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Showing posts from February, 2006

Bacon or prosciutto?

OK, I've done this before but it deserves a high rotation on the repertoire. And you can vary it. Pasta carbonara is generally made using bacon and often cream. I don't use cream in this dish and I was out of bacon so I used prosciutto instead. I cooked shredded prosciutto in a little olive oil and a small dash of white wine until it was almost crisp. This takes very little time. It dries to deliciously salty and flavourfilled flecks that really add punch to the eggs and pasta. Cook the pasta at the same time - this time I used egg noodles for an even richer, more unctuous, taste. Drain, place back into the pan with just a little of the cooking water, toss around until some of the water evaporates off, add the eggs - just crack them straight in - fold them through and add the shards of prosciutto. I like to add some grated parmesan or grana padano or romano or whatever you have into the pan while folding through the eggs - or you can simply add it afterwards. Add plenty of crac

What did childhood summers smell like?

1. The smell of new paper in the Puffin paperbacks I was given for Christmas. I think I read every Puffin printed. 2. The smell of pine needles on a hundred-degree day. We had fahrenheit when I was a kid. 3. The smell of the rubber tyres on toy tin cars on Christmas morning. 4. The smell of sunburn cream rubbed on my sister's red shoulder. 5. The smell of cigarette butts in the sand at the beach. (Dad's, not mine. And no, I don't know if he subsequently 'disposed of them thoughtfully'.) 6. The smell of rain, before it arrived. 7. The smell inside my grandfather's new two-tone Vanguard Spacemaster, complete with clear plastic-covered red leatherette seats with cream piping. It took us on Sunday picnics to Gisborne.

To sleep, perchance to dream ... of garlic prawns.

... but more likely, perchance to wake up again three or four times every night with a baby who is teething. * Having slept on his back for his first seven months, William has now decided he would prefer to sleep on his side. This wakes him up. Since he was born, T. has been using the 'binding' method of putting him to bed in which a muslin is bound snugly around the baby and tucked under, holding his little arms in place. The theory is that they feel secure and fall asleep easier. My theory was that at some stage they are going to become too strong to be bound, fight their little arms out and wake themselves up anyway. This is now happening. But what would I know? I do know one thing: there are too many books, too many theories and too many experts. We have almost as many baby and childcare books as cookbooks. No, wait, that's a WILD exaggeration. But you get the drift. Having all these competing theories is like having fifty strange mothers standing in your loungeroom tel

Children, popcorn, Angela Lansbury and sugar.

Mr Taco writes of the funny things children say , quoting his five-year-old asking him if whales drink water. I replied, recalling my five-year-old daughter once asking me, right out of the blue, what size I took in bowling shoes. (We had never been bowling.) The other week I took Canisha and Shanra to the movies to see Nanny McPhee . It should be compulsory viewing for all children. Let me rephrase that. It should be compulsory viewing for all parents. We bought a ridiculously large box of overpriced popcorn at the snack bar. It was almost as big as Shanra. She carried it in and was almost invisible behind it. The girls ate the popcorn in silence and Shanra turned to me just once during the movie, informing me, "We never have popcorn at daycare, Pop!" * On an entirely different subject, but speaking of Nanny McPhee , the brilliant Angela Lansbury, as an eccentric aunt, at one point rudely demands her nephew omit 'unhealthy' milk from the tea he makes for her; and the


Nine-thirty on a glorious late-summer Friday morning, not a cloud in the sky. Twenty-five degrees, a nice fresh salty breeze, not much traffic about, a few shoppers here and there, a delivery van idling in the side street, children back at school, everything back to normal. A man was sitting at a table under a broad umbrella outside the Blairgowrie cafe. He was holding the morning broadsheet out in front of him and he was staring intently at the op-ed page with a deeply furrowed brow. The pug on his knee was also staring at the opinion page but the pug had a mad grin on its face. A waiter brought out a coffee. The man placed the dog gently on the ground with a look that said I'm really, really sorry but coffee is very, very hot and it could burn you if you knock it over. Then the man went on reading the editorials and the pug sat blinking in the sunshine on the end of its leash tied to the leg of the man's chair. The leash was one of those novelty ones you can buy from pet sup

The other leafy green vegetable.

Saturday morning market, about a quarter to ten. The sun was out but a cool breeze swept across the bay, crossed the road and gently ruffled the flaps and ropes on the stallholders' tents. We walked up and down and compared produce and prices. At one of the tents, a Greek guy sells a green he calls vlita . It is not as shiny as silverbeet, nor as deep green as spinach. I find it closer in texture and taste to rabe or some of the Asian greens. And the bunch is like magic! It goes on forever. Spinach boils down to nothing, silverbeet and rabe less so. But this stuff seems to hold its bulk and yield more from each bunch. I made a huge pot of it, boiling it with just a cup or so of water and some garlic. You can eat it just like that with lemon or vinegar but I gave it the deluxe treatment with a good dollop of double cream after it had boiled for a short while followed by a shower of salt and pepper and when it was all done it was served in a large bowl with fetta crumbled over the t

Dessert and post-dinner drinks.

The waiter clambered out of the the stairwell for probably the twentieth time and I wondered aloud to the person next to me, the one that had had the perfectly pink rack of lamb with the pillarbox and the triple underscore of jus, why the million buck interior design hadn't run to a dumb waiter, that is, a mechanical elevator from the kitchen with a food dispensary at the upper level. The waiter must have been exhausted. All those plates. A few more hours wound off the clock and then dessert came out. There were warm things involving sorbets and salads and consommes. I love the way today's chefs are calling sweet things by savoury names and vice-versa. Just like the way today's parents are naming their dogs Alexander, Charles and Kenneth and their children Sam, Jake and Max. My dessert was redolent of chocolate and had the texture of a cloud. A nimbus cloud, I grant you, but still a cloud. I didn't eat it, I inhaled it. It was the best thing I never ate and I still don&

Still at the restaurant.

Where was I? In a concrete bunker eating a two-inch round of risotto from a giant white plate. It looked like a snail on a wagon wheel. Soon we had finished and the waiter cleared away the steering wheel plates and took them down the dark stairwell and then came up again and poured another half-inch of wine into my giant wineglass. I was getting to like it. I still couldn't detect what the notes on the palate were but I was starting to think wet hay in a barn. The main course rolled around after a while, maybe three hours, but who's watching the clock? Let's take our time. There's wine to be drunk and people to chat to. I had ordered the assorted gyoza of roast vegetables and it arrived on a plate as big as the previous one except this time it was square, like a ceramic flag, just for a change. A citrusy dipping sauce was in its own dear little dish over in a corner of the square plate while a few other ingredients came along for the ride and just hung around on the pla

The restaurant.

It's all black render on the outside and all concrete and metal on the inside, like a bunker. It has that half-finished look that says a million bucks have been spent on the interior design. Like every other up-to-the-minute bar or brasserie or whatever they're calling them these days, it has a single-syllable one-word name, all lower case and of no particular meaning, in raised but very small chartreuse lettering set into the black render. We pushed open the doorway, glass and etched metal, and climbed single-file up a dark narrow stairway to a kind of loft overlooking the rest of the restaurant. We were a party of about twenty and it was the crazy week before Christmas. We sat down. In between the cutlery, a roneoed sheet listed all the latest grigios and viogniers and some lurid cocktails. After a while, a waiter emerged from the stairway and set about taking drink orders. After another while, a longer one, he was pouring a splash of sauvignon blanc into the large glass in f

Things I never ate as a kid.

1. Lamb. We had mutton - gamey, delicious fatty roasts and other cuts from the older beast. They used to call the roast 'leg of two-tooth'. 2. Ham. We had strasburg, mortadella and devon, but not ham. Why? I don't know. We just didn't. We had bacon, in crusty glazed steaming egg and bacon pies as thick as your phone book, but never ham. 3. Steak. We had roasts, we had corned beef, we had oxtail, we had every cut off the cow you've ever heard of and a few you haven't - all cooked to within an inch of their lives (if that's an appropriate turn of expression for something that is dead, but you know what I mean), but we never had steak. Well, not fillet, anyway. The first fillet I ate was at Nine Darling Street in 1973 at my cousin's wedding reception. I was seventeen. She was a dark-eyed classic sixties beauty, all mascara and stacked-up raven hair and miniskirts and bikinis and a sexy raspy voice, like a soft drink commercial from 1967. She's still the


In the previous post, a recipe which I described as 'easy', I left out the water, so if anyone has tried it, and I don't flatter myself that that is the case, then they may have, to put it bluntly, burnt their pot. I discovered long ago that leaving the water out is not a good idea. One of the first things I cooked was a boiled egg. I put it in the pot and on the stove, forgetting to cover it with water. If you've ever wondered what happens in this situation, here's what happens: the egg explodes. It doesn't actually quite cook before it explodes, so you end up with uncooked, but very hot, egg and thousands of eggshell shards all over your kitchen ceiling, walls, windows, curtains, mantlepiece, clock, canisters, dresser, cat, table, chairs and floor coverings. Not to mention any people that may happen to be foolish enough to be in the kitchen while you are conducting egg explosions. Sorry about the error. I have fixed it using italics.

Give the ratatouille a rest.

Grill them, boil them, make ratatouille out of them, julienne them into salads, grate them into a frittata, but make sure you do this with zucchinis. It is a perfect side dish with just about anything and it is so easy. Thinly slice a couple of large zucchinis (or more small ones) and chop a couple of medium onions. Throw them all into a pot with two tablespoons of butter, a pinch of dried oregano, a generous pinch of cayenne pepper, a teaspoon of sugar, some chopped parsley and a few tablespoons of water . Cook until done, about ten minutes, and serve, pouring the juices over and adding more parsley and salt and pepper to taste. It's one of those dishes that gives off an irresistible aroma while cooking.

Recipe overload.

It happens every time, and it happened this time. I read this great recipe and thought, I'll do that. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next week. It sounds great. I have all the ingredients. Then tomorrow or next week comes and I decide to make the recipe and so I go back to the book where I read it - the one about Indian cooking by Madhur Jaffrey - the second one from the left on the second bottom shelf. Easy. Check index ... scan contents ... OK, just thumb through the whole book, I'll remember it by the picture. Not there. Must have been the third book from the left - the one about barbecues by Steve Raichlen. Or the third from the right , Margaret Fulton's Recipes of Australia . Or the Italian one by Carluccio. Or Tarts With Tops On by Tamasin Day-Lewis. Or Cooking for Juniors , the book my older kids made their first pancakes from. No luck with the books. Maybe it was in yesterday's paper, the food liftout, where readers write in with their favourite recipes and there's

Just before dinner.

The back garden in the little country town in the middle of nowhere is divided into sections. The back door leads onto a verandah with a table and four nice comfortable chairs, just right for a beer in the afternoon. Beyond the verandah is a square lawn, fenced off with rose bushes all around the edges in raised garden beds and a raised boxed vegetable garden on the right side. At the back of this lawn there is an open gate leading to the next section of garden. Out here, a wide expanse of eucalypts with wild limbs, more lawn, less well-manicured, and a clothes line over to one corner. I was sitting at the table on the verandah, sweating away quietly to myself trying to read a newspaper but only getting it wet. It was only about 39 degrees. I had just opened a very, very cold beer. It must have been 7.30 or so. Round about dinner time. Delicious smells were scrolling out through the wire screen door and saying come and eat me . They always say that. The shadows were getting longer and