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

31.5.05

Early start to sales. And an early lunch.

The mild weather right through autumn has seen sales plummet in the department stores so they started their June sales early.

T. is now 37 weeks but we still managed a trip into town to pick up a few things. Here's how we did it:

Drive to Carlton. Park near St. Jude's on the north side of Elgin. Fifty metres to Lygon Street. Pass ten shops. Look in a few windows. Reach Ti Amo. Time for coffee!

The coffee at Ti Amo is as good as you'll get. It hasn't changed in twenty years, probably thirty. If you go for lunch, try the spaghetti carbonara.

Next: walk another hundred metres to the tramstop outside university. A ten-minute trundle down Swanston, off at Bourke.

Into David Jones, elevator to second floor. Babywear. Pick up a few things. Stroll up to furniture for a quick look. Didn't buy anything. Check out the new food hall. Another short stroll to ladies shoes, then down to fragrances and cosmetics. Pick up few more things.

Out the back way into Little Bourke Street. Oh, look at the time - midday! And here we are right in Chinatown. Perfect. Into Wing Loong, our favourite.

The place is, as usual, almost full. Steaming plates piled high are emerging from the kitchen. Garlic prawns on rice; fried calamari with chinese broccoli; whole barramundi in soy and ginger; eel and fried egg on a mountain of special fried rice; soup with dumplings and spring onion; glazed pork spare ribs sitting atop a huge mound of fried noodles; crispy skin chicken ...

Who needs a menu - just check out what everyone else is having.

After all that I just chose what I normally have: congee - a delicious bowl of steaming rice porridge concealing tender pieces of chicken, beef and seafood with finely sliced ginger and spring onion. T. chose the fried rice with chicken - tender, spicy chicken pieces in a light oyster sauce on rice as light as air and flecked with spring onion and peas. Tea is on the house.

*

An hour later, back on the tram, fifteen minutes up to Elgin Street. (Only thought for just a fleeting moment about sacher torte from Brunetti's. If you haven't tried Brunetti's sacher torte, you haven't lived.) Then in the car and home to a nap for T.

And I'm out into the back yard to sweep up a few autumn leaves. A few? Try a few thousand. All of a sudden, everything has turned yellow and gold and red and brown. It's pretty, but then I have to pick it up.

Tomorrow is winter.

30.5.05

Seven Year Beans.

That's what they call them in the market because the plants apparently last for that time, but I hear they're also known as Scarlet Runner Beans. They're not scarlet, but they are delicious.

They're probably my current favourite vegetable, if a bean is a vegetable. About six to eight inches long (we changed to metric in 1972, but who knows how long 17cms is - not me), they are stringless and almost flat with a kind of bumpy zigzag shape rather than straight.

Boil or steam and serve with butter and salt and pepper. Or chopped toasted bacon pieces. Or toasted almond pieces. They have that particular bean flavour, but impart a kind of creamy, velvety taste and texture that complements the butter and salt so well.

On Saturday night (why don't we say 'Saturnight' instead of, illogically, Saturday night? I've always wondered) we had a simple meal of grilled sausages - some of the very best I've found, from a small butcher's shop in Victoria Street, Brunswick, run by a dear old smiling Greek man and his wife. All the signage in the shop was about fifty years old, it was like walking into the past. Why would anyone buy meat in plastic from Coles or Safeway?

Where was I? ... grilled sausages, potato whipped into smooth creaminess and seven year beans with butter and salt and pepper on the side.

*

Last Sunday we had my son and his family over for dinner. The main course was one of T.'s mum's specialities from the seventies - Mexican Hot Pot (now there's a story - maybe next time) with Seven Year Beans on the side.

Canisha and Shanra sat, in unusual silence, laboriously halving the bean outers with their little fingers, picking the tender beans out from the pods and eating them delicately; then carefully placing the used pods in a pile off to the side. Fully twenty minutes of silent eating!

26.5.05

Lygon Street.

We picked up the girls Sunday morning and were going to take them to Acland Street to see the cake shops (Monarch, Le Bon etc); anticipating watching as their eyes pop out of their heads as they gaze at the amazing arrays of cakes of all kinds.

However, T. had a minor scare and had to make an impromptu appointment at the RWH where she is undergoing 'shared care' with her own doctor, a system which appears to be as good as it can get, offering personalised service together with all the facilities of a major hospital.

The RWH is, of course, just around the corner from Lygon Street. Like thirty seconds walk. While we were waiting, I took the girls along to the park connecting Cardigan and Lygon Streets. We sat there and ate some sandwiches and I said to Canisha and Shanra, 'You know, girls, see that building right over there? That's where your Dad went to school!', pointing out what used to be St George's Church and school.

'Oo-hh.'

'And see that restaurant right there? (Sabatini's) That's where your Dad had his eighteenth birthday party!'

'Oo-oo-oo-hh!'

'And see the hospital right back there, where we left T. for her appointment? That's where I was born! And see over there (pointing to a place further up Lygon Street) that's where Erin (their Aunt, my daughter) works!'

'Let's go see her now!'

So we did. And there she was, buzzing about serving customers. She gave the girls a kiss and I gave her a kiss and she gave them a sweet from the sweet bowl on the counter and I said hello to the waiters and the guy making the pizzas (she's worked at Papa Gino's for a few years and it's like family now) and then we let her get on with her work and we walked up the street past all the other restaurants to the big bookstore with the children's book department way down the back. The girls fell silent as they pored over the books. Shanra, 3, is into fairies and princesses but Canisha, 8, is over all that and was fascinated with the Egyptology book with the red brooch light on the cover and the pop-up pages showing inside a pyramid.

After a while we went back to the hospital and soon T. emerged. She was just fine but hadn't eaten so back to Lygon Street - Notturno - for a snack, ice-creams for the girls and a long macchiato for me. T. is now 36 weeks and we walk in with the two little girls and the wait-lady says 'Oh my, you two are going to have a baby brother or sister!' and Canisha says 'That's not my Dad, that's my POP and we're not going to have a brother or a sister - we're going to have an AUNTY or an UNCLE!' and the wait-lady says 'NO WAY!' and I just smile and T. just smiles and hopes no-one suggests she's a young-looking grandmother as someone once did; Canisha came to the rescue that time, saying 'She's not my nan: she's my STEP-nan!'

Kids today; diplomats tomorrow.

They loved their ice-creams: rainbow flavour.

Comments back up.

Thanks, Andrew.

25.5.05

Comments are down again.

Apologies.

24.5.05

Favourite cookbooks # 1.

A quiet moment. Perhaps even an entire afternoon.

There's no sound except the tick of the clock in the hallway and the occasional twitter of birds in the garden.

The ancient brown leather chair in the quiet room is beckoning.

There it is, sitting regally in the corner, over an old frayed afghan rug. It must weigh a ton. Its leather is worn but its springs are like new. (Isn't it a pleasure to throw yourself into a chair and not have it shoot halfway across the room like some of today's staple-gunned rubbish that passes for furniture!)

Time to read a book and then maybe take a nap.

Now reach an arm out to the sideboard, groaning with old books and well-thumbed magazines. Place a drink down within easy reach - use a hardback book for a coaster, naturally - and pick up a book at random.

Oh, look - it's a cookbook. What a happy coincidence!

Written by one of the great food writers, Tamasin Day-Lewis, Tarts With Tops On is her foray into a world of pies, a far greater culinary journey than one might imagine.

Traditional British pies are here, of course, but then we go around the world with Galician Pork and Sausage Pie; Roquefort and Spinach Parcels; Italian Cottage Pie (I've tried that, it's great); Lamb in Vine Leaves and Filo Pastry (I want some of that NOW); Kulebiaka, a Russian salmon pie served with sour cream; Kentucky Sweet Potato or Pumpkin Pie and much more besides.

Then, having circled the globe on a pie crust, we're back in Britain (in the book, I mean - I personally am in Australia) with a melting masterpiece: Stilton, Onion and Potato Pan Pie; and one of the most famous pies of all - a traditional Steak and Kidney.

Sweet pies? Dozens. In fact a whole chapter is devoted to apple pies.

Tamasin Day-Lewis writes, in her introduction:

'What could be more tempting than a classic steak and kidney pie, the meat trapped in its sea of wine-dark gravy, a faint, yet full-on scent of kidney, a lingering bouquet? A soothing chicken pie, the ivory flesh gently poached, with a back note of celery, leek, onion and carrot, a velvet mantle of bechamel, enriched with cream and the poaching liquor. A turret of raised hot water crust pie, all crisp crumbliness without and soft yielding whiteness within, where sharp apples bite the rich moistness of pork, musky sage and sharp, dry cider. Perfect picnic or wild walk fodder.'

I told you she was a great writer. The book is bursting with her delicious, appetising writing. Just like a pie!

Tarts With Tops On
Or How To Make the Perfect Pie

Tamasin Day-Lewis
Weidenfeld and Nicolson 2003

*

Oh, look at the time! Where did the afternoon go? A golden shaft of late afternoon sun, low in the sky, has stolen in to wake me from a slumber filled with dreams about walking through some wild landscape with a pork pie in my backpack ...

23.5.05

What's wrong with British cooking?

Only one thing.

There isn't enough of it.

Traditional British cooking, done well, is among the best in the world.

Proof?

Ask yourself 'Would I rather sit down to a fat slice of robust, golden-pastry-topped Egg and Bacon Pie ... or a limp piece of quiche?'

Exactly.

Here's how my mother made Egg and Bacon Pie. OK, she wasn't British, but her grandparents were.

Grease a glass or enamel pie dish and line it with a sheet of shortcrust pastry. Crack eggs - about six depending on dish size - into the pastry-lined dish. Scatter some chopped parsley and white pepper over the eggs. Now lay strips of bacon over them. Top with a disc of puff pastry, trim and seal the edge. Decorate with the trimmings. Brush with egg white or milk. Bake at 200C for about 35 minutes at which point it will be golden brown and the aroma of eggs, bacon and pastry will be too irresistible for you to leave it in the oven a moment longer. (Just check that the base is done.)

Serve hot with turnip mash and mushy peas for dinner.

Or cold with a pint of beer for lunch.

Or warm with a pot of tea for breakfast, for that matter.

20.5.05

Fog in the morning, pea soup at night.

The first fog of the season hung low and damp over the city. But not for long. This autumn's eternal sunshine broke through by 10 o'clock for another perfect day in Melbourne.

It's the time of year when, after the sun goes down around five-thirty, you can still feel the earth giving off the retained warmth of the day; but then, as you walk through the gardens, a cold mist steals in from somewhere like a ghost without a home and reminds you that winter is on its way.

And you think 'soup'.

Pea and ham soup for a foggy night.

It's the easiest. Get some bacon bones from your butcher or deli. Soak some peas - I used green split peas - overnight, changing the water once or twice.

Then drain them, throw them in your biggest pot with the bacon bones, a couple of chopped carrots, a chopped onion, a couple of sticks of chopped celery, a bay leaf and some pepper. Salt? The bacon bones may be salty enough. Cover the lot with water and away you go.

Cook for two or three hours. Make sure it doesn't stick.

If the soup is thin enough, you can add quartered peeled potatoes about halfway, if you so desire. They should almost melt, but not quite.

This soup produces the most wonderful aroma. Cook it up through the afternoon and you might have the neighbours come visiting.

*

Some remove the bones and return any meat to the pot.

When I was a kid, pea and ham soup was a staple. Through the 1960s, my mother must have gone through truckloads of split peas. For the soup, she used to get the long rib bacon bones. She left them in the pot. After having the soup, we used to chew the bacon bones and suck all the yummy goodness out. Disgusting but delicious.

16.5.05

Chicken soup.

After a busy few days I felt a cold coming on, so I did what I do at least once a year - head for Scheherezade. We should really visit more often but it's on the other side of town.

Chicken and soup with kreplachs and a basket with fresh rye bread and gold-foiled butter for me, latkes for T.

The chicken soup was of the most intense flavour, the kreplachs bursting with more chicken and it was all garnished with dill. Worth crossing the world for, not just the city. T's latkes are delicious, she's a potato girl at heart and you won't get better. We shared the bread, dunked it in the soup. Dunked the latkes in the soup too. It's that kind of place.

Even so, our eyes nearly popped out of our heads when we saw a pair of diners at an adjacent table being served schnitzels. The schnitzels were the size of the plate itself. Such that the steaming fresh boiled potatoes which accompanied the schnitzels had to be brought out on separate plates. As did the coleslaw!

Afterwards, vienna coffee with some apple cake, spiced and with a fine crumble baked topping, and butter cake, the original.

We're going back soon for the frankfurts and sauerkraut. And the borscht and potatoes. And the cabbage soup. And the cheesecake, recipe a hundred years old ...

14.5.05

Late Friday night.

T. had a three hour breast feeding class from 6 until 9pm.

I dropped her off, went home, walked the dog, did some shopping, came back, picked her up. Some of the women coming out of the class looked ... somewhat tired. Imagine having a three hour class of any kind on Friday night after a long working week.

Home by nine-thirty. Pasta on the stove, bacon shards in the pan to sizzle and then some garlic, a dash of white wine and a scattering of cracked peppercorns.

Spaghetti cooked, drained, tossed in the pan with just a little of the cooking water, maybe a tablespoon, two eggs cracked over the top, a sprinkling of chopped parsley, fold the eggs through, some parmesan added, stove off, lid on for a minute as the egg sets, having been folded through.

Spaghetti carbonara. You can't beat it as a late Friday night meal. It's easy, fast, homely and delicious.

PS: The dateline shown is about sixteen hours behind actual time here, which is Saturday morning, ten past ten. The sun is shining and the birds are chirping. Another sunny autumn day.

13.5.05

I'm tired. I don't know what to cook. And why am I in the supermarket?

Sometimes you (meaning, of course, 'I' or even the Royal first-person form 'one') just do (does) not know what you (I/one) are (am/is) going to cook.

[That is probably the single most complicated sentence I have ever written. I just have this thing about the English language and how complex it is. For ease of expression I'll use 'you.']

And then you just happen to be walking through the supermarket to pick up something totally unrelated to eating, like some laundry detergent because you've been using dishwashing liquid in the wash for several days or four litres of motor oil because the low oil pressure warning lamp flickers on every time you turn left or maybe you've even forgotten why you went there in the first place ... when suddenly something jumps out at you and says, 'Dinner idea!'.

Last night that happened to me and it was a piece of ling, which is usually rockling but can also be pink ling or any one of several other fish.

I think I've had this discussion before.

Anyway, it looked good and I have learned to recognise a good piece of fish when I see it.

I took my piece of ling home, a nice plump semi-translucent fillet of about 500 grams or a pound if you still speak fahrenheit.

Into the steamer it went. Alongside, a finely sliced zucchini and an onion chopped into rounds. A dash of fish sauce, a very generous squirt of soy and a sprinkling of powdered ginger on the fish.

It simmered away for fifteen minutes and was done. Meanwhile, I cooked some dried noodles (Nikko multigrain - wheat/corn/barley/buckwheat/sorghum: nutty, robust and delicious, not squishy and tasteless like some noodles).

Noodles on the plates, steamed fish on top and zucchini and onion to garnish. With some the reduced steaming water infused with the soy and ginger as a sauce.

Just a dinner idea I came up with.

Or maybe it was the ling.

I still can't remember why I was in the supermarket.

12.5.05

What? Cold weather?

It's almost mid-May and still the really cold weather has yet to set in.

By 'really cold weather' I mean top temperatures of 12 to 14 celsius, with overnight lows of 2 or 3.

Through Melbourne's most balmy April on record, we averaged top daily temperatures of 24 - an all-time high - and temperatures so far in May have hovered around the high teens.

Still, I did detect a certain chill in the air when I walked Goldie at 6.30 yesterday morning.

Excuse enough for a hearty beef stew - with dumplings! and red wine!

Cold weather beef casserole with dumplings.

Stew: Fry half a kilo of cubed stewing steak, a medium chopped onion and a scored garlic clove in oil until lightly browned. Sift in a tablespoon of flour, stir in half a litre of boiling water. Return to the boil, add a chopped carrot, a cup of red wine, two teaspoons each of french mustard and tomato paste, a bay leaf and a handful of chopped parsley. Simmer low for about an hour.

Dumplings: Sift one and one-quarter cups SR flour into a large bowl, add a tablespoon of chopped chives or parsley and a pinch of salt. Then rub 75g of butter into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Make a well and pour in a quarter cup of water. Cut to mix with a round-bladed knife until a soft dough forms - not too sticky. Flour your hands, roll dough into eight dumplings and drop them into the stew, ensuring they submerge. Adjust liquid level if necessary using water, stock, wine or a combination. Cook for another twenty minutes.

Serve with a robust red.

Anyone for sticky date pudding in syrup with home-made vanilla ice-cream afterwards?

11.5.05

Huey.

Huey had three weeks' fostering at our place and is now available for adoption.

Not sure why they describe him as being 'no oil painting'; I thought he was beautiful. But then they all are. They are the gentlest dogs on earth.

Usually.

I wrote about Huey earlier at A Hundred Million Miles, my dog and running blog which I have now closed.

10.5.05

Monday night. What to eat?

I found a source of brown arborio rice which also happens to be 'organic'. The brand is La Risera and costs no more than ordinary arborio.

It makes a magnificent pumpkin risotto, perfect for brightening up a Monday night.

Heat oil in a pan, add a couple of chopped sprigs of rosemary, two scored garlic cloves and a couple of cups of pumpkin chopped into one inch cubes.

Sweat this over a very low heat for twenty minutes or so. Give it a shake every now and then. Remove from pan and set aside. Cook a finely chopped medium onion in the pan in a little more oil. Then add about a cup and a half of arborio rice. Stir to coat in oil. Add hot chicken stock in increments, alternating with a few dashes of white wine. The rice will take it up gradually and expand.

Stir, stir, stir.

It will take at least a litre of fluid. Add the pumpkin, garlic and rosemary back into the rice. Towards the end, stir through some parmesan cheese.

OK, we cheated. You don't have to stand there stirring it all day. T. started it, set it going, added most of the liquid, set the lid on the pot, switched it off and then went off to pre-natal yoga (I know, it sounds dangerous, all that twisting and doing dog and cat poses, but T. assures me there was a woman there last week who was four days overdue and she was fine). When I came home I finished it off and by the time T. came in from yoga, glowing, it was ready.

It was creamy, unctuous and the brown arborio made it slightly nutty.

Chardonnay suits it just fine.

I love Monday nights.

9.5.05

Sunday morning.

(Question - does one give a woman in the late stages of pregnancy a Mothers' Day gift? I don't know. Just to be sure, I took T. out for an early lunch.)

Port Philip Bay sparkled in the late autumn sunshine as we pulled up outside the Blairgowrie cafe.

We usually make the trip on foot - a pleasant twenty minute stroll, but since T. is now the size of a ... the size of a seven months' pregnant woman, she is past walking that far.

This autumn's record of absolutely sublime weather continued at the weekend and we sat outside in warm sunshine with just a mere zephyr tickling cotton wool clouds across a perfect sky.

Goldie came too, of course, and sat at our feet ignoring the wet Golden Retriever at the next table. It had obviously just had a pre-lunch swim in the bay. The cafe is a favourite for dog owners and the usual menagerie was there; schnauzers, shih-tzus, standard poodles, lots of labradors, a few spaniels and a couple of great danes that almost dwarfed their owner. (By the way, Frank the Fat Dog is no more. The well-fed stray who dined for years on the cafe's scraps unfortunately did not pass on, as I predicted, after a heart attack; but was hit by the local police car. Vale, Frank. You had a good life. If you're going to be a stray, Blairgowrie is probably the best place in the world to do so!)

We enjoyed a light lunch and finished by sharing a wedge of hummingbird cake (why is hummingbird cake called hummingbird cake?) the size of a passenger liner. Appropriately - a ship was just sailing down the bay. The coffee was superb. Nutty, smooth and just that perfect shade of honey-tan and with a head that was creamier than cream. (T. had decaf. and is looking forward to drinking real coffee again. Not to mention red wine.)

Earlier, the newspaper-reading man at the next table had placed his order - eggs on toast, a coffee ... and three sausages - for the Golden Retriever!

The dog ate the sausages and then lay down again next to the table and fell asleep in the sunshine.

A Golden Retriever being taken for a swim in the bay and then across the road for a sausage lunch - life surely couldn't get any better than that.

8.5.05

Comments back up.

I'm going with Blogger comments. Haloscan didn't work. Not sure why. Wasn't Haloscan's fault. I think it's because I made such a mess installing the original CommentThis comments way back in 2003, leaving bits of HTML strewn around in the template like straw in a barnyard. Then last week I made it worse, shuffling around bits of code trying to get Haloscan to work. I thought I was on the point of completely wrecking my whole blog. It's moments like those computers get thrown through windows, which is a shame because replacing glass is such a nuisance.

Then Andrew, my computer whiz son, came to the rescue and cleaned it up for me.
Thanks Andrew.

3.5.05

Not so soon! Tried to instal Haloscan but not working yet. Working on it.
Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Monday night Kedgeree.

Here's another thing from childhood.

Kedgeree was generally made from left-over smoked cod, but when was anything left over in my family? Maybe my mother bought extra fish to make this delicious rice dish, apparently an Anglo-Indian creation and traditionally served for breakfast.

It's quite simple - cook a cup and a half of long-grain rice, flake your left-over fish and add it to the rice with a tablespoon of melted butter, a generous teaspoon of curry powder, half a teaspoon of cumin, three chopped hard-boiled eggs, a very generous squeeze of lemon juice and some salt and pepper. (Along with the left-over cod was a quantity of last night's white sauce. I reconstituted that with a little boiling water and added it to contribute a little creaminess to the dish.)

Combine well. Some recipes recommend baking; I cooked it stove-top. Add more fluid if baking because it will dry out. Serve with chopped parsley.

1.5.05

Sunday night. After a day at the farm.

This evening, smoked cod.

With white sauce flecked with parsley, served alongside mashed potatoes (of course) and boiled carrots and brussels spouts.

The fish is cooked in milk and chopped onions, the latter are then used to make the white sauce.

It is bland but salty, homely yet redolent of times gone by. You can add cheese to make it richer, but it is better without.

It was an Easter favourite when I was a child.

*

Today was Open Day at Collingwood Children's Farm. We took Canisha and Shanra along. We made a picnic and ate cheese sandwiches and boiled eggs and freshly baked banana muffins - T's special - by the Yarra river, in the autumn sun, on the grass at the edge of the farm.

There were donkey rides. The children fed the goats and were amazed at the size of the mud-encrusted, happy pigs. Shanra climbed the horse paddock fence, 3 years old and as agile as an Olympian.

Later, they cooked 'damper' - a simple flour and water dough - in coals, and ate it with syrup. And fed some of it to the goats.

*

On the way home, in the car, they drew pictures of the animals in their sketch books.

They ran in to tell their mum about the animals, excited.