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

30.6.14

Film directors throw away their chairs in disgust.

You can't act the expressions on the faces of the Costa Ricans as they shot for goal.

And there's no take two.

27.6.14

Chicken with a kick.

The flat screen television in the café sits high over the pasta shelf, and the volume is adjusted cleverly so that it becomes audible over the café talk when a goal is imminent or a vital passage in play occurs, thanks to the rising pitch of the commentator's voice. In this way, you miss none of the important action while not having the sound predominate.

After 9 o'clock in the morning, when the rush commuters have 'grabbed' their lattes and run for the train, the slower customers arrive: the real estate agents from across the street come in for their takeaway coffees; Moreland council workers hunch over their cups around an outside table; the old Greek men come in and put coins on the counter for another short black, keeping their caffeine/talk ratio meter going.

Occasionally the picture on the television pixillates, turning national colours into screen bloodshed. A player runs towards goal, stops unnaturally, shoots forward several inches, and then his head explodes into squares of red and white or yellow and green and his legs disappear. Then the picture reverts to normal again and the ball is in the net, or not. The effect is stunning with multi-coloured strips such as Cameroon or the Ivory Coast.

*

A little background history always illuminates an event. Christian Eichler's Football 365 Days is 744 pages of World Cup archival photography with history and commentary. Published prior to the 2006 world cup, the book is dated but worth a read. Its sheer size will help speed the hours away until the 2 a.m. game starts. Along the way you can decide who, out of at least seven players, was the best ever. They include Cruyff, Beckenbauer, Pele, Puskas and two or three Mullers. Maradona? No. In most fields of endeavour, history loves humility, a quality that makes a champion champion-like. After all, sport is just play-war and you could have been dead.

*

World Cup Fried Chicken

This recipe uses lean chicken breasts, which must be cooked fast. This makes them ideal for World Cup consumption, because you don't want to be spending time standing over a stove, and anyone who doesn't mind doing so has long gone to bed.

Take four chicken breasts and slice into half inch pieces. They will marinate for as long as you like up to 24 hours, but they must be small enough to cook in a minute or two.

In a large bowl, toss the chicken pieces in a third-cup of peanut oil and a tablespoon each of cumin powder and chili powder, six finely chopped garlic cloves, a tablespoon of soy, a shake of salt and a dash of white pepper.

Heat some more oil in a cast iron pan. Fry chicken, turning when one side is sealed. Cook until just done. Serve on rice; or as hand-food rolled in lettuce and soft white bread. Drink: cold beer.

25.6.14

World Cup spiced broad beans.

Take a kilogram of broad beans, pod and peel them (peeling individual beans is optional).

Cook two chopped onions in olive oil in a large heavy pan for ten minutes, add two scored cloves of garlic, sauté a few more minutes, stirring; and then add two teaspoons of ground cumin, half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper and a dash of ground coriander.

Now add the beans and a cup or so of water. Cook on low heat until the beans soften. Adjust fluid if necessary.

Add half a cup of lemon juice, two or three tablespoons of olive oil, and stir. Remove from pan and process in batches to a semi-smooth consistency.

Reheat when desired, for example, at 2 a.m, when a World Cup game is about to commence and you need food to keep you awake should the game fail to excite. Add chopped coriander or dill for an extra flavour zing, as if it needs it.

Ideal on toasted Lebanese or Turkish bread with zatar. Just swipe the bread through the bean mixture and eat. Also ideal as a dip with blanched green vegetables including asparagus, snow peas, green beans, celery sticks, etc. Also great on baked potato with added sour cream and then scattered with toasted pine nuts and blackened sesame.

Or eat it straight out of the jar when your team loses.

*

Anguish this morning in the coffee shop where I have my morning coffee. They had had the Italian flag in the window all last week next to the Australian one. The Australian flag was the first to go. Every four years, he was saying this morning. Every four years they do it to us. It's quadrennial agony. That's what happens when your team is a real contender, or is supposed to be. Australia can lose three games and heads are held high. But the Azzurri ... Why didn't they just attack?, he was saying to customers at large as he made my coffee. Every four years they do it to us. The coffee was perfect. Not a hitch. A professional.

18.6.14

Pesto without machinery.

Cook enough linguini for however many people you are feeding. I used to have one of those spaghetti utensils with punched-out measuring holes for various quantities, but these never were accurate. Trial and error teaches quantities best.

Meanwhile, warm some olive oil in a large pan and add half a cup of white wine, plenty of cracked black pepper, and two scored cloves of garlic. Cook gently without burning garlic, and then add a dozen or so halved walnuts*. Cook gently for a few minutes, stirring. Add half a cup of cream, reduce.

Fold several torn basil leaves through the cooked linguini and add the sauce. Finish with shards of parmesan or the genuine reggiano if you can afford it.

*Or if you have pine nuts, leave out the walnuts, toast the pine nuts and scatter over the finished dish.

14.6.14

Another day, another front page.

From Bernie's Two Minute Friday, the weekly St Bernard's Old Collegians email bulletin:
Essendon, fresh from another bout of controversy courtesy of the ASADA witch-hunt ... er, investigation, will be fired up to put a scoring-challenged Melbourne team to the sword.
No comparison. History's most infamous witch trial went for only fifteen months, from February 1692 to May 1693. This one looks like running for years.

10.6.14

Swordfish with fiery cashew sauce and coconut milk.

Chop two onions, and fry them in your preferred medium and pan until soft.

Take a dozen roasted cashews, a teaspoon of chili, a knob of peeled and chopped ginger, a large clove of garlic (or two small), half a teaspoon each of cinnamon and garam masala, two cardamom pods, a couple of rays of star anise (optional) and half a cup of vinegar and blitz them all together in a food processor.

Reserve half the cooked onions and add the cashew mixture to the rest of the onions, and stir in one large can of coconut milk. Simmer gently for a minute or two.

Meanwhile, place a couple of tablespoons of raisins into a small pot of just-boiled water, to which you have added a teaspoon of turmeric. Steep for ten minutes, until they fatten and then drain and add them to the simmering sauce.

Now cube some firm-fleshed fish such as swordfish or salmon and dredge the cubes through a little salt and pepper. Add the fish to the sauce, stir and cook very gently until fish is just cooked. Adjust fluid if necessary.

Switch off, let the pan rest for a few minutes and then serve fish with its fragrant, nutty, fiery sauce over rice. Top with the reserved onion and plain yogurt with coriander chopped through it.

6.6.14

Winter weekend cooking task: hot spicy peanut sauce.

Recently, six out of ten people, when asked in a survey where peanuts grow, replied: "On a tree."

I have nothing to add to that. But it brought to mind the man that used to circle the old suburban football ovals with a hessian sack containing paper bags full of peanuts. "Peanuts, 10 cents a bag!" he'd call out. It was usually around half time, and beer made you hungry. Mmmm ... peanuts, in the shell.

*

In a pot, I heated about ¾ cup peanut butter, a quarter cup of crushed peanuts, four tablespoons of hot chili sauce, two tablespoons each of tamari and white vinegar, a good squeeze of harissa paste, and the juice of a lime. I like it spicy so I usually use more chili paste and sometimes a raw chopped chili.

Serve as a sauce for blanched vegetables such as zucchini, florets of broccoli etc. Or try it with sweet potato: split a sweet potato down the middle, bake it and top it generously with peanut sauce and sour cream, and a squirt of lime juice and a shower of coriander.

3.6.14

Fragrant rice- and lentil-stuffed red capsicum with the Five Cs and a few other spices.

In a large heavy pan with a tight fitting lid, fry two sliced onions in ghee or oil.

Stir in a quarter teaspoon each of cardamom, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper when onion has softened.

Now add a cup each of basmati rice and rinsed red lentils, three and a half cups of boiling water and two teaspoons of salt. Stir. Lid the pan tightly. Turn down heat very low and leave it for 20 minutes. When the rice grains have ballooned, it’s done.

During the twenty minutes, top three red capsicums and remove seeds and pith. Stuff the capsicums with the fragrant rice and lentil mixture. (You'll have some left over.) Replace tops and place stuffed capsicums in a casserole, which should be of a size that roughly holds their tops in place.

Take a jar of tomato puree, add a little water and stir through a teaspoon each of coriander and cumin. Pour into casserole so that it comes halfway up the capsicums. Bake until capsicums collapse, about an hour. Adjust fluid if your oven is particularly hot.

Serve with yogurt and sweet lime pickle.