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

24.2.05

Chef shortage - Australian hospitality industry could 'collapse in ten years'.

Maybe a little exaggerated. (Well you don't write a headline that says 'everything OK' do you?)

Nevertheless, this is a lifetime career, a craft learned by degrees (not university ones) stretched over endless years. It is not television or a ticket to riches.

The students don't get it and it is not their fault.

And now the industry is screaming. The industry is not entirely blameless, having sought fame via 'celebrity' chefs and the like. The usual traps into which new money invariably falls, seeking ever more fame and riches.

The industry, admittedly, has a lot to complain about including punitive taxes and over-regulation.

And I can imagine their pain when students come in and start bitching about conditions, long hours and the lack of instant fame.

All that and the chef shouts!

Eels.

One of my favourites at Wing Loong, a poky but marvellous little cafe tucked away in Heffernan Lane off Little Bourke Street in Chinatown, is fried eel. It's delicious, here served with rice and egg.

Local eels are in the news.

First the eels were dying all over the State, now there's a giant one on the loose and it's making world headlines.

What's going on?

UPDATE

They're bringing in the horses.

22.2.05

A baby.

My niece had her baby - eight pounds - and made my sister a grandmother (how will she cope!) of a girl, a beautiful girl. My niece has called her baby Amali, a beautiful name.

Will Amali be like her mother (it's hard to describe my niece as 'her mother')? or her father? Or perhaps her grandmother, my sister - with her flashing eyes and dark hair; or her grandfather, my sister's first husband - with his classic anglo-indian features and serious expression? Who knows. Or cares.

A beautiful baby. That is all that matters.

18.2.05

This is great!

I'm allowed to say that in all honesty and without sounding boastful because the following recipe is not mine. It is from reader Sarah who told me she found it in an Italian cookbook of her mother's.

Sarah quotes the author of the recipe: 'This is for when you and your digestive system need a little looking after. Let the gentle sauce of potato, onion, prosciutto, celery and marjoram bathe you in warmth and goodness!'

I tried it and found it a wonderfully robust, comforting, homely dish. It's going onto to my high rotation list in this household because while T.'s favourite food is potatoes, mine is pasta. This combines both.

Tubetti con patate

(tubetti with potato)

1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 onion diced
2 thick slices prosciutto, diced
1 celery stalk, sliced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
3 potatoes, peeled and diced
1 fresh or canned tomato, chopped
1 sprig fresh marjoram
400g tubetti or any short tubular pasta
1 tbsp freshly grated parmigiano

Heat oil and butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add onion and cook for 10 minutes until it starts to soften. Add prosciutto, celery and carrot and cook for 10 minutes. Add potatoes, tomato and marjoram and cook until potatoes are tender. Keep stirring, adding spoonfuls of water when necessary to prevent the potatoes from sticking. The 'sauce' will become creamy as the potatoes cook and soften, but they should still retain their shape. Cook pasta in plenty of boiling, salted water until al dente. Drain, and place in a warm serving bowl. Top with potato sauce, mix gently and serve with cheese. Serves four.

Thank you Sarah. Hope you enjoyed the lasagne recipe (previous post).

15.2.05

Lasagne light enough for lunch.

Romeo's in Toorak Road was a favourite lunch spot when I worked over that way.

I usually ordered the spinach lasagne, it was light and delicious. Meat lasagne can be too heavy at lunchtime.

Here's how I make it at home:

Combine an egg and an extra egg white with two cups of ricotta, half a cup of parmesan, salt and pepper.

Wilt a bunch of chopped spinach with a scored clove of garlic in a little olive oil.

Cook your lasagne sheets.

Base your baking pan with a thin layer of tomato sauce (crushed tomatoes cooked with onions, shredded basil, a dash of sugar and salt - or use a commercial version), top it with, in turn, sheets of lasagne, layers of the cheese mixture, the spinach, grated mozzarella and then more tomato sauce; creating several layers and finishing with more grated mozzarella and a generous sprinkling of parmesan.

Bake in a moderate oven thirty minutes.

Serve with crusty bread, a salad of lettuce, tomatoes, olives, sliced onions, vinaigrette.

And a glass of red.

10.2.05

Year of the Rooster. What a fine bird.

That's my year. I'm a rooster, according to Chinese astrology.

Remember those books that were popular in the eighties combining your Chinese and western astrology characteristics?

I'm an Aries, so that means as well as my feisty, obstinate, egotistical and self-absorbed rooster traits, I'm also hot-headed, selfish, quick-tempered and impatient. Any bad points?

I don't know how I can live with myself.

Now. Dinner.

How can you not have chicken on Chinese New Year when it's Year of the Rooster?

In one pan I seared two chicken fillets in a dash of peanut oil and just a few drops of Thai fish sauce and sesame oil; then I removed them to a warm oven and sizzled strips of green and red pepper with raw cashews and onion rings in the same pan, adding the merest dash of soy to take up the flavours and keep the vegetables moist. Basmati rice in a pot to the boil, lower to simmer, ready in five minutes.

Rice on the plate, vegetables over the rice, chicken fillet on top. Sprinkle with dried onion flakes and sesame seeds.

You have to use a knife and fork for the chicken fillet. Not very chinese. Or you could slice it into bite-sized pieces. I didn't, I just slapped it on the vegetables.

Impatient.

And don't argue with me. Or I'll throw dinner to the dogs.



8.2.05

Three days at the beach.

Following last week's storms, I was a little anxious but there was no damage to the beach house, just a few ti-tree boughs blown down in the back yard.

The front (bay) beach was still closed due to high e-coli levels, while dead penguins and other seabirds had been washed up on the back (ocean) beach along with other debris.

Yesterday, we ate lunch (open smoked atlantic salmon sandwich on rye; chicken, avocado, cheese & mayo sandwich; coffee) in the shade of the outdoor umbrellas at the Blairgowrie cafe, accompanied by Goldie and foster greyhound Chris. Frank the fat dog wandered by, as fat and as happy as ever.

Speaking of Blairgowrie and the back beach, what is this about?

I've certainly never seen any panthers, even on my after-dinner walks.

4.2.05

How to build your salad nicoise.

Another everything day. Rain, sunshine, thunder ...

I just ignored it and went to the fish market.

Bought a piece of pesce spada - swordfish - as big as a plate.

What to do with it?

Another all-time favourite - salad nicoise. I have a special dish about two feet in diameter, a large flattish bowl on which I construct my salades nicoises.

It's like playing with building blocks. I boil up a dozen baby potatoes or several larger ones in two inch pieces. These go around the perimeter of the dish. They're the foundation stones.

If you use lettuce, this goes in the middle. I used some rocket, because it's going wild in the vegetable patch. Tomatoes - either halved cherry ones or regular ones sliced into segments on top of the lettuce. (I never serve cherry tomatoes whole - it is impossible to bite into a cherry tomato without squirting the juice at your dining partner. They are nature's 'trick' fruit.)

Boil a dozen green beans and refresh. Hardboil three eggs. Segment each egg into four 'boats'. Arrange these around the dish along with the green beans, radially. It looks nice. Sprinkle chopped spring onions over that. Next come the olives. I bought some mixed green and black ones marinated in mild chili. Place them over the top. Your construction is building nicely.

Vinaigrette. Pour it on. Anchovies - nice fat ones, one each across the eggs.

Now for the fish. Of course, tuna is the original but sometimes I use swordfish. I sear it well on both sides but not overcooked. Slightly translucent in the middle.

The plate-size seared fish goes on top, triumphant. This time, I smeared it with home-made pesto (the basil is going wild) for a change. The 'salad' is about two feet tall by now (OK, exaggerating!).

Finally, rain down some capers over the dish.

Guests' jaws drop when you serve this. A salad that needs carving, like a roast. 'A largish segment of swordfish for you?'

All you need is some nice fresh white bread and some good wine. Conversation will follow.

About the weather, of course.

*

PS: Happy birthday to my brother in Alice Springs.



Apparently ...

... it was a cyclone.

So that's what it was.

I thought it was just typically unpredictable Melbourne weather.

3.2.05

Wait five minutes ...

Two days ago amid intense heat, grassfires threatened houses near Melbourne Airport.

Yesterday was the coldest February day on record.

At seven o'clock this morning, the Weather Bureau announced that 120mm of rain was dumped on Melbourne in the 24 hours to 6.30am AEDT - a record for a single day.

Right now it is 9.35am. The sun just came out and is streaming through my east-facing kitchen window.

2.2.05

Don't talk to me about climate change.

Prologue.

Yesterday it was 36 celsius. The sun was a fireball. During the afternoon I found refuge beneath the loquat tree wearing only my running shorts and a layer of sweat.

At the same time today it was barely 12 degrees assisted by a cold south-westerly and incessant rain. We had more rain until midday today than for the whole of January. It is already a February record for one day of rain. Today I shivered and wore winter clothes. Yesterday I was sponging the dogs to keep them cool. Today the foster greyhound sported a very attractive fake Burberry polar fleece coat.

36 to 12 degrees. That's a 24 degrees turnaround. Many climates don't vary that much between seasons.

Getting to the point - the food.

The point is it's difficult to plan.

I made some stuffed calamari. I've done this before and vary it every time. It's the kind of robust dish that is fail-safe. Last night I stuffed it with a tomato risotto.

I used some organic brown arborio rice - it has a rich, nutty taste and a great texture. Makes a change from ordinary rice.

Cooked it just like ordinary arborio rice - a dash of olive oil in a heavy pot, warmed with a large scored garlic clove, introduce the rice and coat it and then add hot stock and white wine progressively. The brown rice takes it up slower than regular rice. After twenty minutes or so I added some tomato sauce (which I had made by adding a bottle of tomato puree to some finely chopped onions cooked in olive oil, then a chopped bunch of basil from the garden, a pinch of salt and pepper and a half teaspoon of sugar; simmering it for twenty minutes).

When it was done, I threw in a handful of toasted pine nuts and half a dozen chopped button mushrooms, just because I had some.

I stuffed the calamari with the risotto, placed them in a close-fitting baking dish, half-covered them with tomato puree and a cup of white wine and baked them twenty-five minutes.

Originally it was going to be a cold dish - let them cool and then slice carefully. Serve them on a platter with greek salad and bread. Eat outdoors.

But the change arrived at 4pm so instead, we had them hot - indoors, as the rain pelted down - on a delicious bed of potatoes mashed to total unctuosity with garlic and olive oil.

If there is such a word.

1.2.05

Peaches.

Everyone loves peaches. You can tell by all the expressions. Peaches and cream complexion. Peachy keen. And everyone knows what most resembles the shape of a ripe peach.

Time was we never bought a peach; they fell off the old tree in their hundreds, to rot on the ground. Except they didn't rot, we picked them all up and ate the unbruised ones and halved and stewed the rest, having cut out the bruised parts.

They were huge but delicate in flavour, sweet but not cloying and as white-fleshed and blush-red skinned as an English lady.

We had an apricot tree and a nectarine tree as well, but the peach tree was the biggest. It was right in the middle of the garden and gave the most fruit. Year after year, summer breakfast was cold stewed peaches on hot porridge, the cold sweetness of the fruit contrasting with the warm bland texture of the oats. We drank the juice when all the peaches were gone and it was nectar.

*

The tree aged, helped along by seven children climbing in it. There was a rudimentary tree house - really just a platform, like a raft in a tree - and later, as teenagers, we slept under it on summer nights. The peach tree exacted revenge for earlier misdeeds and sent huge spiders down to land on our heads and to secrete themselves in our sleeping bags. Perhaps to run up our pyjama legs.

*

Peaches are in season. I bought some today, ate one, stewed the rest.

For breakfast tomorrow, on porridge.


An old favourite.

Marinate chicken breast fillets overnight in tamari soy, ginger (chopped or powdered), a smashed garlic clove and dashes of lemon juice and olive oil.

I cook them in a lidded pan to retain juices and tenderness.

At the same time, set some chopped button mushrooms on a low heat in a lidded pot. They melt in their own juices. You need add nothing but a dash of pepper. It's a healthy alternative to creamy or heavy sauces.

Mushrooms over the chicken fillets.

Mashed potatoes and snow peas on the side.