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


Stews are all very well, but what's for dessert?

All this soup and stew eating brings to mind the need for something sweet occasionally. So let's interrupt our Winter-to-Spring countdown and have some dessert. And maybe a little drink or two to go with it ...

Warm fig and apple pudding with King Island cream.

This is so easy I wonder I don't do it more often.

Pour 30g of melted butter into a well-greased 24cm fluted ring pan, then sprinkle in three tablespoons of brown sugar, toss in a good half cup of chopped dried figs and spoon in the contents of a 425g tin of pie apple.

Cream 120g of butter with half a cup of castor sugar; then add two eggs, one at a time, beating well. Now fold in a cup of well-sifted self-raising flour until well combined and spoon the mixture into the ring pan over the apple.

Bake in a preheated moderate oven 30-35 minutes, or test with a skewer. Cool in the pan five minutes, invert onto a plate, tap firmly and with any luck the whole thing will fall out unbroken.

Serve warm with pure cream. King Island is nice.

Now, what to drink? Hmm, how about a good slug of slightly warmed armagnac - one sip and you're not cold any more. "Cut heating bills and reduce your carbon footprint: drink armagnac!"

I should have worked in advertising.


Ten pots until Spring #8: Baked Veal Shanks.

Veal (or beef) shanks cut across the bone - osso buco - are often braised after initial brief sealing in a pan.

Instead, today's recipe bakes them first for forty minutes and then progressively adds the accompaniments to the cooking process. I prefer it this way; the meat seems to develop more flavour. Osso buco, while a magnificent dish, has become somewhat of a culinary cliche, like spaghetti bolognese; so it is good to try a different way of cooking it.

Place a couple of tablespoons of butter in a large deep roasting pan and place the pan in a hot oven for a couple of minutes until the butter sizzles. Lay six two-inch-thick veal shanks in the pan in a single layer and bake them, uncovered, for half a hour; then turn them over and bake for another ten minutes. They should be well browned.

Remove the pan and turn the oven down to moderate. Add to the pan a cup of white wine, four cups of chicken broth, a teaspoon each of dried oregano and thyme and a tablespoon of grated lemon peel. Now move the shanks around and give the pan a good scrape to free browned bits. Cover pan with foil and bake ninety minutes.

Now remove the pan again, take off the foil and enjoy the escaping aroma. But not for too long: around the meat, add two cups each of arborio rice and water. Bake, now uncovered again, stirring rice and fluid occasionally. Twenty-five minutes should see the rice ready. Check the fluid balance when you stir, add water if necessary. Meanwhile, mix a tablespoon each of parsley and grated lemon rind with two cloves of minced garlic to make a gremolata.

When rice is tender, remove pan from oven, place shanks on serving plates, stir a quarter cup of parmesan through rice in pan and spoon rice onto plates next to shanks. Top each shank and rice with gremolata.

The aroma should now be overpowering. Enjoy with ... your choice of accompaniments. I like creamed spinach.


Ten pots: the mini-series continues in blazing sunshine caused by me.

Well, that was always going to happen. No sooner do I commence a ten-part winter cooking series to help me deal with endless biting Antarctic winds, glowering skies, buckets of rain and circulation-stopping temperatures, than the sun races up into a glorious azure sky and magnanimously scatters seventeen lovely degrees about the landscape; a warmth not felt for months on skin of man, fur of beast or leaf of tree.

But having caused spontaneous global warming is not going to stop me. I'm going to go right on posting my ten favourite winter pot dishes. Today's recipe: it's all about the dumplings.

Pot #9: Beef with Herb Mustard Dumplings.

Whatever happened to dumplings? They are the lost tribe of modern cuisine. When I was a kid, we hardly ever ate a beef stew without dumplings: steaming creamy-yellow balls of doughy goodness infused with all the flavours of the stew and dripping in delicious gravy.

My global bring-back-the-brussels-sprout campaign met with moderate success; now I'm calling for the Return of the Dumpling.

The stew: in a large pot, brown about a kilogram of flour-dusted cubed topside steak in batches. Remove. Fry three chopped onions in the same pan until transparent. Add four medium carrots chopped into rounds, two chopped celery sticks, a bay leaf, two sprigs of fresh thyme and two cups each of beef stock and dark beer. Bring to the boil, add a tablespoon each of brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce, add the meat back to the pot and simmer for two hours. Easy.

The dumplings: Rub 30 grams of butter into a mixture of a cup of self-raising flour and 50 grams of dried breadcrumbs. Add two teaspoons of mustard seeds and a tablespoon of chopped fresh combined parsley and thyme. Now add five to six tablespoons of water, mix to a soft dough and divide into eight balls. Add to stew pot twenty minutes prior to end of cooking time. That's not hard, either.

Serve with creamy mashed potatoes, or are mashed potatoes getting boring?

Drink a nice shiraz or merlot. Red wine will never get boring.


Ten pots away from Spring: a mini-series.

Yes, it was a cold weekend. At 6.30 on Saturday morning, the ice was so thick on the windscreen of the Volvo I left it and walked to get the paper. I could have hosed it down but that would have involved getting my hands even colder. A brisk walk warmed me up and when I got back home again the sun was just a smudge of dirty orange in the East. Inside the house, the tea was hot, the porridge was warm and the papers were reporting that parts of Victoria were colder than Antartica. I could have told them that. It stayed cold all day. It was a good day for cooking.

But Spring can't be far away. By the time I post ten of my favourite soup, stew or casserole recipes (given my recent posting rate) warmer days will be just about here. Let's start off with a homely chicken stew redolent with the flavours of Greece.

Pot #10: Greek Chicken Stew.

Take a kilogram and a half or thereabouts of skinless chicken pieces, bone in. Shake them in a plastic or zip-lock bag with a quarter cup of flour, half a teaspoon each of salt and pepper and a teaspoon of dried oregano.

Brown chicken on all sides in oil in a pan; transfer to a casserole along with any remaining seasoned flour.

Add more oil to the same pan and cook one finely chopped onion, one finely chopped carrot, a chopped stick of celery and a scored clove of garlic. When the onion is soft, add half a cup of white wine, a can of tomatoes, a tablespoon of tomato puree, a dozen pitted kalamata olives and a cup of chicken broth or stock. Bring to boil, pour over chicken in casserole.

Bake an hour on medium with casserole covered. Remove cover, move chicken to top of sauce with tongs, bake another thirty minutes uncovered. Add fetta cubes immediately after removing from oven to melt. Scatter chopped parsley over chicken. Serve with mashed potatoes flecked with tiny olive pieces and drizzled with olive oil; mop up sauces with crusty bread. Red wine.


Saving the world one turnip at a time.

I was driving on the freeway towards the city. A mobile sign, electric-powered, by the side of the road read: 'Offset your car today' with the website of a company that would take your money and plant a bunch of trees somewhere.

My brother-in-law recently finished planting 10,000 mountain ash seedlings - yes, 10,000 - in an attempt to return his property in deepest South Gippsland to its pre-European settlement rainforest state. Had he waited, he could have geared his planting to a carbon offset scheme and made a fortune. I did suggest to him a few weeks ago that he maybe should attempt to sell retrospectively planted trees as a carbon offset scheme that is superior to the mere seedlings planted by other companies - 'while their trees will not produce oxygen for years, ours are ALREADY issuing valuable oxygen into the atmosphere on your behalf and offsetting your carbon emissions RIGHT NOW!' He laughed a little too hard and held his back. He has a bad back. Well, you would, wouldn't you?

Then I got to thinking about other kinds of offsets. People are obsessed with food miles right now. (Why miles? What happened to kilometres?) So let's set up a food miles offset plan. You visited a restaurant last night? For shame. Not only did you show scant disregard for the fact that restaurants get their supplies from all over, but you piled food miles on food miles by travelling to eat! Unless you walked; in which case, given the weather last night, you froze to death on the way home.

So let's try and offset some of those food miles with an innovative way to eat guilt-free, wherever you like, and not have to fret about destroying the environment.

Here's how it works: simply examine the packaging of every food item you purchase, or check the origin of fresh items on the supermarket shelf. Based on Kitchen Hand's easy food miles calculator, you simply send me money and I will plant a turnip in my backyard for every payment received. Don't want to make calculations? Kitchen Hand's easy all-you-can-eat annual subscription - let's say, $2000 - gives you all the food miles you want.

I just saved the world. Now let's eat, starting with something from very far away.

Tandoori capsicums.

Make a marinade: whisk two tablespoons of lemon juice, a tablespoon of vegetable oil, a minced garlic clove, a small knob of minced ginger and a dash of salt.

Cut the tops off four red capsicums. Place them in a baking dish and brush the marinade both inside and outside the capsicums.

The filling: heat two tablespoons of oil in a pan. Add half a teaspoon each of cumin seeds, turmeric and chilli powder. Add a chopped onion and a chopped garlic clove. Stir about five minutes. Now add a diced (small dice) potato, the same amount of sweet potato, a couple of tomatoes (or drained canned ones if out of season), two tablespoons each of sultanas and chopped roasted cashews. Stir around for a minute or so then cover and cook on low until vegetables are soft.

Now stir in a handful of chopped fresh coriander and a cup of finely cubed paneer. (Fry the paneer in ghee first for extra flavour.)

Spoon the filling into the capsicums, replace the tops and bake for half an hour, medium heat, dish uncovered.


Use the whole can of tomatoes including juice otherwise it will be too dry.


Rain falls on tiles; receipts fall on floor.

Pardon me if I seem obsessed with the weather, but the biggest, darkest cloud I ever saw just floated in from the south, settled itself above my house and then proceeded to dump its contents on the roof. (The roof is tiled. It muffles the noise of the rain. I once lived in a house that had a corrugated iron roof. You can't beat an iron roof for rain noise. When it rained heavily in that house, it sounded like elephants stampeding in a thunderstorm.)

The rain set in and stayed all afternoon. I wasn't doing anything, just cooking up a nice slow stew of lamb cooked with lemon and egg, so I listened to the rain and chopped and stirred and had a sip of the white wine used in the recipe, which is a Sardinian specialty by all accounts.

Agnello in salsa bianca.

Seal a kilogram of cubed lamb shoulder in olive oil, then cover it and let it cook on a low heat for fifteen minutes. The juices will run, so uncover it again and reduce these juices so that the meat is once again frying.

Scatter the meat with a handful of chopped parsley. Score six garlic cloves and add these to the pan. Shake the pan as it cooks for a minute, now add half a cup of white wine. Slosh it around, deglaze-style, to reduce slightly.

Now add some stock, veal or chicken. Just cover the meat. Now comes the real cooking time: about two hours on a bare simmer. The meat must remain just covered. So you have to stay around and check it and adjust it with water or more thin stock. I sat at the table and did my tax. I took a million receipts out of a box, totalled them up and tabulated the totals into neat columns under single word titles - 'stationery', 'reference' etc. - on a lined foolscap page. Then I put the receipts into an envelope on which I wrote '2006-7', crossed out the same figures on the empty box and wrote there instead: '2007-8'.

Two hours went by in a flash.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the juice of a lemon. Now slowly pour into the pan three well-whisked eggs in a slow stream, stirring all the while. The sauce should thicken and coat the meat. You're done.

Grind black pepper over the meat and serve with mash, polenta, some good quality egg noodles or a nice bland risotto. Drink the rest of the wine ... no, wait, open another bottle.


Roast chicken with basil, currant and lemon stuffing.

Haven't seen the sky for days, but the clouds are putting on a show, crowding the sky and moving around each other like over-eager yachts at a regatta. Big low ones, heavy and dark and ponderous, break away from each other to reveal faster, flightier ones higher in the sky. I don't know what the wind's doing, but while some clouds drift one way, others lean in another direction.

It's cold enough to make roast chicken sound like a good idea. It's always a good idea but sometimes more than others.

Here's what to put in the middle.

Basil stuffing for chicken.

Take a whole bunch of basil. Process it with some crusty breadcrumbs, for example, the interior of a vienna loaf or similar.

Simmer a cup of currants in a cup of balsamic vinegar until fat.

Mix the basil mixture and the currants and vinegar well. Add salt and pepper. Stuff the chicken with this mixture and half a lemon. Roast.


How big is a dead squid?

As big as you want it to be. Reuters reported the length of the large squid discovered on a Tasmanian beach today as two metres long.

Later, the ABC had its length at six metres.

That wasn't good enough for News Ltd, which subsequently described the dead cephalopod from the ocean depths as having a 'cross-section as big as a truck tyre and (being) longer than a station wagon'. Well, how long is a station wagon? Depends what model, I suppose.

Then, icWales took the motoring analogy further, declaring the beast to be as long as a bus.

If this keeps going the squid will have grown to Titanic proportions by morning. Which is kind of appropriate, because tales of giant squid have been a rich source of ancient mythology and human imagination.


George Megalogenis in last Saturday's Weekend Australian:

'Today, every Australian should have a decent restaurant within walking distance of their home.'

Nice idea, George, grammar aside. But within walking distance of every Australian's home? I know people whose front gate isn't within walking distance. I know people who have to take a packed lunch to collect the mail. I have a friend in New South Wales who drives a two-hour round trip to visit the nearest shop. I can't see Neil Perry opening a Rockpool Grill in his driveway. Although my friend would be quite pleased if he did.

Which raises the question: of the restaurants within walking distance to most people, due to the sheer numbers of their outlets - McDonalds and KFC etc (if they can be called restaurants) - why do people almost never walk to them?


Grain silo, Grong Grong, southern New South Wales.


'Waiter, there's a UFO on my plate. Waiter?'

The oddest thing about dinner was that the service was non-existent. Literally. There were no waiters.

Mid-afternoon, we had checked in to suite 12, a grand-proportioned, high-ceilinged pair of rooms heavy with gold brocade drapes, thick carpeting and massive brass bedsteads. French doors in high arched windows led to a rear timber verandah with scattered wicker furniture, outdoor potplants and a couple of those old polished aluminium smoking tables that have a bracket for your cigarettes and a tray for the ash. And plenty of room for your drink.

Later in the afternoon, the busy manager knocked on the door and dropped in a paper menu for the dining room. 'We're short on service tonight, so you might want to order early,' she said kindly. 'I'll make sure it's ready at the time you want to eat. Everything's on except the pork belly,' she added helpfully, with a smile; before rushing off again.

So we put in our dinner orders early. Fish for Tracy; filet mignon for me. Rare, thank you.

Six o'clock ticked around and found us sitting in the lobby, on the far side, in front of the hearth, on a comfortable old red-brown chesterfield with several buttons missing. It was the kind of chair you could spend winter in. Someone had moved half of the stacked lumber into the fireplace and lit it; and the heat was enough to melt several polar ice-caps, which was good, because as I pointed out earlier, it was going to be a cold night.

I had a drink in one hand and a baby in the other and so did Tracy. Life is a compromise with children, although which hand the compromise was in I couldn't decide.

I finished my drink and then I finished Tracy's and then we moved into the dining room. It was good that it was otherwise vacant, because you never know what babies are going to do. William and Thomas were scrubbed and buffed and polished and brushed and they had their best pyjamas on and they were already fed and Thomas might have fallen asleep in the pram and William might have played nicely with his model car or sat quietly in a high-chair; but then again they might both have screamed the house down.

The dining room had two massive pillars in the middle and gilt mirrors around the walls and more acres of carpet on the floor and all the tables were done up to the nines with starched linen and crystal and full six-piece cutlery place settings. It's been so long since I've seen six-piece cutlery place settings I've forgotten what pieces four through six are for.

Total silence in such a grand place is weird yet kind of fun; as if you are waiting expectantly for someone to clang a knife or drop a glass. But nobody did. All we could hear were distant but familiar kitchen noises: the hiss of food hitting hotplate, the chop-chop-chop of sharp knives and the muffled banter of kitchen staff. Soon, dinner came out, presented shyly by a kid who was obviously an apprentice chef. Tracy's wild barramundi was fresh and better than we've eaten a lot closer to where they swim, so someone is doing something right. My filet was perfectly rare, not just slightly pink in the middle as is so often the case when 'rare' is requested. On the side were slender boiled carrots and beans, cooked properly, not merely blanched so that you have to crunch them up like rabbits. I like my vegetables cooked, thank you. There was another accompaniment on each plate, a kind of 1950s flying saucer of which the rims were thick, circular chips of sweet potato and the middle bulge a kind of mushroom and blue cheese mixture. This place knew exactly what I like. Rare steak, cooked vegetables, blue cheese and UFOs. And all without a waiter.

We sat some more on the chesterfield afterwards and finished our wine, a magnificent Rutherglen red that you could have stood a spoon up in. The flames in the fireplace had died down to a mere bonfire and we watched them crackle and spurt for a while and then we retired for the night. The brass bedstead was about four feet off the ground and had about fifty blankets on it and it was like sleeping over at grandma's.


By the way, here's what the Leeton Hydro Hotel looked like in 1936. Notice, no Volvo wagons parked out front.


The oddest thing about the Hydro Motor Inn was that, at first glance, it was entirely deserted. Steps of old marble rose up to two huge timber swing doors. Beyond, another set of doors opened onto a lobby about the size of Telstra Dome but a lot older and a lot darker.

To the left of the lobby, near the doors, was a glassed office with no-one in attendance. A sign said 'Ring bell if not attended'. I rang the bell and had a look around. In the semi-darkness, ancient leather chesterfields and easy chairs sat on acres of axminster. To each side of the room, massive arched doorways led off to east and west wings of the building and above, an enormous dimmed chandelier hung in the space created by an open mezzanine edged with timber balustrades. On the far side of the room, I could make out a fire place big enough to stand up in and a hearth to match. Someone had chopped up several trees into handy sized logs and stacked them neatly to one side. It was going to be a cold night.

Just as I was wondering how many carbon credits you would need to buy in order to switch on the chandelier for five minutes, it lit up; and at the same time, a pleasant-looking woman in her mid-thirties appeared in the lobby.

'Sorry,' she said. 'I was down the other end.'


Sunset, Temora, New South Wales.