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

23.2.08

Where did the week go?

No, I haven't disappeared from the face of the earth. I've just been unexpectedly busy, the computer has gone to the workshop, the book has been trying - as in difficult - and an elderly aunt died.

It's been one of those weeks where you feel like you're going at a hundred miles an hour but not getting anywhere. Like driving to Sydney in first gear.

Apart from all that, everything is wonderful. I'll be back soon.

15.2.08

Three grills. Your choice.

If we can drag our eyes away from the clouds for just a moment, let's take a look a the grill.

Because tonight we are barbecuing, and there are three standout items on the menu. You may choose any or all.

The coals are white hot and the beer is very, very cold and the white wine is less cold because if it is, you can't taste it. Never chill white wine too much. (Plus, I hate it, in restaurants, when they put freezing bottles of white wine in those '80s-style plastic wine chillers. Or even earlier-era ice buckets. I always take the bottle right out again. Why pay $20 or more for wine you can't taste?)

I digress. I'm like that in late summer, when golden clouds are morphing into strange shapes overhead before disappearing behind the roof and the second gin and tonic has kicked in and there is a delicious aroma rising from the grill ...

Oh. The grill. First item on the grill tonight is: corn.

It's a late summer staple. Corn on the cob becomes corn on the hob; and there is quite possibly a poem in that, if not an entire song. Because barbecued corn is the ne plus ultra of summer outdoor dining. Maybe even of life.

I read a recipe in which herbs were plastered all over the corn before cooking. DON'T DO THIS. The purpose of herbs in life is to improve the taste of something. NOTHING tastes better than ripe, sweet, just-picked, tender, yellow corn.

Grill your ears of corn until you can't stand not to be eating them any longer. Then remove the corn to a plate. Now you may drown it in butter. Butter doesn't change the taste, it just amplifies it; so pile it on and rachet up the taste to 100 decibels. Heaven. Salt and pepper is also kind of allowed, within reason, but it is not necessary.

Second item on the grill tonight is: chicken in basil, Indian-style.

Obtain chicken pieces with skin and bone, for example, Maryland or bone-in breasts with skin. Slash the chicken through the skin and marinate in: a blended mixture of half a cup of basil leaves (and I was just looking for another way to use more basil), five garlic cloves, an peeled inch of ginger, two tablespoons of oil, a tablespoon of lemon and a little salt. The mixture also requires half a cup of yogurt: if you process the ingredients, add the yogurt afterwards and fold it through with a spoon. Marinate for up to a day.

Barbecue, turning once. Juicy, aromatic, sensational. This was beyond expectations. I had to switch on the electric fence to keep the neighbours out. But I threw them the bones. Pace!

You might serve this grilled basil chicken Indian-style with a little saffron-infused basmati rice; or grill some fenugreek roti right at the end. Some hot lime pickle will go nicely as well. (Chicken recipe from the New York Times, courtesy of Dr. Alice.)

Last item on the grill tonight is: pork and fennel sausages.

I don't just throw sausages on the barbecue, because that wrecks them. I do it the proper way. First, make sure they are good sausages. You can only do this through trial and error. I have a shortlist of butchers who supply excellent sausages of one kind or another. These pork-and-fennel came from my favourite in-town butcher, S&R Meats in Sydney Road, just around the corner from Victoria Mall. Next to the smokes shop. Handy.

Next, poach the sausages in just a little water. (By the way, this method does not work with $4.99 supermarket sausages containing 75% oatbran or chaff or papier maché or whatever it is they put in them.) Then, when they are almost cooked through, slice lengthways and place on barbecue, flat side down, until nicely browned. I wrapped them in a sage leaf each, straight off the bush near the barbecue.

Dessert? It's still hot, so let's pile in the car and drive up to Achillion cakes in Sydney Road and have some deliciously honeyed galaktoboureko, and some Greek coffee with a shot of Ouzo on the side. I love Greek coffee.

12.2.08



No, I didn't set the kitchen on fire. It was just a cloud passing over the house, viewed from the back yard; about 8pm on a hot night after a humid day.

8.2.08

Bureaucrats to rescue 'working families'.

Early one morning, I went into a Safeway supermarket. The regular - small - punnet of strawberries was $4.98.

Then I went to the high street fruit market. The double punnet - 500g - was $2.99. The strawberries were better, smaller, fresher.

I went into Coles. The 50g pack of pine nuts was $2.99, or $59.90 a kilogram. The toasted ones, 50g, were $3.79. That's $16 a kilo just to toast them, on top of your $59.90. Dried apricots, about $45 a kilogram.

I went into the nut shop in the mall. The pine nuts were $24.99 a kilogram - toast them yourself for free - the apricots $23.99.

I went into Safeway again. A pack of flat bread was $1.79 - on special.

I went to the deli. The flat bread - A1 Bakery brand - was 99 cents. It was fresher.

I went back to Coles. The truss tomatoes were $6.99; the Granny Smith apples $5.99 and the the capsicums (green) $4.99.

Back to the fruit market, where the respective prices were $3.99, $2.99 and $2.99. And better quality.

It took me all morning.

Mr Rudd has just announced a government inquiry into supermarket prices to assist his favourite demographic, 'working families' (what, even the children work?).

I think I've just done it, Mr Rudd.

And your inquiry will probably take all year.

So why don't you just send me $250,000 and I'll send you my results.

The hell with $250,000. Send me a million and I'll throw in a powerpoint presentation complete with pictures of ripe fruit and people scratching their heads in supermarkets and pointing at apples and lots of text and big figures all in different font types and sizes, just like your bureaucrats would do.

I'll still be saving you money. After all, you promised to cut government spending, didn't you?

6.2.08

Garden notes.

The zucchinis have been plentiful, as have the cucumbers. Basil is raging, of course.

But tomatoes? No appearance, your worship. Yet. The plants are fine, they are just not fruiting. This year's were grown from seedlings obtained from the local nursery.

I'm not sure whether it's climate or pedigree. Of course it could be faulty gardening on my part.

The best tomatoes we ever had were, in order, ones that self-seeded from original stock in the garden of our previous house whose prior owner had been an expert gardener and seedsman; and secondly, ones grown from Diggers' Club seeds. We might have to renew our Digger's Club membership and obtain seeds from there once again.

(Digger's Club is a mail-order business supplying 'heirloom' seeds no longer available through usual channels. It is based at Heronswood, a property that sits high on the hill at Dromana and rambles over acres of working ornamental, vegetable and herb gardens, all set amidst massive mature trees. It is open to the public, for a fee. You can sit on a quiet lawn in the shade and feel a breeze and catch an occasional glimpse of blue Port Philip Bay. There could be nicer spots to have a picnic but I can't think of any right now. Alternatively you could just be lazy and eat at their onsite cafe. The coffee is good.)

*

Speaking of heirloom, I found some Black Russian tomatoes the other day at the market. They were excellent. I made a Greek salad with them. A Greek salad with Russian tomatoes? I suppose that makes it a Hungarian salad. Maybe even a Ukrainian salad.

*

The crepe myrtles are out now. Ours is only two years old. It is in the garden bed in front of the house; facing north - the part that gets the most heat and not much cooling breeze, where not much survives apart from pelargoniums which you could grow in a furnace.

Last summer I thought the year-old tree had not survived. Then the buds appeared. It is six feet tall now, and still very slender. Its deep crimson flowers are magnificent against the white of the house.

*

Speaking of deep crimson over white, I had meant to put in a bougainvillea down the side of the house, to grow over the fence, but hadn't gotten around to it. Now there's one creeping up and over the fence from the other side. The next door neighbour had had exactly the same idea. The plant will climb along the fence and hang in voluptuous swathes and show its magnificent flowers to the sun. Nice.

1.2.08

Prawns in white wine. And William and Thomas sing a duet for Australia Day.

We enjoyed Australia Days very much, thank you.

Yes, there were two this year. The day officially falls on January 26, of course; but the faceless bureaucrats who decide these kinds of things (and what a great career that would be - plenty of time for morning tea) realised that there would be no time to celebrate on January 26, because being a Saturday, everyone would be playing cricket, and cricket is a game that takes all day, frequently without a result.

So they declared that, while Australia Day would officially occur on Saturday, we would all have a holiday on Monday to celebrate it. So we did.

Prawns in white wine on angel-hair pasta.

I had picked up a bag of fresh cleaned raw prawns - Crystal Bay - from the fishmonger. About half a kilogram.

I chopped five cloves of garlic finely and placed this in a heavy pan along with a cup of white wine. No oil necessary. Meanwhile I had the pasta cooking.

I brought the white wine and garlic to a simmer and then added the prawns complete with their tails, cooked them until they were almost white, three or four minutes. Then I added some chopped parsley, a cloud of pepper and three tablespoons of pure cream - the real thing, not the gelatinised version - and swirled it around. I ladled the prawns onto plates over the curled pasta, turned up the heat under the pan, reduced the cream, wine and garlic sauce and tipped it into a serving jug which I placed on the table. It was nice to have extra sauce to pour over the prawns and pasta as desired, and there was sliced crusty bread to mop up the sauce.

William and Thomas tried some pasta and liked it. They even enjoyed small pieces of prawn.

Now children, time to sing the national anthem.

'Toot, toot, chugga, chugga, big red car ...'

Ah, no boys; that is not the national anthem, I'm afraid. You just think it is.

(To misphrase Nick Lowe, I knew the Wiggles when they used to rock and roll. They were called the Cockroaches then. Kids hate it when I tell them that.)