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

31.5.13

Winter's best soup: first make the stock.

Yes, I'm just trying to make things difficult. Make stock? Are you joking? I haven't got time to peel a potato, and you want me to make stock. Ridiculous. People are busy these days, in case you haven't noticed. Just look at any television screen. Half filled with people tweeting at broadcasts. You can't chop a carrot while you're tweeting and staring at a television screen. Ridiculous.

Yes, ridiculous. But not the stock-making. It's easy. You just dump a bunch of aromatic vegetables in a pot and boil the hell out of them. I made this during the week and it made the best soup I've ever eaten.

Tortellini soup.

Vegetable stock
In a large pot, sweat one large chopped carrot, one large chopped onion and one stick of chopped celery in a tablespoon of olive oil. Stir for a few minutes. Add one chopped leek, one whole onion studded with two cloves, some parsley sprigs, and a peeled and scored garlic clove, a bay leaf, a little dried rosemary, a spray of cracked pepper and half a teaspoon of salt. Saute for a few minutes, stirring.

Add a litre and a half of water. Bring to boil then simmer half an hour.

Then strain the stock. Purists call for cheescloth or muslin or a bride's veil or whatever; I just use a strainer. Be careful to reverse the usual instinct and not pour the stock down the drain, keeping the sated vegetables. I've done that more than once.

Now return the stock to the pot. Reduce further if you wish.

To the stock, add half a kilogram of ricotta tortellini, a cupful of finely shredded silverbeet, a cup of peas and a tablespoon of pesto (blitz basil, walnuts, parmesan, garlic and olive oil to achieve a grainy bright green texture with the flow of honey in winter).

Ready when tortellini and peas are done. Serve with more pesto and a few shards of parmesan cheese. Drink: McLaren Vale Shiraz.

17.5.13

Spicy chicken and an old play.

Okay, let's try it out. If you're going to die of arsenic poisoning, it might as well be after a nice dinner.

Take several pieces of bone-in chicken, and make cuts in the skin with a very sharp knife.

Make a marinade: blend half a cup of chopped basil leaves, five garlic cloves, an inch of peeled ginger, two tablespoons of peanut oil, a tablespoon of lemon juice and a little salt. After blending, fold through half a cup of plain full-fat yogurt.

Place the chicken pieces in the marinade ensuring it fills the cut sections. Refrigerate for up to a day.

Bake, or barbecue, turning once. The result is sensational. Serve on saffron-infused basmati rice with hot lime pickle to garnish and fenugreek roti on the side.

Drink: cold beer. Or elderberry wine if you're a murderous spinster with lodgers in the house.

*
MORTIMER: Aunt Martha, men just don't go into window seats and die.

ABBY: No, Mortimer, he died first.

MORTIMER: But how?

ABBY: Oh, Mortimer, don't be so inquisitive. The gentleman died because he drank some wine with poison in it.

MARTHA: Elderberry wine.

MORTIMER: How did the poison get in the wine?

MARTHA: Oh, we put it in the wine because it's less noticeable. When it's in tea it has a distinct odor.

16.5.13

Hold the rice crackers.

You might be safer eating the wrapper. Or is this just one of those beaten-up food scares the press loves so much?

Arsenic in chicken is also afoot, so expect a raft of plays in which elderly spinsters dish up braised chicken on rice to their lodgers instead of pouring laced elderberry wine ...

15.5.13

The hoarder.

The thing about the toaster is that it was the fourth electric cooking machine in five months to go through this household.

I already had the regular pop-up toaster, and a Ronson toaster oven for toasted sandwiches (which despite never having been featured in this weblog, have been a popular and ongoing delicacy in this household - possibly the pinnacle of the culinary art).

Then I came into possession of two more toaster ovens. This happened when I was trying to stop my mother becoming one of those elderly hoarders whose houses often go up in flames. Newspapers up to the ceiling, books filling every room of the house, makeshift wardrobes made from sheets strung over room corners hiding ceiling-high piles of cast-off clothes; that kind of thing. When I was growing up, my mother’s hallway used to be light and airy and a circular window of frosted glass in the front door used to let in the morning sun, now it is dark and gloomy because the circle window is shrouded and, at the far end of the hallway, enough paintings are stacked against its north wall to furnish ten Herald Outdoor Art Shows (if they were still held). You have to squeeze past the paintings. I thought of bequeathing them to the NGV to follow up the Monet exhibition but Mum would have nothing of it.

Running along the near end of the hallway is the kind of bookshelf favoured by students in the 1970s – planks of wood held up by decorative silhouette bricks made of concrete. One of my siblings set it up decades ago. You can’t have too many books seems to be this family’s motto. Several sheets of lurid but dusty batik material hide the lower shelves and on the top are scores of fading photographs framed in an assortment of acrylic, glass and metal frames from the bad-taste 1980s. Someone thought it was a good idea to stick a snapshot of an out-of-focus grandchild in a bright aqua oval aluminium frame with a three-dimensional dolphin leaping out from the bottom across the words 'Magic Happens' picked out in multi-coloured lettering. Many of the frames have lost their glass, and the corners of their off-centre pictures curl out of their asymmetric frames and catch the dust.

I drew back some of the batik and coughed. Books such as Fodor’s 1975 guide to Estonia, Relief Without Drugs by Ainslie Meares, The Silmarrillion, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and Correct Your Eyesight Without Glasses sat next to entire collections of L. M. Montgomery, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Shakespeare in those cheap Signet paperback editions favoured by schools. Black and white illustrations on the cover with spots of colour. King Lear with a green nose. Julius Caesar with an ominous red stain seeping through the front of his otherwise pure white robe.

Under the lowest plank, on the floor, was an assortment of unlikely goods. More old photo frames. Cans of food. Plastic jars. Glass bottles. All empty. Two toaster ovens. Why would you have two toaster ovens hidden under bookshelves behind a dusty batik curtain?

She told me. One had been a gift decades ago (from a friend: no-one in this family would ever give our mother a toaster oven for a gift); the other had been given to her by an ex-son-in-law who wanted a special kind of toasted sandwich cooked for a grandchild while in her care in the 1990s, which only that kind of toaster oven – or even that particular toaster oven - could produce. No, I didn’t quite understand either. Just let it go through to the keeper. The former was brought out and put on show when the friend visited, to prove she hadn’t abandoned it. Of course, she had never used it. It was a brand new 1980s toaster oven, covered by dust instead of warranty.

I didn't touch the books but I cleaned out the entire bookshelf understory. Jars recycled, cans to the pantry, electrical items to the op-shop. Or not. Some second hand shops don’t take electrical items in case they electrocute their customers.

So the two toaster ovens ended up in my house, and I already had one. So I decided to test them and keep the best. Given that hardly anyone uses toaster ovens to bake, the larger ones are mostly a waste because they take longer to heat up when you only want to toast a sandwich. That was the case with the first one - my mother’s friend’s gift. It took twenty minutes to warm up and ten to toast the sandwich. I dismantled it, recycled the metal and threw the wires and glass in the rubbish, to rest in landfill for the next few thousand years. Weeks later I tested my mother’s second oven. Faster, but the grill temperature selector didn’t work. More landfill. My toaster oven, a Ronson Grillmaster Deluxe, was the winner.

One day, I got it out and put together a sandwich of chicken, cheese, avocado and tomato. I switched it on, toasted one side, opened the door, flipped the sandwich, and shut the door. The light stayed off. Opening the door shuts off the power and that last opening was its last gasp. It was dead. It might have been mortified by being made to pitch in competition with two interlopers after years of trusty service, like an incumbent advertising agency being asked to re-present its credentials.

Then the pop-up toaster went, almost in sympathy with its mechanical cousin, leaving the household toastless.

*

Toasted chicken and mayonnaise sandwich

Place two slices of white bread on a bread board, butter each and add a slice of cheddar cheese to one. Shred some leftover roast chicken and cover the slice of cheese to the height of one inch. Add mayonnaise to the chicken. Spread some avocado on the other slice of bread. Top it with thin slices of very ripe tomato. Add salt and cracked peppercorns. Press the slices together ensuring no contents are lost. Easier said than done, but practice helps. Toast in a sandwich press until sizzling is heard. Remove and spread butter on top of sandwich. Slice diagonally with a very sharp knife.

13.5.13

Evolution of the eight-year-old.

1969:
" ... (I don't advise hard physical training until your late teens because) every young boy in his normal playing activity goes and goes until he drops, and the added physical build-up is not needed. ... I know that I used to swing so long after school that I always used to get into trouble for being late home for my evening meal, and in the football season I went down to the local park and kicked a football around until after dark."
- Neil Roberts, in Football the Australian Way, edited by John Craven, Lansdowne Press, 1969

2013:
Children as young as eight years are suffering from severe back pain and headaches caused due to over-indulgence in iPads and smart phones. The iGeneration kids now are not only suffering from neck and back pains but also from tendinopathy in wrists and thumbs. The worst affected are children between the age group of 12-16 who are experiencing back injuries typically seen in people over 30, Balwyn Sports & Physiotherapy Centre director Andrew Wynd said. ... According to News (News Ltd), Wynd said the reason is the incorrect posture of children who sit for long hours curled up on a couch or in bed with a laptop or other device that leads to problems in neck and middle-back.
- News item, 26 April 2013

6.5.13

Coldest day since last October.

That was yesterday. Today's reading was stew recipes and the sports results.

Onions are cheap at the moment. Beef and onion stew over mashed potato sounds good. We still have wild pumpkins to spare (wild meaning they grew from seeds cast out in the compost and turned onto the vegetable garden) so roasted pumpkin cubes with garlic and cummin seeds to accompany.

Coffee with old running friends (old meaning long-time, not aged) at Potter Centre today in the sun, then a long walk home with Alexandra in the stroller. What a life. Well, both of us.

3.5.13

Toasted.

This morning, after toasting almost an entire loaf of white sliced bread and buttering and slicing them into one-inch 'soldiers', to accompany the children's lightly poached eggs, I gently upended the toaster (Tiffany, a Kmart housebrand) over the sink to remove the crumbs. (It also has a crumb tray, but the upending it gets more crumbs out than you find in the tray.)

A week's worth of crumbs fell out. Three tiny screws, one tiny plastic bracket and two washers made of heatproof gasket material also fell out.

Should I plug the toaster in and switch it on and see if it still works?

The question crossed my mind fleetingly, like a nerve telling your brain to remove your hand from boiling water.

I threw it in the rubbish.

After all, it cost only as much a three full-priced loaves of Flinders sourdough. I'm off to Kmart. Or perhaps I should try one of those cut-price ones at Harris Scarfe.

*

Incidentally, poached eggs with toast batons is possibly the best breakfast in the world.

I thought it was just me.

Keith Richards:
"I don't have an iPod. ... I still use CDs or records actually. Sometimes cassettes. It has much better sound; a much better sound than digital."

Luddite.