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

30.8.05

Spring is rolling in.

It's meant to be pleasant.

Right now it is violent and ugly. Its winds are shaking trees and worrying small buildings. They are coming from the north, but tomorrow it is expected that the wind, furious beast, will wester and hit the Mornington Peninsula.

Spring has been quite a nasty season in recent years.

Looks like this will be no different.

29.8.05

After-school crepes.

I picked Canisha up from school, 3.15pm Friday. The bell rang and the children emerged from the red brick building like happy ants, laughing in the bright sunshine, glad of another weekend.

'Will mummy remember that you are picking me up today, Pops?' she said anxiously. 'She won't forget - and turn up here - and wonder where I am?'

- I don't think so, sweetie.

When we got home: 'Can I use the telephone, Poppy?'

- Of course you may, sweetie.

She called her mother. 'I didn't want you to panic,' she said into the phone.

Almost eight and such adult consideration from one so small. So sweet.

*

We made crepes. They are the easiest thing in the world.

Plain flour in a mixing bowl. Stir through an egg and enough milk for a runny consistency. Canisha did this part.

Ladle, into a pan - greased or non-stick - and over a hot stove, enough so that the mixture extends almost to the edges. Help it along with a twirl of the pan. Gently lift the edges as it cooks before your eyes. See - it doesn't stick. Shake the pan and the crepes slide around.

Flip. Children love the theatre of this. It's easy. Just takes a bit of practice. So what if your early attemtps end up on the floor? That just makes them laugh. It's all part of the show.

Then flip them onto the plate. Stacked or rolled up, your choice.

We rolled them up and sprinkled them with caster sugar and Canisha squeezed a lemon and poured the lemon juice over the crepes.

You won't find a better after-school snack.

*

Canisha finished her second plate of crepes and then went off to watch William having his bath.

More theatre.

26.8.05

I dreamed ...

... I sailed into port on a boat just made for the gentle swell. The sun was shining and it was thirty degrees celsius and the coast stretched away endlessly until it disappeared and life was just a dream and I wondered about how GREAT it was to be able to sleep so long into the endless summer day when suddenly...

... I woke at probably 3.30, maybe 4 o'clock, on a freezing Melbourne August night. No. Morning.

By the plaintive cry of the baby-who-needs-either-to-feed-or-to-be-changed.

It was my 'turn' to change the baby.

I've been warned not to lock eyes with him at night. Because they have to sleep.

So I try not to. Or to not. Does 'not' come before 'to'? Or does 'to' come before 'not'? And who cares? Whatever. What am I, a grammar expert? Not at this time of night ... morning.

Thoughts like these invade my mind when I am trying not to look into the eyes of the gorgeous living, beautiful, hand-waving, leg-kicking creature that entered our lives nine weeks ago and wants to play - at four in the morning.

T. was still. But I thought I saw a flicker in her eye as she watched me change William.

*

She didn't stir again for a few hours. Nor did William.

They slept.

He has her eyes.

21.8.05

Favourite food writers # 2.

Back to the old brown chair in the reading room for a browse through my stacks of old books and piles of magazines.

(I really should throw some magazines out - am I the only person in the world who seriously believes I'm going to read them again?)

Here's an old Spectator containing an irregular column by one of my favourite food writers, the late Jennifer Paterson. Miss Paterson didn't start out as a writer, I believe she was the cook for Spectator staff. One can only imagine the parties they threw, especially if Low Life columnist Jeffrey Bernard were in attendance.

Jennifer Paterson subsequently made a television series with Clarissa Dickson Wright for the BBC entitled Two Fat Ladies, in which these magnificent, slightly eccentric middle-aged spinster types clatter around the countryside on an ancient British motorcycle with sidecar, cooking catering-style for a variety of people and situations. They paid no lip service to any food fad or trend - how refreshing - and lard looms large.

Jennifer Paterson's columns were full of the kinds of anecdotes and arcana that characterised the TV series; along with some wonderful old recipes, which the author insisted on calling 'receipts', an archaic but correct term.

Here's a 'receipt' from The Spectator of 13 March 1999, a column which Miss Patterson wrote in anticipation of St Patrick's day.

Beef and Guinness Stew

2lbs of lean stewing beef
3 tablespoons of oil
2 tablespoons of plain flour
salt and fresh-ground pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper,
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
1 large clove of garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons of tomato puree
half a pint of Guinness
8 oz of carrots, cut into chunks
sprigs of thyme


Dissolve the tomato puree in 4 tablesponns of hot water. Trim the meat of any fat or gristle, cut into 2-inch cubes and toss them in a bowl with one tablespoon of oil. Season the flour with salt and pepper and a pinch or two of cayenne. Place in a plastic bag and toss the meat in it until thoroughly coated. Heat the rest of the oil in a large frying pan over a high heat and brown the meat rapidly on all sides to seal it. Add the onions, crushed garlic and tomato puree to the pan, cover and cook gently for about five minutes. Transfer the contents of the pan into a casserole. Pour some of the Guinness into a frying pan. Bring to the boil, stirring to get any meat juices or titbits left in the pan. Pour onto the meat with the remaining Guinness. Add the carrots and a sprig or so of thyme. Stir, taste, and adjust the seasoning. Cover with the lid and simmer very gently until the meat is tender, 2-3 hours depending on the meat. Or you can cook it in a low oven, Gas 2, 300F, 150C. Taste and correct seasoning. Serve, scattered with a lot of chopped parsley and champ colcannon or plain boiled potatoes.

19.8.05

Sorry, my posts have been like Melbourne trams.

Meaning you wait ages for one to come and then three come along all at once.

It's been a week since I've posted but what a busy week.

It started with us buying a new house, somewhat unexpectedly.

By which I mean to say that - to cut a long story short - after moving bush (i.e, to the countryside, the hinterland, the sticks) for a year in 2001, we moved back into town the following year. In just twelve months city prices had almost doubled; so we bought a house two suburbs north of our previous domain. Since then we had kept a casual eye on the market, not seriously expecting to make a move back into our old territory since prices had remained inflated.

Until last Saturday. A house in the very same street - a tiny cul-de-sac of just ten houses - we moved from in 2001 came on the market for what looked like a bargain price. I was sceptical and thought that competition at the auction would push the price up; however, I was the only bidder at the auction and the executors had to sell on the day.

So we will be moving within six weeks or so.

The house, a cute white 1940s bungalow, is two doors from our previous house in the street. Which means our neighbour - a dear old lady - on one side then will be our neighbour on the other. And she still has her old dog and her old parrot. Plus another dog and another parrot.

13.8.05

I would have just called them Little Cabbages.

This following recipe is surprisingly good - if you like Brussels sprouts. (Why did someone name a noble member of the exalted brassica family after the headquarters of the European 'Union'?

Hmmm. Anyway. Brussels sprouts are nevertheless one of my very favourite vegetables. When I was growing up, they were one of the Big Three brassicas: Cabbage, Cauliflower and B. Sprouts. One of the three accompanied just about every meal, cooked extremely well.

But we never ate them with pasta.

But nowadays I do.

Like this:

Cook some rigatoni until al-dente or al-soft, whichever you prefer. I prefer soft. Pasta is nicer squishy. Sorry, pasta purists.

Meanwhile, plunge some quartered Sproutes Bruxelles (my translation, not necessarily correct) into some boiling water and boil them until they soften but not until they turn grey (hello, Mum!).

Now, quickly drain the sprouts and toss them in some melted butter, ground black pepper and garlic in a pan. The melted butter, pepper and garlic is important.

Drain the pasta. Toss the peppered, buttered, garlicky sprout quarters over the pasta. Now take out your little jar of anchovies-in-oil you've been saving for a special pasta dish and drape several of those salty, fishy, delectable marvels over the pasta.

This is nice when you've been having heavy protein-based meals and you want something healthy yet satisfying, homely and tasty.

But you have to love Brussels Sprouts.

Sorry if I've offended any Belgiques.

I did enjoy Agatha Christie's Monsieur Poirot, if that's any consolation.

12.8.05

Why would you read other people's blogs?

Because when you do, writing like this makes you stop for just a moment: ' ... when the light began to change and fall promised.'

And when you stop for just a moment, you wonder why you still read newspapers.

11.8.05

Croquettes? Patties? Pancakes?

That flounder I bought the other day was so large there was sufficient for two with enough flesh left over to make fish patties/croquettes or whatever you call those little fried flat balls of yumminess.

Well, they started out as patties/croquettes/burgers but ended up as pancakes.

Here's what I did:

Flake the fish into a bowl, mash the remaining two or three buttered boiled potatoes and mix them through the fish, crack an egg into it, throw in a small handful of semolina and the same amount of polenta along with a good sprinkling of sesame seeds.

Combine and form into shapes. This is where it got tricky. My mixture was just a little too moist to form balls so I ladled it onto the pan and it settled beautifully, creating delicious pancake-style patties, something similar to the texture of Japanese Okonomiyaki. Different ingredients, but similar texture. (Appropriately - 'okonomiyaki' apparently means cook what you like.)

That's how I like to cook. Throw it all in and see what happens.

Snow in Sorrento?

Unheard of.

Gippsland looks pretty in white.

No snow here but mid-afternoon, a blanket of hail turned the garden white.

I stayed indoors and made a big pot of mushroom soup, before venturing out late afternoon for an hour's walk with a rather impatient Goldie the elderly Brittany.

Easy mushroom and potato soup.

Gently warm 50g butter and 4 tablespoons olive oil in a large, heavy pot. Add 500g chopped mushrooms and three scored garlic cloves.

Saute for 10 minutes and then add four finely chopped potatoes, a cup of white wine, a sprinkling of chopped fresh oregano and two litres of chicken stock. Salt and pepper to taste.

Bring to the boil, then simmer for half an hour or so. Cool slightly and blend until smooth.

Reheat and swirl some cream or milk through. Garnish with parsley and serve with warm freshly-baked bread from the oven.

Eat by the fire and then take a mid-winter afternoon nap.

9.8.05

Lunch in Victoria Street. And a very large flounder.

Busy Victoria Street is Melbourne's Little Vietnam, with hundreds of eateries, soup houses, butchers, greengrocers, fish markets, you name it.

Driving past right on lunchtime, we were lucky enough to find a parking spot directly in front of BBQ House.

The place was filling up with customers - groups of students, mothers with children deftly wielding chopsticks, business people and one or two solitary elderly Vietnamese men in for their bowl of soup.

W. was sound asleep in his pram and we were shown to a convenient table where a large pot of Chinese tea was placed before us immediately we were seated. Gotta love that. We shared a huge bowl of steaming congee, fragrant with ginger, in which 'swam' several generous white fish fillets and a plate piled high with rice topped with barbecued prawns touched with chilli. Delicious. $14 all up. Unbelievable, I know.

*

Two shops down is an amazing 'self-serve' fish market, where you can really acquaint yourself with the produce before buying it. The fish were piled high in those big white square chiller things. I chose a flounder, very fresh and quite large.

Flounder is easy to clean and I cooked it whole - by simply dredging it in seasoned flour and frying it oil in a heavy pan that holds heat well; squeezing plenty of fresh lemon juice over the fish as it sizzled away. Flip it, another few minutes and it's done.

Served with quartered and boiled potatoes drizzled with a little melted butter and a sprinkling of salt; and some long broccoli stalks steamed and then lightly sauted in a little oil and garlic.

Great with a nice glass of semillon. Or three.

5.8.05

A Course With No Name.

Dinner never had a name when I was growing up.

'This is great, Mum,' we would say, tasting another delicious concoction; a thick soup, perhaps, containing all manner of ingredients, or a stew of some description. 'What is it?'

Forced to come up with a name, she would sometimes say 'It's Mother's Mixture. Now stop talking and eat!'. Other times, she'd say, 'It's goolygum!', which I understand was Australian bush slang for a stew of indeterminate origin, but I could be wrong because I can't find it in a dictionary, and Mum only knows that she got the expression from her mother who grew up on a farm in New South Wales.

Whatever. Mum was not fond of fancy names. We were never presented with anything a la Mode, Kiev or a la King, let alone anything entitled 'Supreme'. We never ate anything edged with piped ... whatever it was that was piped around the edges of things in the 1960s. And when it came to dessert, lemon pancakes were never crepes suzette.

Apart from all that, she often just made recipes up.

*

So this made-up recipe from the the other night is dedicated to mum:

I had some mashed potato left over, I always make too much. I also had half a large chicken breast fillet which had been stuffed with rocket, cream cheese and pesto and poached in white wine and garlic. (Usually the dog gets the leftovers but not when they're this good!) I warmed the potato through, adding some milk to help it along, then cubed the chicken into small pieces, opened and drained a small can of sweet corn and folded the chicken and the corn through the potato. Salt and pepper and there's a nice lunch.

It has no name but it is DELICIOUS.

But if you really insist, we'll call it Chicken and Sweet Corn Hash.

3.8.05

A simple fish dish.

First, a quiz: what was once the most common root vegetable until ousted by the potato in the sixteenth century?

A. Carrot.
B. Turnip.
C. Parsnip.

The answer, if you can believe what you read on the Internet, is the parsnip.

Take me back to the sixteenth century, because I love parsnips. I even made parsnip chips once, they were all crispy and delicious, slightly sweet, because parsnips have a sweetish flavour with herbal overtones.

Here's a very simple fish recipe I have made many times over the years using parsnips.

Baked fish with winter vegetables.

Slice a parsnip and a carrot into discs and place them in a lidded baking dish along with an onion sliced into segments. Barely cover with white wine and water, about 75/25, and place in a moderate oven. The aroma of the sweet vegetables and the onion baking in wine will filter through the house - it is a delicious redolence.

When the vegetables are almost done, add the fish. I use any fish for this, whatever is fresh and inexpensive at the market. Simply lay it over the top of the vegetables, add a knob of butter and a light shower of white pepper and put the dish back in the oven.

It won't take long as the oven, the dish, the vegetables and the fluid are already hot. Maybe ten or fifteen minutes depending on the thickness of the fish.

That's it. Lift the fish and vegetables out of the fluid, lay on serving plates and serve with some nice greens and maybe some mashed potato - the new root vegetable in town.

Don't forget a nice aromatic white wine to go with this. Maybe a good sauvignon blanc.

1.8.05

A Tale of Two Potatoes.

It's August 1! One month until spring! We're in the home stretch!

Which is a completely irrelevant introduction to today's post: a couple of old favourite potato dishes. Both work great as side dishes or as the main event.

Baked sweet potatoes with coriander butter and chilli.

This is easy and, perhaps surprisingly, totally delicious. Bake a large sweet potato for 35-40 minutes in a moderate to hot oven. (It will cook faster if you skewer it lengthways first.) Mash a generous couple of tablespoons of softened butter with a finely chopped medium hot red chilli and a handful of chopped coriander (cilantro), adding salt to taste. Split your baked sweet potato, top with the coriander butter, eat.

Colcannon.

(Have I done this before? I need an index on this weblog.) Boil four large spuds in salted water. Shred enough cabbage to fill a large cup, boil until just tender. Slice a leek finely and saute it with a tablespoon of butter, a dash of white wine and some cracked black pepper. Whip your boiled potatoes with a tablespoon of butter, half a cup of cream and a dash of salt. Fold the cooked cabbage through. Put it in a lidded baking dish and pour the leeks over the top. Add a knob of butter, some more cracked pepper and place in a low oven. Pour a Guinness. When you've finished the Guinness, the Colcannon is ready. Creamy, dreamy, delicious.

Roll on Spring. (I don't dislike winter at all. I just like spring better.)