 'loukanika' - delicious), an eggplant (who put that in the 'fridge? store them at room temperature - the cold rots their skin), some hommous, a jar of tahini, a small amount of left over greek salad (onion, tomato, cucumber, fetta), some basil and parsley, half a bottle of cream and a dozen eggs.

You already know what I made, don't you?

The 'everything' omelette.

I beat half a dozen eggs (it's going to be big with all those fillings, you can add cream if you wish). Sloshing some olive oil in a non-stick pan on a low heat, I poured the eggs in.

Then I carefully placed the roasted potatoes, sliced; the zucchini, very finely sliced; the salad; the basil and parsley, chopped and the leek sausage, sliced into the egg mixture and dotted the olives, halved and pitted, on top.

I put the lid over the pan, turned down the heat real low and let it cook through gently. I wasn't even going to attempt to fold this omelette, so I guess that makes it a frittata, which is just a fancy name for omelette anyway.

Meanwhile I cubed the eggplant, dusted it in sumac, tossed it in a heavy-based pan in olive oil with the chickpeas and a couple of scored cloves of garlic and let it cook - once again, very slowly.

Once the eggplant has 'wilted', about 10-15 minutes depending on your pan, the stove heat, the wind direction, the lunar cycle and how hungry you are, you can eat it or adapt it. I added a dash of tahini, half a cup of cream and a very generous squeeze of lemon juice, probably a quarter cup at least. Maybe more. A minute or so more on low and it's ready - careful, it might burn with the tahini.

Meanwhile I made some couscous, no drama there, just couscous into the boiling water, dash of butter, swirl it 'round and let it sit. Done.

I had turned off the heat under the omelette a few minutes earlier, maybe should have started the eggplant first. Letting the omelette cool a fraction allows it to shrink slightly - I placed a plate upside down over the pan and quickly flipped the pan - it came out beautifully onto the plate.

Whopping great slice of Everything Omelette, with a side of eggplant stew on a bed of nutty, salty, creamy coucous.

Not bad for a scratch meal. I had no idea I was going to make it.

*

Where did the hommous go? Can't remember now. Probably into the eggplant stew.

Had some more omelette, cold, for lunch, today. Delicious.





1.5.04

The surprise chile.

I got out of the shower, dried myself, ran a brush through my hair and unscrewed my contact lens case.

Carefully lifting the left lens out of its saline solution, I placed it on the tip of my right index finger and applied it to my still-sleepy left eye.

A blinding, burning pain seared through my eye as if I'd poured acid into it. I quickly withdrew the lens and plunged it back into its case. I looked in the mirror. My eye was red and the tears were welling.

Then I remembered: last night I sliced a chile pepper with my bare hands. (And a knife, of course.)

I found it on a little chile bush, obscured behind some other shrubs, in the garden. I had picked the other chiles (green) quite some time ago - they were hot, but not that hot, if you know what I mean.

So this one li'l pepper had stayed on the chile bush, unseen, for a couple of months. And, unlike its fellow chiles, it was bright fire-engine red.

So did I pick the others too early? Or this one too late? I didn't know.

In order to find out if it was hotter than its brothers and sisters, I decided to eat it. That's really the only way to find out.

It was about two inches long, maybe an inch wide at the top. A beautiful thing, really, with its little green stalk cap.

I sliced it finely, cleaned out most of the seeds using my fingers, and set it aside. I warmed up the rest of some leftover braised beef (see previous post), added some canned tomatoes to fill it out and then tossed in the sliced chile. It bubbled away for a while and then I served the finished ragu on some silky smooth tagliatelle egg noodles.

A little grated cheese over the top, and there's an easy Friday night dinner.

Ooomph! It was almost too hot to eat. But not quite! I managed to get through it!

With the help of a cold beer.

*

I researched chiles to find out what type my chile bush was. (Should have kept the little plastic label.)

There are, like, hundreds of different types and there is a kind of Beaufort or Richter Scale for heat intensity. I'm sure this one was near the top.

And the really hot ones leave little molecules of hot molten lava under your nails ready to attack your eyes should you touch them. Even the next day. So wear gloves. Or use the knife to get the seeds out. Or don't touch your eyes.