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Showing posts from January, 2007

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 anchov

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 recogn

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 garli

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

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 h

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 or

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

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 s

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 co

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 w

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 tablespo

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

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-fa

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.