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


What's white and delicious*?

Matt Moran in today's Australian Financial Review Life & Style section (subscription required) writes about the joys of tripe. Yes, joys. Yes, tripe.

I grew up with the stuff, done in the traditional English way, with white sauce and parsley. And yes, I liked it. Along with tongue pressed in a bowl, sliced thickly and made into sandwiches with old-fashioned double-black-topped unsliced bread; lamb's fry and bacon; crumbed lamb's brains (especially delicious deep-fried) and roasted lamb flap from which you could peel strips of delicious melting-quality pink meat.

Don't grimace, Generation X. Or Y. Or iPod. Or Facebook. Or whatever you're calling yourselves this week. After all, it is your generation that keeps coming up with buzzwords like nose-to-tail eating. But I still don't see too many packages of sweetbreads or calves' heart or lamb kidneys being casually tossed into inner-urban supermarket trolleys along with the Nudie juice or the Simon Johnson imported tomato sauce. In fact, based on meat cut sales, today's consumer thinks a cow is made of porterhouse steak held up by a bunch of frenched shanks. And it doesn't have a head.

Later, I discovered tripe Italian-style at places like Universita Restaurant or found it sliced and tucked away in bamboo baskets at yum cha places in Little Bourke Street.

Perhaps Asians do tripe best, slicing it finely and insinuating it into dishes in which you least expect it. Here's an extract from a post I wrote a couple of years ago about a noodle house in High Street:

Last, to contrast the heat of the soup and the simplicity of the broccoli, there was a cold salad of very finely shredded meat infused with delicate but complex eastern flavours and just a flush of chilli. This dish was listed under the appetiser heading but the serving was almost as large as some main courses I've eaten. ... you wouldn't know it was tripe. It was just a delicious melange of tasty strands and flavours. (I've eaten tripe in Vietnamese pho in which it was difficult to distinguish between the fine strands of the white meat and the actual noodles. So I say to tripe avoiders: Eat your Tripe. You may not even notice it and then you might become a Tripe Convert.)

Indeed. Perhaps we'll see Financial Review readers trooping off to their butchers on Saturday morning for a batch of cow's stomach lining.

(*Matt Moran suggests ensuring you obtain opaque tripe rather than the white pre-cooked version for better texture and taste. Ask your butcher.)


Melbourne Cup menus go triple-A in truffle-driven oneupmanship contest.

Last week The Age previewed Cup food fashions, pointing out that having your finger food done by a proper chef can enhance the experience of placing what's left of your money on horses instead of in banks:
At its best, this synthesis between chef and caterer leads to a dish such as Jake Nicholson's pastry cornets with parmesan custard and Tasmanian black truffle, created this year for The Big Group at Lexus and such a perfect - and unexpectedly light - example of modern finger food it might best be described as digitally enhanced.

If you can decipher any meaning out of that paragraph at all, it may be that if you whack some truffle into a pastry cylinder, you're a chef and not a caterer. I'm not sure who would be more offended by that, chefs or caterers.

No matter. But if you're at the Cup and you notice a bead of sweat on your Lexus salesman's brow while he's scoffing his truffle custard cornet, it might not be race five he's got on his mind but the downturn in the luxury car market:
... the market has hit the wall as high interest rates, fuel prices and growing economic uncertainty take their toll. ... Lexus has drive-away pricing for its IS250, which represents a saving of almost $5000. The Japanese maker is also doing a run-out deal of $10,000 off its RX350 off-roader, despite the fact the new RX350 isn't due until early next year.

So if you're in the Lexus tent at the Cup, do your host a favour and buy a car. On the other hand, if they're doing run-out deals on yet-to-be-released cars this year, maybe by next Cup Day they'll be throwing the keys at you and begging you to drive it away free.

(First link via reader Mary.)


A long day's journey into night.

Once, a long time ago, I had another blog on which I wrote about running and walking dogs. Then I didn't run so much and we didn't have dogs any more, so the blog stopped as well.

But sometimes I still run, or at least walk very fast. I ran on Saturday afternoon. It was an unpleasantly hot day with a biting, blustery northwesterly wind. It was the kind of weather that dries you out like a Mildura raisin on a drying rack if you happen to be out in it for a longer time than you intend.

I ran a few kilometres and the wind scorched my throat. Maybe I didn't drink enough. Later in the afternoon I was out in the heat some more, walked the few kilometres to and from Sydney Road. Why drive?


It stayed hot all night. I went to bed. I dreamed I was thirsty. These dreams are supposed to be about crawling through the desert on your hands and knees looking for an oasis, but I was in a Coles supermarket and the water and soft drink shelves were closed off and someone was pushing me out the door telling me nobody could buy any water any more because of the water restrictions.

Then I woke. I don't know what time it was. I was desperately thirsty, but now I was also swimming in a black pool of nausea. I had no idea whether it was something I ate or the 'bug' that people say is always 'going around'. It didn't really matter. I had stumbled to the kitchen earlier and tried to sip some water but now it made the nausea worse. I struggled to keep the fluid and fought a battle but lost. Thirst fought nausea. I struggled again. No deal. I drifted into a kind of stalemate half-sleep not being able to decide whether to die of thirst or pain. I hate being indecisive. So I decided it wouldn't matter either way and tried to sleep. But the nausea wouldn't let me, and after a long while a horse kicked me in the stomach, and I exploded. The horse's name was Thoracic Diaphragm, which would be a good name for a horse in the Melbourne Cup, and as I lay on the tile floor I made a mental note to check the form guide for next Tuesday's race.

Nothing happened for a few minutes, and then while I was still on the tiles, a kind of half-noticed silent tranquility became slowly apparent, like a sickly dawn after a night storm at sea.


Tracy had heard a noise and woke up and found me and helped me out by fixing me up some Staminade. I could have done it myself, but I was still lying on the floor at the time and Tracy didn't seem to be particularly busy at that time of the morning. Staminade is a vile green colour and contains salt and sugar but it tasted to me like chilled Perrier-Jouet. Maybe it was the green colour - exactly the same as the P-J bottle. The things you notice at three in the morning. I drank and drank.


I planted it two years ago on a north-facing timber paling fence in the back garden. It failed to grow in its first season. I cut it back, almost to the ground, at the end of that summer.

It survived, producing one single bloom last summer.

Something happened over winter and spring. My Climbing Gold Bunny took off like a rocket. It marched imperiously over the palings and now its hundreds of yellow blooms are a silent explosion of pale gold in the sun. The vines are approaching the old shed like hungry triffids with an appetite for timber and cement sheeting.


Extra virgin not so immaculate.

It has been one of the world's biggest health fads for years - if a fad can last that long - and now it is one of the world's biggest scams.

The words 'organic' and 'extra virgin' may mean absolutely nothing on your bottle of olive oil. Even the word 'olive' is suspect.

News Ltd's dozy Weekly Times carried this story last week (it is not news worldwide), following the ABC's 7:30 Report's investigation a week earlier:

HEATHER EWART: Are consumers being conned?


DR ROD MAILER, AUSTRALIAN OILS RESEARCH LAB: There are products on supermarket shelves we know of that shouldn't be there.

Well, straight over to the consumer watchdog then:

GRAEME SAMUEL, CHAIRMAN, ACCC: The law is very clear, thou shall not mislead or deceive, we will be honest.

Thanks, Graeme. Sit down.

HEATHER EWART: The local olive oil industry has long suspected foul play by some international olive oil manufacturers. Frustrated by the lack of stringent guidelines and regulations ... the Australian Olive Association organised for a NSW Government oils research laboratory to conduct tests on a variety of imported oils with astonishing results.

PAUL MILLER: Well it surprised me. We have not found one imported olive oil on supermarket shelves yet that meets the standards that we propose to adopt.

Not one??!!??

PAUL MILLER: It's generally just a lot of refined oil that is actually being sold as extra virgin olive oil and at the lower end of the marketplace we're finding olive oils that aren't olive oil.

ROD MAILER: ... at least five of the oils failed the test for extra virgin oil. Three of them contained refined olive oil, or refined oils of some sort, and one of them contained canola oil.

Great. You hand over premium dollars for olive oil you believe to be extra virgin - and maybe even organic - and you get canola, possibly even genetically-modified.

HEATHER EWART: ... The Australian Oils Research Laboratory found that 'Carbonell Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil' from Spain, had been refined and therefore was not truly extra virgin.'

Maybe the bottle was organic. Or the label. It gets worse. Some 'olive' oils contain the vegetable equivalent of re-used sump oil:

ROD MAILER: There's one oil that we've found that's been very bad. It contained both Canola oil, refined oil and what we call pumace oil. Pumace oil is the waste product which is solvent extracted from the olives after the oil's been extracted. So this is pretty bad quality product. And we've reported this to the authorities.

Solvent-dressed salad, anyone? Oh, yes - the authorities:

GRAEME SAMUEL: It is appropriate for us to investigate these issues. But it may well be that circumstances, lack of standards or the like, might make it difficult.

Difficult, Graeme? Or too hard?

ROB MCGAVIN, EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN, MODERN OLIVES: If an Australian company was not mislabelling product that would take them to the cleaners straight away, and rightly so. But for some reason with imported products, the ACCC: it's too hard, they're in another country, they don't speak the language, they tell a different story, and they do nothing about it.

Let the bureaucrats fight it out. Slowly. But in the meantime, take my advice of July 25 this year:

Speaking of olives, after a long downturn in packaged goods advertising, you might have noticed olive oil importers advertising heavily on radio and elsewhere. Why? Because they have to. In the past, shoppers placed imported olive oil into their trolleys because they had no choice. Now, the Australian olive oil industry is up to full speed and the importers are wooing us with cute advertising. Reject it outright and buy Australian olive oil. You'd be 'Lupi' not to.


Postscript: ABC transcripts are typed out by monkeys on speed using voice recognition software in a warehouse in Ultimo. I have tried to make the quotes readable by fixing some of the errors. Some remain however.


Whole baked fish.

It's hard to eat indoors when it's still light outside at 7.30 in the evening. Had the evening been a few degrees warmer, the following dish would have gone onto the barbecue for our first outdoor meal of the season. But it was cool, so I baked it in the oven and we ate inside.

My local fish supplier used to be Lido Seafoods but has changed hands and is now known simply as Sydney Road Fresh Fish. It stocks a far wider range of quality fish than most fish shops and prices are no more than at the over-hyped, overcrowded Victoria Market.

I chose a whole rainbow trout - already cleaned and oven-ready - from a tempting array of choices which included baby sardines that need only a dusting with flour and fast frying in oil. Next time.

Rainbow trout roasted with leeks, red onion and lemon.

1. Chop a leek radially into thin rings. Rinse grit if necessary. Chop a large red onion into rings. Sweat the leek and onion in oil in a covered pan until they just start to soften.

2. In a bowl, combine three tablespoonsful of olive oil with the juice of two lemons, a handful of chopped parsley and half that amount of chopped dill. Season.

3. Place the trout into a baking dish and stuff it with the warm leek and onion mixture. Some will spill out. Pour the herbed oil and lemon mixture over the trout. Cover the dish with foil. Bake twenty minutes depending on size of fish. This fish cooks quickly, retains its moisture and is delicious.

4. Serve with seasonal asparagus drizzled with lemon butter: remove asparagus from pan when just cooked, drain away most of the cooking water, add the juice of two lemons and a pat of butter, reduce, pour over asparagus and add cracked black pepper.

There was enough fish and leek/onion mixture left over to make a fish pie, combined with mashed potato and topped with cheese sauce.


We're using lemons in everything at the moment. We came home with bags of them from Gippsland, where my mother-in-law has an ancient tree loaded with the yellow citrus bombs. It's a shame to see them rotting on the ground. Might need to make lemonade, Lebanese-style, a drink I enjoyed on ice for years at the sadly-departed Lebanese House in Russell Street.


It was all my fault.

It was the year 2000. The Millennium Bug had failed to bring the world crashing down. The bust came and went and everything was still fine, give or take a few billion dollars. House prices were like bread dough. They doubled in size every time you looked. Majority thinking was that financial disasters were just a media construct. Or a movie. Or a history book.

Around that time, a relative of mine had a friend with a five-digit credit card debt. Interest payments meant the debt wasn't budging. I advised the relative that as a worst-case scenario, the friend's credit card debt could be folded into their mortgage at the then-rate of 4.99%, providing temporary breathing space and allowing the borrower to catch up before accelerating payments back into the mortgage to re-establish the previous equity ratio.

The relative advised the friend along those lines. Kind of.

The friend went to the bank and came back with no credit card debt, a smiling face, and a brand new car.

I hit the roof.

* * *


Last night, I had a dream. This was it:


PROSECUTOR: Is it true, Mr Kitchen Hand, that you advised Mr Joe Kmart of Endeavour Hills to refinance his home to pay off an exorbitant credit card bill - which was exorbitant again two months later - and buy a new Commodore V6 Equipe?

KITCHEN HAND: Some of it is. And some of it isn't. Do you want to know which bits are which?

PROSECUTOR: Not particularly, Mr Hand. I'm trying to establish a broad-brush general picture of blame here, not get bogged down in nitty-gritty.

KITCHEN HAND: I thought so. (UNDER HIS BREATH) Grandstander.

PROSECUTOR: Pardon me?

KITCHEN HAND: I was just commenting on the standard of debate about this crisis, in which nobody knows anything about anything, but everyone knows exactly who is to blame. It's kind of weird.

PROSECUTOR: Hmmph. Would Mr Kmart rise to the witness stand.

COURT POLICEMAN: He's out reparking his Commodore, sir. Two-hour meter. He can't afford another ticket.

PROSECUTOR: I'm not surprised. No-one can. Then can we have the banker.


PROSECUTOR: Did you lend Mr Kmart an amount of money that eventually caused his house to be of less value than that of his debts?

BANKER: You're asking me a question about what happened eight years ago with the word 'eventually' in the same sentence? What am I? A seer? An oracle? The Governor of the Reserve Bank?

PROSECUTOR: I'll ask the questions here. Did you bother to find out if this man could afford his repayments before advancing him additional funds, especially given that he was already in trouble with his credit card spending?

BANKER (LOOKS DOWN): All financial institutions have in place effective protocols to ensure adequate protection from unforeseen defaulting on the part of the borrower.

PROSECUTOR: That just sounds like jargon to me.

BANKER (LOOKS UP): It is. I was reading it out from this book.


PROSECUTOR: Oh, I see. A professional. So you had no qualms about advancing a vast amount of cash to a struggling soon-to-be-divorced man with a house in a vulnerable outer suburb, an out-of-control credit card habit and a hankering after fast-depreciating cars?

BANKER: Are you telling me or asking me? You can’t see questions marks in the air, you know. You need to indicate one by adding an upward inflection on the last syllable, otherwise you’re just making a cheap lawyer’s accusation hidden within the sophistry of sleight-of-hand language.

JUDGE (WAKES UP AND TURNS TO THE DOCK): That's very close to contempt of court. Carry on, Mr Prosecutor.


BANKER: Fine. It was a question. Thanks for clearing that up. Now I’ll answer it.

Firstly, as I said earlier, I’m no seer. Nor am I a morals crusader, a nanny, a pastor, a household budgetary advisor, a schoolteacher of mathematics, an economics lecturer, a logician or a homespun philosopher. I’m a banker, even if the title is misleading today. Banks used to bank money, now they just it shovel it out the front door to passersby, who sometimes give it back, with interest. Sometimes. Maybe a bit less so lately.

But I haven’t the time, the inclination, the necessity nor even the legal capability of assessing a borrower’s home life, spending habits, financial intentions or any one of a number of other indicators of fiscal health beyond the current very limited criteria, all of which are government regulator-mandated, might I add.


Qualms? You know what? If you want that kind of banker you’re forty years too late. Once upon a time I could upbraid a borrower for daring to walk into my office without cowering in fear. Or for not wearing the suit he wore to church on Sunday. And if I felt mean that day, I could leave him languishing in an outer-room waiting chair for two hours with no magazine racks full of Property Investor or BRW Rich 500 or water fountain or Cafe Bar machine to keep him amused and he’d be all the more grateful when I finally decided to let him in.

In those days, for every loan I approved after long and serious contemplation, I’d knock back five after no contemplation at all. Plus, just try getting your wife to apply for a loan forty years ago and see how far she got.


OK, you’re shocked. Nowadays everyone think everyone should be able to get everything they want, including debt, and as much of it as you want. Sure. But you can’t have it both ways. The upside was, forty years ago you needed a thing called a substantial deposit, which demonstrated not just a propensity for saving but also provided a better borrowing-to-assets ratio. A cushion. Now it's 100% in the loan. Even more if you want to renovate or tour the world for six months or buy two cars or four boats or six franchises. As well as a deposit, you also needed another thing, called a job. These days it's different. I’m the one who has to dress up for a loan interview. The customer keeps me waiting. And the government tells me I have to loan funds to everyone without fear or favour or the Equal Opportunity Board gets a knock on the door.

Fine. I’ll lend to anyone. But don’t come after me when the whole house of cards finally collapses.

PROSECUTOR: Are you quite finished?

BANKER: I don’t know. You tell me. You seem to have all the answers this morning.

COURT POLICEMAN: Ah sir, Mr Kmart is back in the court.

JUDGE: Excellent. Have him stand.

PROSECUTOR: Mr Kmart. May I call you Joe?


PROSECUTOR (COUGHS, ASIDE TO JUDGE): They all have attitude these days. (TO JOE KMART) Do you take any personal responsibility for borrowing out of your depth?

MR KMART: No. Why should I? The real estate agent told me house prices were rising so fast, mine would be worth at least $30,000 more by the time I took delivery of the car. That made the car free. Then, my credit card debt went from 19.5% to 4.99%, so I could spend a further twenty grand on it and call it an average of what, 12.25%? That's 7.25% less interest on every dollar spent on the credit card after the refinance.


See? I was way ahead already.

JUDGE (HALF TO HIMSELF): Yes. We really are in trouble.


Had enough of this?


Goodness. Is that the time? Court adjourned for lunch.



Five to go on with.

We conclude National Vegetarian Week with five fast (except for the last one) knockout recipes from the Kitchen Hand Official Test Kitchens.

Spiced broad beans with pine nuts.
Saute fresh broad beans with chopped onion, pine nuts, crushed garlic, cumin and coriander seeds, chopped basil and a squeeze of lemon. Serve on basmati rice.

Linguine with avocado and pesto.
Cook some linguine, slice an avocado, toss it all together with pesto and optionally top with shaved parmesan. Delicious.

Asparagus with blue vein cheese.
Quickly boil asparagus and drain, place on plate, sprinkle with crumbled blue vein cheese, capers, cracked pepper and a dash of vinaigrette. Eat with sourdough toast.

Green beans in coriander sauce.
Blanch a few dozen green beans and drain. Grind a teaspoonful of coriander seeds and half that amount of cumin seeds, add these to a quarter cup of vegetable stock, simmer five minutes to reduce then add a tablespoon of olive oil and a little salt and pour over green beans. Shower over plenty of chopped chives. Serve in the crater of a mashed potato volcano. Top with tabasco, chili sauce or chopped fresh chili.

Lasagne with pumpkin ricotta mash.
Mash roasted pumpkin with ricotta and place a layer of this mixture in a baking dish. Add a layer of cooked lasagne sheets, then one of diced tomatoes combined with leek sauteed with a little garlic. Repeat the first step until the pumpkin mash, lasagne sheets or diced tomato leek mixture have run out, or you have almost reached the top of the baking dish; whichever occurs first. Now add a final layer of tomato mixed with steamed silverbeet or spinach, and top with optional cheese sauce. Bake until aroma overcomes you. Drink with a bold red wine, maybe a 14%-er from Lauriston's Virgin Hills.


Blogger is unable to complete my request.

(Or so it says. Then it shows a code which goes like this: bX-w90v67. It happens all the time now; but I just ignore it, click on 'home' and up comes the dashboard. I hope it works for other bloggers. Or maybe I should just graduate to another weblog provider. But no fancy design. I like the anonymity of the Blogger template.)


Day Six of National Vegetarian Week sees us preparing this classic Sicilian dish which is often used as an accompaniment to grilled fish but is also excellent main fare.

Cut two medium eggplants into one-inch (only 36 years after metric measured were introduced!) cubes, place them in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Rinse after twenty minutes and pat dry.

In the meantime, slice two zucchinis into half-inch rounds; thinly slice two red deseeded capsicums and an onion.

Puree two large ripe cored and diced tomatoes with a half-cup of red wine vinegar and two teaspoons of sugar. (At this time of year, just use canned diced tomatoes).

Place eggplant in the base of a roasting pan, add the chopped vegetables and a bay leaf and pour over the tomato puree. Throw in a shower of pine nuts - toasted if you wish - and drizzle two tablespoonsful of good olive oil over the pan before covering it with foil. Bake it for 30 minutes covered in a hot oven; then remove foil and bake uncovered a further 30 minutes.

Optionally, add fetta-stuffed green olives. OK, fetta isn't Sicilian. Big deal.

Accompany with pasta dura bread, the kind they used to sell in the smaller inner-suburban supermarkets, dusted in flour and with a sheet fine opaque paper wrapped around the middle. (Do these still exist? The supermarkets as well as the bread, I suppose.)

And red wine was invented for this kind of eating.


This Sicilian version of rataouille is for my friend Tim who some time ago asked for such a recipe.


Day Five: spelt pasta with leek sauce.

Trim and cut two leeks (allium ampeloprasum var.porrum family liliaceae) into chunks.

Check for grit, rinse if necessary, boil five minutes and drain.

Combine the leeks with the zest of a lemon, a tablespoon of chopped parsley, two tablespoonsful of olive oil, a dash of sea salt and a dozen peppercorns.

Cook spelt pasta - spirals - until done. Drain, combine with sauce in pan, add a tablespoonful of grated parmesan and stir over very low heat. Serve.

This is one of those dishes that sounds kind of OK, looks not much better but tastes like a revelation.


(What happened to Day Four of National Vegetarian Week? It was Tracy's birthday, her mother was in town and we went out for dinner to a children-friendly place where I ate grilled trevally on mash with fresh vegetables, Tracy ordered the grilled whiting, her mother chose an excellent veal scallopini vino bianco that she reported was meltingly tender and the boys played with their spaghetti. Happy birthday.)


Another omnivore crowd-pleaser.

And so we near the end of Day Three of National Vegetarian Week, which will conclude on Saturday with a huge barbecue celebration featuring a goat on a spit.

Just kidding. Today's recipe - another old favourite with which with long-term readers will be familiar is probably my favourite Indian dish of all time, apart from butter chicken, beef vindaloo, lamb korma ...

Spinach Paneer
One large bunch of spinach, washed and chopped.
One tablespoonful of fenugreek leaves.
200g pack of paneer.
One teaspoon turmeric.
One and a half cups just-boiled water.
One half teaspoon black cumin seeds.
One tablespoon ground coriander.
One teaspoon chilli powder.
One teaspoon finely grated ginger.
One teaspoon salt.
One half teaspoon sugar.
One cup yogurt.

Paneer is made without rennet, and so is suitable for vegetarians.

Put the spinach with the water that clings to it into a pan over a low heat, together with a dash of oil and the fenugreek leaves.

While the spinach is sweating, chop the paneer into cubes and fry it in the ghee. Stir the turmeric into the just-boiled water and once the paneer cubes start to brown, lift them and place them carefully into the hot turmeric water for five minutes before draining. (Retain the water.)

Place cumin seeds, coriander powder, chilli powder and finely grated ginger into pan in which you have fried the cheese - no need to rinse - and stir around, giving the pan a good shake.

When the spices are hot but not burnt, add the fenugreek-infused spinach along with salt, sugar and half the turmeric water. Another stir, simmer for a few minutes and then add the yogurt and finally the drained cheese.

Simmer for another five minutes or so.

Eat with red rice and fenugreek roti.

Yet another vegetarian dish that will please omnivores.