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


What to do with your spare chilies.

Over at Confessions of a Food Nazi, Outspoken Female was wondering what to do with fresh, fat chilies, those delightful compact vermilion packages of fire.

I commented with the following recipe, which I have made many times over the years. I don't think I have ever posted it on this weblog, so here it is.

Pasta with semi-dried tomatoes, anchovies and chili.

The blandness of good quality pasta flecked with the sweet acid richness of semi-dried tomatoes, the salty bite of anchovies and the unerring heat of chilies makes this an unbeatable taste sensation.

Make the semi-dried tomatoes. Slowly bake small halved or quartered very good quality vine-ripened tomatoes, brushed with olive oil and scattered with a little salt, garlic powder and sugar, until 'semi-dry'. This will take several hours. Drizzle a little more olive oil over them towards the end. Or use store-bought ones.

Chop, chop, chop. Chop four or five semi-dried tomatoes into small pieces. Chop a dozen anchovies into small pieces. Chop one or two or three chilies into very small pieces. We are not cooking the chili so it must be very finely chopped or you will burn your mouth.

Cook your pasta. The finer strands work best with this. I like linguine.

Combine. Drain the pasta and toss it immediately (so it retains some moisture before it evaporates) in a big white serving dish, with the tomatoes, the anchovies and the chili. No additional oil will be needed, the residual oil on the tomatoes and the anchovies should be enough. Chopped parsley optional.

Serve immediately with very good, very crusty buttered bread.


Waiting for Bananas.

Last March Cyclone Barry, or was it Larry, wiped almost the entire Australian crop of bananas, which obviously only grow in the path of cyclones.

After a battered Queensland emerged from under a giant smoothie, banana prices shot up to $17 and at that price you’re not buying the hand. It was a long wait for prices to come down again. But we were patient.

Now, huge truckloads of bananas have been seen rolling down the Bruce and the Leichhardt (passing through the town of Banana, which is in Banana Shire*, a beef-growing centre) and the Pacific and the New England and the Newell and the Hume and over the Great Dividing Range and rumbling into Melbourne. Then, last week, bananas finally broke the two dollar barrier, heading south.

Here’s a recipe to celebrate the return of the affordable banana and to mark Lady Lunchalot's Banana Sunday, February 11.

I have adapted the recipe, using Queensland ingredients, from Steven Raichlen's Barbecue Bible and renamed it to recognise not just the year-long wait for bananas after Larry, but also the three hours you have to endure in between grilling the bananas and actually eating them, because of the marinade. Also, it would be a good name for a post-modern play in which nothing happens, causing the critics to rave.

Waiting For Bananas: a recipe celebrating Queensland.

You will need: four slightly green bananas, one cup of maple syrup, half a cup of dark rum, a quarter cup of Queensland sugar, half a teaspoonful of cinnamon, a quarter teaspoonful of fresh-grated nutmeg, macadamia icecream (or substitute any good commercial vanilla icecream), cream, a cup of toasted Queensland macadamias and half a cup of roasted shredded coconut (a few minutes in a hot oven until light brown).

1. Make the marinade. Combine the maple syrup, dark rum(let’s make it Inner Circle, Australia’s most highly awarded rum), sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Whisk until the sugar dissolves. (That is a seriously yummy marinade. I wonder how it would go with steak?)

2. Grill the bananas. Brown the peeled bananas on a very hot pre-heated and oiled grill, turning carefully. Six to eight minutes should do it. Remove, slice the bananas into bite-sized pieces, drop them into the marinade and leave them for a few hours at room temperature.

3. Serve. Line four bowls with a generous layer of icecream, place the banana sections on top, pour the marinade over the bananas, top with cream and macadamia nuts and sprinkle with coconut.

For the kids, omit the marinade and have the maple syrup jar handy.

*Interesting Historical Fact: Banana, the place, was named after a bullock called Banana.


First, obtain your dormouse ...

You might consider yet another food blog unnecessary, superfluous, pointless; like Queen Elizabeth's resume.

But this one is different. It has an angle: food history. It is a scholarly work with a great deal of interest.

If that is not enough, the Old Foodie (the 'Old' refers to the food) has a companion site with even more arcana and history to graze on in between meals.

Careful. You might waste your whole morning. I did. But it wasn't a waste. Now I know how to make zervelat (sixteenth century) and how to stuff a dormouse (Apicius).

I can't wait to try it.


Australia Day feast.

Yabbies and kangaroo will be on my barbecue this Australia Day.

Yabbies are those delicious freshwater crayfish that leave prawns for dead in the taste stakes. They are the perfect starter for a holiday barbecue.

Kangaroo is the leanest of all red meats. You would be too, with all that jumping around. There's barely an ounce of fat on them. Kangaroo is cheap and naturally organic and is one of the healthiest red meats. It is possibly the best red meat in the world. Be careful not to overcook 'roo, or it will dry out because of its low fat content. The best way is to sear it on high heat for a couple of minutes, flip and cook each side for another two or three minutes and then rest the meat under foil for five minutes before slicing and serving.

These recipes are as easy as falling off a log, so you can enjoy Australia Day without spending half of it in the kitchen.

Barbecued garlic yabbies.

Peel a bucket of freshly caught yabbies and marinate them in white wine and garlic overnight - as much garlic as possible, chopped very, very finely. Don't forget the claws. They contain delicious meat.

Grill or barbecue the yabbies on a very hot heat source, preferably covered, for just a few minutes. Serve with lemon wedges and crusty bread or with a chili dipping sauce.

Barbecued kangaroo.

Make a marinade of a cup of red wine, a clove of finely chopped garlic, a tablespoonful each of of tomato puree, balsamic vinegar and mustard and two tablespoonsful of demerara sugar.

Place your 'roo fillets in the marinade, cover with plastic film and leave in the 'fridge overnight.

Crank up your barbecue to white hot and then throw the fillets on the grill, brushing the meat with excess marinade as it cooks.

With what will we accompany our 'roo fillets and yabbies? Here's the perfect salad:

Mango and macadamia salad.

Cube the flesh of a couple of large mangoes. Lightly roast a cup of macadamias. Chop an avocado into slices and a red onion into rings.

Line a large salad platter with rinsed rocket. Arrange the avocado, onion rings and mango cubes on the rocket. Scatter the maccas and a cup of cherry tomatoes over the top.

That's it, except I can't resist adding crumbled blue cheese over to finish it off. It adds a creamy, tangy difference in texture as well as texture. But then I'd add blue cheese to a chocolate souffle if I could.

What will we drink with all this?

Let's start off with a bottle of Joe Grilli's Primo Estate colombard, which he has relabelled La Biondina. As Joe says, 'every year someone, somewhere claims to find a new perfect match for our La Biondina, but the favourites still remain – fish in any form, raw, fried, grilled, steamed ... oysters, crab or any crustacean are a dream.'

That takes care of the yabbies. For the main course, a shiraz with a flavour big enough to tame a kangaroo. A black chook should be able to do it.

Happy Australia Day.


Casey comes to dinner.

Goldie departed a year ago. It's nice that she's still remembered. We haven't had a dog since, but we’ve had visitors. Mr Blake stayed for three weeks in June.

Then, last week, Casey came for dinner. Casey was the last of a litter in a shelter. The shelter is in Broken Hill. Casey is a rottweiler kelpie cross. Each of the last three sentences alone would almost guarantee Casey being dispatched. Put the three together and his survival is a miracle.

The miracle came along in the form of my old friend, Jim. Jim’s last dog died a year ago. He wouldn't have another for some time. Then a friend was playing around on the 'net and found a face and said to Jim, look at this face, how could you not love it. The face was in Broken Hill and Jim flies between Sydney and Melbourne. Jim liked the photo and they emailed the shelter and arranged delivery to Melbourne. The shelter happily agreed, surprised that anyone would want a rottweiler kelpie cross at all, especially the last of the litter, the forgotten one; let alone import one from the outback.

I have never seen a better behaved dog. Jim trains his dogs properly. Before dinner, we took a stroll to the Turkish shop in Sydney Road for some fresh pide - soft as cotton wool, just out of the oven - and Casey walked off leash. Are you putting him on a lead, I asked, nervously. No, Jim said, he’ll be fine. He was fine. He saw a cat on the way back, pricked his ears up, darted forward. One word from Jim and he was back at heel.

Back home, we sat in the garden and drank chilled sauvignon blanc and ate fresh pide and fat black olives. Casey galloped around the garden chasing a ball and William laughed at the dog and then dinner was ready.

Casey sat under the table during dinner. There were tidbits, I’m afraid. From me.

Oh, dinner. Here's the recipe:

Linguine with prawns, scallops and swordfish.

You will need:
Olive oil.
A clove of garlic.
Ten large local prawns (peeled and deveined, tails still on), ten fat scallops and a large piece of swordfish cut into fat cubes.
Half a can of diced tomatoes.
White wine.
Half a cup of cream.
Salt, cracked black pepper.

Boil a large pot of water, add a splash of olive oil and a dash of salt and set the linguine to cook.

In another pan, warm some olive oil and the garlic clove - do not burn - then add the tomatoes with their juice, a good slosh of white wine and a shower of cracked black pepper. Bring to a simmer then add the fish and half the chopped parsley. Cook for five to seven minutes, until the fish is just cooked and no longer.

Drain pasta, place in serving bowls, add fish pieces, add cream to pan juices remaining, reduce a little, pour over fish and pasta. Scatter more chopped parsley over the top and serve.


A History of the Pie in Nine Paragraphs.

One of the most delicious aromas that ever greeted my nine-year-old nose was the amazing smell that came out of the school canteen pie warmer at eleven o'clock on frozen winter mornings.

The peppery spices in the bubbling meat filling and the butter in the delicious, flaky pastry mixed together like alchemy and formed a bewitching airborne brew that wound its way out of the canteen and along the freezing enclosed concrete passageway outside Grades Two, Three and Four at St John Bosco's School and under the blue classroom door and into my nose and I would just about pass out with hunger and Miss Burns would look at me and ask a question and I would answer 'Meat Pie'.

What brought about all this was that Terry Oglesby posted an item mentioning that he enjoyed crumbling crackers into soup (specifically, the very last of the bean-and-sausage soup he made last weekend, which sounded great), noting that it was difficult for him to eat soup without crackers, and that now his kids do it as well, even though it was outside the bounds of proper etiquette.

I don't agree at all that it is outside the bounds of etiquette. I'm sure Queen Elizabeth has croutons in her lobster bisque every day. She probably gives tidbits to the corgis.

I commented on Terry's post that I sometimes add a slice of cheese to hot tomato soup and mentioned in passing, because it was sort of irrelevant and sort of not, that in South Australia they eat meat pies submerged in pea soup.

To this comment, Chef Tony replied that he had noticed the phenomenon in Wales and that Wales, Australia and Natchitoches in Louisiana all made meat pies, though the ones in Wales are called pasties; adding that while the Wales/Australia connection was understandable, how did Natchitoches get them?

So I did a little research. First, the Australian meat pie is round or oval, and has a pastry bottom, wall and top. The Welsh pastie is one piece of pastry folded semi-circular and has a filling of vegetables and meat or vegetables alone. (We have those here as well.) The Natchitoches meat pie is similarly shaped like a pastie but is deep fried. This puts it closer to the empanada and then, in the ever-widening circle of related pastries, to the samosa, the gyoza, the pierogi, the pastizzi and the won ton. Certainly, it pre-dates the Australian meat pie. Wait, it pre-dates European settlement of Australia full stop. One reference places the Natchitoches pie back, at least, to the 1700s; while I understand Natchitoches itself dates from 1714 and was part of French Louisiana. Hmmmm - French rissole: 'a small, pastry-enclosed croquette of a minced meat or fish, usually fried in deep fat.' Is France the origin of the Natchitoches pie?

Having cleared that up I got hungry and started pining for a big, round, juicy, spicy meat pie with an injection of tangy tomato sauce. Hence the childhood meat pie memories. There's nothing better on a cold day and the aroma is to die for. Or to daydream for, as I did in Grade Three.

By the way, if you live in Natchitoches, or anywhere in the US for that matter, here's good news: the Australian meat pie is coming your way.


Greek barbecue.

First, obtain fresh local calamari. Frozen calamari or calamari imported from China or wherever they're importing it from might be just fine, but fresh and local is always better.

If not already sliced, slice calamari into rings and marinate for a few hours in a glass container in lemon juice, plenty of chopped garlic and chopped oregano.

Meanwhile, get your barbecue as hot as an iron foundry. Keep children well away. Heat oil in a heavy pan for deep-frying.

Now, drain excess marinade from the calamari and quickly dredge the rings in seasoned flour. Place the pieces progressively in the oil and cook for no more than two minutes. (Or you can just throw the calamari onto a well-oiled hotplate.) Remove to serving platter. If deep-frying, remove to paper towels first. Pile the rings up high and sprinkle with fresh lemon juice and salt.

Serve with home made tzatziki, a bowl of fat black olives, some barbecue-grilled potato slices brushed with olive oil and flecked with dried oregano and a Greek salad (I eat Greek salad with everything in summer, even Greek cuisine!).

To make the tzatziki, peel a cucumber, scrape out the seeds and dice the flesh. Add this to a mixture of a cup of Greek yogurt, two minced garlic cloves, a teaspoon each of finely chopped mint and dill, two teaspoons of lemon juice and a tablespoon of olive oil and combine well.

Eat at sundown overlooking the Mediterranean on a hillside overgrown with thousand-year-old olive trees.

Or in my case, at the outdoor setting in my back garden overlooking a lawn edged with geraniums, viburnums, climbing roses and a fence beyond covered with flowering jasmine casting a honeyed scent.


The rain, the pasta and other things.

It started some time in the night. A gentle whisper at first, like applause after the first movement; tentative, unsure whether it should.

At first I thought it was just the whirring fan, left on to move some air around. That's all it was doing, it wasn't cooling anything. Then the whisper got louder and I knew it was rain. It got heavier and it rained all the rest of the night and it was drumming down when I went out to get the paper in the morning at seven o'clock. I got wet and didn't care.

But it was still warm. It will be humid today. At least the weather bureau has lowered tomorrow's top temperature expectation from 38 to 32. It was forty a few days ago and the house is still hot. I opened a wardrobe last night and it was like opening an oven door. Cupboards are always the last places to cool down.


We had a late dinner, probably around nine o'clock. We sat outside in the warmth and the fading light. We heard the playful bark of dogs two houses away and behind that the distant rumble of trams. Pink and orange clouds were moving in from the south, slowly.

Fettucine pesto with chicken, avocado and snow peas.

An old favourite. This can be spare and healthful or you can ramp up the taste and the calories with cream. Either way it's delicious.

Cut a chicken breast or a couple of thigh fillets into roughly one inch cubes. Place these in a lidded pan over a little oil and a chopped clove of garlic. Lay strips of red capsicum and slices of avocado over the chicken. Add two tablespoons of white wine. Poach very, very gently. It won't take long, maybe five minutes. The chicken will poach, the capsicum will steam and the avocado will warm through. It will all be very fragrant.

Meanwile, cook the pasta. Right now I'm using a nice robust toothy fettucine. La Triestina is good. Add some florets of broccoli towards the end of the cooking time and then some snow peas just before you drain the water.

Drain and return the pasta and vegetables to the pot. Stir through some pesto. Transfer to plates or serving platter. Arrange chicken, capsicum and avocado pieces on pasta. If using cream, add this to the pan juices and reduce quickly, then pour over pasta. Rain down parmesan shavings and cracked black pepper.

A nice cold chardonnay or semillon or even a viognier should be up to the task.


The bookshop.

I suppose it is not wrong that the cooking department is not so far from the self-help department. Cooking is self-help.

But the other day, I got bored with grinning celebrity chefs wearing stupid clothes, cherry tomatoes and lettuce leaves on oversized white plates and empty country lanes in Tuscany at sunset and I drifted over to the self-help shelves and picked up one of those books that has chapters that begin and end on the same page, puns for section headings, pearls of wisdom in every paragraph and a line on the cover that says #1 New York Times best seller.

It was an old book but still in print. I flipped through it. In chapter 26, the author exhorts his reader to set aside some quiet time every day and then adds, by way of example, that he is writing this at 4.30 in the morning, his favourite time of day; hours before he would be disturbed by interruptions from, I don't know, family, life, selfish kids wanting to be fed, the cat, that kind of thing. Then he goes on to say he stops his car a little way from home each night to ground himself before he arrives. Sounds like the guy is afraid of his family. Or the cat.

No wonder it was a best-seller, with advice like that. Get more peace and quiet - never go to bed! Sleep is ruining your life! Why waste time lying down? Park outside your neighbour's house - the attractive one - every night before you go right home! She might even invite you in! Then you won't HAVE to go home!

I put the book down. I've never liked self-help books. There are far more pressing problems to be solved than suggesting getting up in the middle of the night to save your sanity. Here are four:

If bees ate oranges instead of flowers, would they make marmalade? Where do all the pens go? Why can't you herd cats? And what do they think about when they sit in the window?

Probably new ways to scratch self-help authors.


Spinach paneer.

It was still hot when I went to bed. I propped the back door open, leaving the screen locked, so the night air could creep in and cool the house. The back door faces south and a nice breeze comes in and teases the lace curtains in the lounge room.

When I woke this morning, there was no nice cool night air, just the smell of burnt eucalyptus. The bushfires have flared again. That cold snap we had at Christmas put them out like a martini glass bails out the Titanic.

I unlocked the screen door and went outside. The sky was that odd shade of pale red that is really light brown with highlights of orange, burnt umber, raw sienna and yellow ochre, depending on what kind of trees have been burning overnight. Or did I read that on the shampoo pack?

I picked up the beer glasses and dinner plates we left on the outside table and took them inside to wash up. I never wash up after a late dinner. It disturbs the quiet. All that crashing and chinking. I usually just stack them in the sink and cover them with water so the food doesn't turn rock hard. Last night I just left them where they were.

The kettle boiled. I made tea. Tracy and twelve-week-old Thomas were still sleeping. William was stomping around like a baby giant. Once they start walking, they don't stop.


Here's the recipe for last night's spinach paneer, which is also called saag paneer.

You will need:
One large bunch of spinach, washed and chopped.
One tablespoonful of fenugreek leaves.
200g pack of paneer. Or make your own. Apparently it's easy.
One teaspoon turmeric.
One and a half cups just-boiled water.
A slotted spoon.
One half teaspoon black cumin seeds.
One tablespoon ground coriander.
One teaspoon chilli powder.
One teaspoon finely grated ginger.
One teaspoon salt.
One half teaspoon sugar.
One cup yogurt.

Paneer is Indian cheese made without rennet, which is why the label says 'Suitable for vegetarians'. I had wondered. It is also made without salt, doesn't melt under heat and is enhanced by what you cook it with.

Put the spinach with the water that clings to it into a pan over a low heat, together with a dash of oil and the fenugreek leaves, which are also called 'methi'.

While the spinach is sweating, chop the paneer into cubes and fry it in the ghee. You can use oil but ghee is tastier. While it is frying, stir the turmeric into the just-boiled water. Once the paneer cubes start to brown, lift them with a slotted spoon and drop them carefully into the hot turmeric water for five minutes before draining. (Keep the water.)

Into the latter pan, still warm, put the cumin seeds, coriander powder, chilli powder and finely grated ginger and stir them around, giving the pan a good shake.

When the spices are hot but not burnt, add the fenugreek-infused spinach along with the salt and the sugar and half the turmeric water. Another stir, simmer for a few minutes and then add the yogurt and finally the drained cheese.

Let it simmer for another five minutes or so before the aroma becomes far too enticing to resist.

Eat with red rice and fenugreek roti.


Putting out fires.

It was a hot night. An old friend came over for a late dinner and we sat outside and drank cold beers and talked about life and what you can do about it and the answer was: nothing.

My friend is a cop and his girlfriend is an academic and she is soon to leave for a posting at a US university somewhere in the mid-west, with the prospect of a further posting at another campus closer to the west coast; while a university here in Melbourne is also in the throes of making her an offer, but being a university, its bureaucracy moves like a glacier; so she will be more likely to take one of the two US postings. There must be a shortage of academics. I don't even know what they do. They must do something.

So if she goes, that's it. You can't be in Australia and have a girlfriend in America. He is a single child of aged Greek parents who speak little English and who depend on him. He won't leave them to follow her. It sounded to me as if the girlfriend didn't care either way and he'd be better off facing reality and cutting ties now. But he couldn't. Plus he had an eight-grand ring in his pocket that he wasn't sure whether to force the issue with or not.

Eight-grand rings don't force issues, they just sparkle and glister and confuse. But you can't advise, you can only listen. I listened and we ate. We ate spinach paneer and I grilled some fenugreek roti on the barbecue. Have you any idea how good fenugreek roti smells when grilled?

The smoke from the barbecue drifted across the garden and into someone else's garden and it got dark. We had another cold beer. My friend is leaving for Bairnsdale tomorrow for a week, as part of a police special response group co-ordinating emergency services in the bushfire zone. It should be a nice quiet change for him.


The Eggplant and I.

Barbecue season shouldn't be all grills and salads. Eggplant stew might sound an unlikely addition to an al fresco meal, but this is sensational, hot or cold, although I do prefer it hot.

It's dead easy to make. After all, ease of preparation is the key to outdoor dining. Something that you can throw together in between enjoying an ice-cold beer as you watch the sun sink and the shadows grow longer. Or the cricket if you're a couch potato and you have aircon and you happen to like games that go for five days.

Eggplant provencale.

I did this the other night. First, I sliced an large unpeeled eggplant into one inch cubes, using my sharpest knife and being careful. Eggplants are slippery and you need a very sharp knife to cut an eggplant with its skin still on. I'm only saying this because I nearly lost a finger once.

Then I sliced a red capsicum into one inch strips and an onion into smaller pieces and threw the lot into a large heavy-based pot along with: a tablespoonful of olive oil, twenty pitted fat black olives, the same number of walnuts, a can of diced tomatoes, a scored clove of garlic and twenty crushed peppercorns. (Be sure to pit all the olives - I bit on an unpitted olive in this stew once and nearly lost three teeth. I said this recipe was easy, I didn't say it was safe.)

I set the lidded pot onto the lowest heat and gave it a desultory, who-cares kind of stir when I remembered, probably when fetching another beer. The eggplant just kind of melts down.

It simmered slowly for an hour or so. We ate some that same night as a side with barbecued chicken (marinated in tamari, ginger, garlic and lemon juice) and the other half the next night. It improves with time. All the flavours have intermingled by then and become more complex, like the characters in a book.


Your town is famous for what?

Over the years, I've driven through some towns with very tenuous claims to fame. It's kind of fun driving through a flat, dusty, boring landscape with that ghastly sense of anticipation of what claim the next town will try to foist on the easily impressed. This kind of thing:

Koroit, Victoria: Home of the World's Largest Potato (Red Pontiac, 9.7 kilograms, grown April 1957).

Smoko, Victoria: Bushfire Capital of the World.

Trundle, NSW: Consecutive Tidy Town Winner (Neatly Mown Lawns Division) 1975-6.

Junee, NSW: Where Henry Lawson Wrote his First Poem. And Part of the Second. In the Cafe.

Toolern Vale, Victoria: Where Bob Livingstone Hit a Hole in One Twice in One Day (Jan. 17, 1936).

Miles, Queensland: Tea Cosy Capital of the World.

Actually, only one of those is real. Answer here.

Know any more?


New supermarket shock.

Last week, it was coffee that couldn't make up its mind whether it was decaf or not.

Last night I saw a new item in the spreads aisle: chocolate peanut butter. Cool. You could make chocolate satays.

I'm expecting to see chocolate Vegemite soon. It will be the same colour.

Then what? Chocolate breakfast marmalade? Chocolate tomato paste? Chocolate atlantic salmon?


Moonah, honeyeaters and pasta with fresh ricotta.

The house at the beach is on the side of a west-facing hill but you can't see the water because the house is surrounded by moonah trees.

Melaleuca lanceolata is best in the evening when the sun's last orange glow sets its under-canopy tracery on fire and silhouetted birds dance and sing in its boughs; except for the honeyeaters, whose call sounds like someone crunching gears on a truck.

The house has a small balconied deck that is halfway up the moonah, so you can sit outside and eat dinner and watch the honeyeaters. They don't dance. They flit around and hang upside down. They are pretty. I'll give you that.

Saturday night was what, 35 celsius? It was the steamy, overcast kind of heat where the air doesn't move, it just hangs there, thick and heavy, and hits you in the face when you stand up to get another drink. Smack. Whew. Sweat. The ceiling fan doesn't cool anything, it just rolls big chunks of air around like hot boulders.

So we sat outside and had dinner on the balcony and watched the birds. I'm still waiting for an orange-bellied parrot. I don't think I'll ever see one.

Fettucine with tomatoes and fresh ricotta.

Set the fettucine to boil with a pinch of salt and a dash of olive oil. While it cooks, halve and slice some ripe tomatoes. They must be very good vine-ripened tomatoes. Billiard ball tomatoes will not do. Now take some very fresh good quality ricotta - I use Floridia. Drain the pasta. Arrange it on a serving platter, folding through the ricotta and tomatoes. Grind black pepper and scatter torn basil leaves over the top.

Serve with a salad of zesty rocket, chilled avocado slices and finely chopped parsley stalks dressed with balsamic vinegar, lemon juice and flecks of garlic.

Drink: anything cold. And plenty of it.


It's 2007. When did that happen?

January 6 was the Epiphany, when wise men take down their gaudy decorations and think about what to do in 2007. Or what not to do.

I'm not wise, but anyway:

1. Read more. This could be self-defeating: the more I find out, the more I realise how little I know. Maybe that should read Read More Selectively, but if you don't know, how can you select?

2. Be less repetitive. With a blog titled What I Cooked Last Night, that could be difficult. I'm a creature of habit.

3. Find more hours in the day. They must be there. Everyone else seems to get everything done.

4. Buy a proper lemon zester. I keep grating my fingers.


What's been on my barbecue this summer: a work in progress.

1. Easy Thai chicken fillet.
In a hurry? Cheat. Slice two breast fillets on the horizontal and fill each with a tablespoonful of tom yum paste, a sliced garlic clove and a shake of ginger powder. Wrap them up in iceberg lettuce leaves and then in foil. Breast fillets can dry out but the double wrapping keeps them moist and juicy during cooking. Now throw them on the grill and turn after four or five minutes, depending on the size of your breasts. Let me rephrase that.

2. Potato cakes.
Easy and delicious. Grate a few potatoes, squeeze out the excess fluid and form the grated potato into rough balls. Throw them onto a very hot hotplate and flatten with a spatula. Flip after a minute or two. Dust with salt and pepper.

3. Lamb rack.
Buy a whole rack complete with the fat layer. Peel this back and insert rosemary, garlic, thin slices of lemon, oregano or mint in any combination. Grill, tented with foil, over a sprig of lemon leaves or mint. Serve with home-made mint sauce, the old-fashioned vinegary stuff with mint leaves in it, not that disgusting sweet jelly stuff you get in jars in the supermarket.

4. Grilled vegetable platter with home-made chickpea puree.
Slice some zucchini and eggplant lengthways into quarter inch strips. I like to use white zucchini, which is really very pale green. Cut onions into thick rounds. Brush the vegetables with oil and grill, along with some whole sweet chillies, the long thin ones. Arrange the vegetables on a platter and serve with home-made hommous - puree some chickpeas with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt. Top the puree with sumac to serve. Or chili powder.

5. Corn.
I grill them to a turn and then drown them in butter and salt and pepper.

6. Thick sirloin with roquefort.
Grill to your preferred doneness and serve with a slice of roquefort melting on top. This is sublime with the potato cakes mentioned above. And a glass of red. Yes, even in hot weather.

Now I'm out of ideas. What's on your barbecue?


Six in the morning.

A new day. A new year.

He points to the pictures now. Tree. Dog. Sun. Moon. You can hear him say these words from the other room.

Of course, he can't speak until he's had his milk. You'll notice the empty bottle on one of the books.

That's fine. Don't even think of getting a word out of me in the morning until I've had three cups of tea.


What next?

In the morning, I wandered into the supermarket. I walked down the beverages aisle and noticed a new product amongst the battalions of coffee jars. The name on the new jar read: 'HalfCaf'. I looked closer. Ingredients: 50% instant coffee, 50%decaffeinated instant coffee.

This was strange. Who would drink HalfCaf? And why? Someone who only wanted half the hit? Then why not just drink half a cup of regular coffee?

Life is a puzzle. Happy new year.