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

30.4.14

Using a phone while driving 'safer' - motoring body. (In fact, why not upload a few photos to Facebook along the way?)

Welcome to the future of driving with the RACV Connected Vehicle app began the mailout, predictably beginning with a cliché. Welcome to the future of ... fishing? abseiling? home brewing? race walking?

The app, the mailout explained, made your driving experience safer, more convenient and enjoyable. (My emphasis.)

How can using a phone while you are driving be safer? The mailout did not specify.

The app, it went on, provides you with personalised access to the information you need to enhance your total driving experience.

Notice in that line at least five words marketers drop into their sentences - in any order - to sell you something completely useless.

The app's Eco Drive function lets you get rated on your driving behaviour and compare your performance with other members; while its My Trips feature lets you geo-tag your photos and upload (them) to Facebook. Look out, here comes a hairpin bend! Tag it! Upload it!

You can check the weather (if it is not obvious through the windscreen), get a record of kilometres travelled per trip (for cars without a trip meter - pre 1970?) or - via an in-vehicle Bluetooth device - monitor your driving behaviour ... to improve fuel efficiency and reduce wear and tear on the vehicle.

But is using a device while driving even legal? From RACV's website, from its corporate social responsibility statement:

Compliance: RACV is conscious of its obligations to comply with all relevant legislation affecting its operations.

Selling an app to be used specifically while driving means RACV might be temporarily unconscious.

29.4.14

Spicy rice updated: cardomom included.

That's the simple name for what the recipe specifies as lentils and rice with fried onions. Doesn't sound great, tastes amazing. Even the children eat it. Its simplicity and ease of preparation means it is on high rotation here, like a Rolling Stones hit on 3XY in 1967.

Lentils and rice with fried onions.

You'll need:

One cup each of red lentils and long grain rice, two large onions, 2½ tablespoons ghee, 2 teaspoons salt, ¼ teaspoon each ground black pepper, ground cloves, ground cardomom, ground cinnamon and ground nutmeg and 3½ cups boiling water.

Wash the lentils, removing any that float. Drain thoroughly.

Melt ghee in a heavy pan that has a lid. Slice onions into thin rounds and fry until golden brown, stirring. Remove half the onions and set aside.

Add lentils and rice to pan and stir for a minute or two to coat in the hot ghee.

Add water and spices, stir well, bring to boil, add the salt, stir again. Turn down to a very low simmer, place the lid on the pan.

Resist the temptation to lift the lid for twenty minutes exactly. After that time, the just-softened lentils give the dish a creamy unctuousness that takes an otherwise ordinary rice dish into another dimension.

Serve immediately topped with the extra fried onions, yogurt and coriander chutney.

*

That omitted cardamom - now included - makes the dish. Apologies.

23.4.14

Hit the spice shop.

I never met a spice I didn't like, and I especially enjoy throwing as many in one dish as possible. The following recipe is the most tantalisingly fragrant dish I have ever cooked and always results in people (family members, guests, passing neighbours, small children, etc) demanding some, even if they profess to dislike curry. All the spices are freely available along the Sydney Road Little India strip.

Fragrant curried chicken breast.

In a food processor, blitz four cloves of garlic, a large peeled knob of ginger, five whole dried red chillies, an inch of cinnamon (or a teaspoon of powdered), five cardamom pods, five cloves, a teaspoon each of black peppercorns and cumin seeds, and half a cup of vinegar until it resembles a relatively smooth paste.

Meanwhile, fry two finely chopped onions in ghee or oil or some of each until soft. Then add a can of diced tomatoes and a teaspoon of salt. Cook a few minutes, stirring. Add the paste and a teaspoon of sugar. Saute a few minutes. Add two chicken breasts diced into one-inch cubes, and a few fresh curry leaves.

Serve with naan bread, yogurt, and fresh pappadums for a little crunch on the side. Drink: beer. This is hot. Up- or downscale the chillies as preferred.

4.4.14

Red is the colour ....

Well, actually she doesn't wear a lot of red. I'm talking about food. (What is that song?*)

Red capsicum prices have come down from the stratosphere so let's cook some.

Pasta with swordfish and capsicum.

Swordfish is a robust, tasty, magnificent fish that holds together when cooked, making it suitable for barbecuing, etc. According to some, it is also endangered, so get it while you can. (That last comment shocks some of my politically correct friends just like sacrilege would have shocked the middle classes fifty or sixty years ago, proving that eco-obsession has filled the need for religion in an increasingly atheist society).

Slice the fish into three quarter inch cubes and marinate it in lemon juice and a dash of balsamic vinegar.

Meanwhile, roast a red capsicum, peel it and cut it into strips.

Cook some tomato fettucine (I use La Triestina, made locally - in Brunswick).

Sear the fish in a heavy pan, cook a minute or so longer, and add it to the drained pasta. Decorate with the roasted red pepper.

To finish, toss some capers over the pasta and add a shower of cracked black pepper.

*

*Yes It Is, the Beatles, 1965

2.4.14

Little red footballs: the last of the summer tomatoes.

It was the first day of the second month of autumn and it reached 35 degrees. I hadn't counted, but the tomatoes must have got into the thousands; which makes growing them, especially cherry ones (slightly oval, like miniature Sherrins), worthwhile despite having to fiddle about with stakes, pinch out lower branches, and tie up vines with old stockings etc. It's not that much work if you have the time. My tomato growing rules: plenty of compost and good soil but no tomato dust and no pesticides. Plant basil and other herbs around them and they’ll keep most bugs away. Most of the tomatoes came straight off the vine and onto the table or into the pot, but I ripened some on the front window sill.

Several of this year’s vines were taller than me and, late in summer, were still sending out tendrils in all directions, like a besieged Dustin Fletcher on a bad day.

And now I was down to the last few dozen red orbs. I thought I’d send them out with a bang: one of summer’s great dishes.

Pappardelle with vine-ripened cherry tomatoes, fresh ricotta and basil.

Wide strips of pasta such as pappardelle or tagliatelle are best with this dish, although you could use any pasta at a pinch.

Cook pasta to your liking. Al dente is regarded as superior because it still has a 'bite'; however some prefer it cooked more fully. A better reason is that pasta beyond the al dente stage is replete with fluid, and will therefore 'slip' when combined in its final dish; whereas al dente pasta remains pervious and will therefore adhere better, or give better grip, to its fellow ingredients. That’s the real reason beyond the usual 'to the tooth' literal translation of the phrase.

Carefully slice ricotta into cubes. It has to be silky, shimmering fresh. Some of the Sydney Road supermarkets and delicatessens stock new supplies every day, otherwise don't bother.

Slice cherry tomatoes in two. Scatter the ricotta and tomatoes over the pasta, along with ripped basil leaves. To finish the dish, shower cracked black pepper over it. The bland, slightly sweet ricotta marries with the fragrant acidity of the tomatoes, while the cracked pepper sets off fireworks in the background. The slinky pasta strips are the sheets on the marital bed. Toast the result with a glass of Hunter Valley Semillon, something with a bit of body.

Dessert, as if needed, featured the rest of the ricotta dressed in a different costume; albeit equally fetching. Scatter toasted and shaved almonds and very ripe figs sliced carpaccio-thin over the ricotta with a drizzle of honey. Add six or so droplets of sweetened espresso and a coffee bean on each serve just to be pretentious. Serve with a shot of ouzo. Then go to bed.

*

Another summer gone. I watched the children run, and swim, and eat ice cream, and grow tanned, and wake to hot northerlies, and fall asleep, exhausted, to the sound of crickets and the hissing of summer lawns. Oddly enough, the song that for me best recalls summer is from a country on the other side of the world. But we were there not too many generations ago.


Take me back, take me way, way, way back
On Hyndford Street
Where you could feel the silence at half past eleven
On long summer nights
As the wireless played Radio Luxembourg
And the voices whispered across Beechie River
In the quietness as we sank into restful slumber in the silence
And carried on dreaming, in God

And walks up Cherry Valley from North Road Bridge, railway line
On sunny summer afternoons
Picking apples from the side of the tracks
That spilled over from the gardens of the houses on Cyprus Avenue
Watching the moth catcher working the floodlights in the evenings
And meeting down by the pylons
Playing round Mrs. Kelly's lamp
Going out to Holywood on the bus
And walking from the end of the lines to the seaside
Stopping at Fusco's for ice cream
In the days before rock 'n' roll

Hyndford Street, Abetta Parade
Orangefield, St. Donard's Church
Sunday six-bells, and in between the silence there was conversation
And laughter, and music and singing, and shivers up the back of the neck
And tuning in to Luxembourg late at night
And jazz and blues records during the day
Also Debussy on the third programme
Early mornings when contemplation was best
Going up the Castlereagh hills
And the cregagh glens in summer and coming back
To Hyndford Street, feeling wondrous and lit up inside
With a sense of everlasting life
And reading Mr. Jelly Roll and Big Bill Broonzy
And "Really The Blues" by "Mezz" Mezzrow
And "Dharma Bums" by Jack Kerouac
Over and over again
And voices echoing late at night over Beechie River
And it's always being now, and it's always being now
It's always now

Can you feel the silence?
On Hyndford Street where you could feel the silence
At half past eleven on long summer nights
As the wireless played Radio Luxembourg
And the voices whispered across Beechie River
And in the quietness we sank into restful slumber in silence
And carried on dreaming in God.


- Van Morrison, from 'Hymns To the Silence', 1991