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Showing posts from February, 2007

Newspaper food writers vs. online food writers.

Last week I mentioned The Weekend Australian ’s Food Detective column (17-18 February) in which Elizabeth Meryment warned restaurateurs to be ‘wary of diners taking notes and what seem to be more (sic) than happy snaps at the table.’ The column renewed its attack on online food writing at the weekend, warning of a ‘similarly concerning trend: the proliferation of online restaurant guides, particularly those which allow diner reviews’. What's so concerning about diners writing about their restaurant experiences online? Food Detective exemplifies, quoting a diner who posted the following review at an online restaurant forum: ' "What a shame great food is ruined by amateur service ... When paying nearly $50 for an aged steak it is an indulgence. One that should be rewarded with attentive and professional service ... (but) the waiter had little knowledge of the menu and by her own admission had had no orientation to it despite having worked there for several weeks. She spe

When everything else succumbs to drought, sage thrives.

Apparently it grows through rocks around the Mediterranean, so no wonder it hasn't turned its toes up like so many of its fellow herbs in my garden. (At the beach house, there is a five-foot rosemary bush that hasn't seen a drop of water in ages. There would be enough rosemary on it to make a lamb or mutton roast of every sheep in Australia. Possibly New Zealand.) So if you're drought-affected, plant sage or rosemary. (Of course, once you do, it will rain for a fortnight. It's like washing your car or lighting a cigarette at the bus stop. Also, have you noticed that when you try to look at a street directory in the car, a red light will immediately turn green?) Yet again, I digress. Gnocchi with sage butter. Take a kilogram and a half of old potatoes, cook them in their jackets and then peel them and rice the flesh. Mound this on your work surface and make a crater, maybe even a caldera, and tip into this the yolks of three eggs, a handful of flour and the same of parme

How to eat in the heat.

What do you eat when it's hot? I like barbecue and salads. Easy grills with flavours appealing enough to raise an appetite when all you really want to do is sip a cold drink. Lemon meatballs. Serve these with yogurt and a simple Greek salad. And cold beer. Place 750 grams of combined veal and pork mince into a large mixing bowl and add an egg, 100 grams of grated parmesan cheese, three chopped garlic cloves, half a chopped red onion and three tablespoons of chopped parsley. Combine, with your hands. Now add the grated zest - ah, my new zester! - and the juice of one large lemon. Add salt and pepper and divide mixture into balls about the size of a rising full moon to the naked eye. Alright, a round egg, then. Flatten them slightly so that they resemble flying saucers. Grill between two lemon leaves, ten minutes or to your liking. You're not supposed to undercook mince, but I do, for two reasons. One, I trust my butcher; and two, I don't like burnt meat. We had these for a

Torrential rains strand southbound banana-laden trucks; Federal Govt. urged to fly them out.

So up go the prices again : With most of the crops stranded, there were calls for the Federal Government to fly the bananas out of the area as rain continued to destroy crops. Australian Banana Growers Council chairman Patrick Leahy said more than 10 per cent of the crop had been destroyed and that the damage bill could exceed $600,000. I love the way they want to call in the airforce. Bananas must be saved! And just when we thought bananas were back for good* . *Check out the banana-and-blueberry stuffed French Toast. I want one now.

Oh, that Paul Kelly.

In this weekend's The Weekend Australian , Elizabeth Meryment's Food Detective column refers to a February 4 story from the New York Times about the growing influence of foodbloggers. Ms Meryment writes: '... the Times story makes disheartening reading for those in the restaurant trade because it centres on the antics of one exceedingly annoying creature, self-dubbed Restaurant Girl, a nobody "former actress" by the name of Danyelle Freeman, who is trying to get herself noticed by reviewing restaurants on their opening nights.' The NYT article reported that the blog had been the first to break the news that the Russian Tea Room was re-opening. But the New York Times was wrong, and issued a correction on February 11. It's deliciously ironic that newspapers frowning at the caprices of bloggers trip up on their own big, goofy, mainstream-media feet. At least the New York Times corrects its mistakes. Papers here never seem to get around to it. I wrote a

Pasta seen in the company of potato.

Like two people conducting an illicit relationship, potatoes and pasta are not often seen together; apart from gnocchi, but that's a marriage. But, also like the above simile, potatoes and pasta can go together surprisingly well. I have made this recipe many times since a reader sent it to me a couple of years ago. Here's a simpler variation. I made this on a sweltering drought-ravaged late-summer's night and we ate outside in the cooler air, watching the clouds gather round and then go away again without dropping any water. I felt like reaching up and grabbing them and wringing them out like a dishcloth. They looked close enough. Pasta with potatoes and red capsicum. Cook two cups of pasta spirals. Toss in two potatoes, chopped into half inch cubes, so that they are just ready when the pasta is done. They should be not too soft. In another pan, gently cook a chopped onion, a scored clove of garlic and some strips of red capsicum. Drain pasta and potatoes when cooked, comb

Cooking? What's cooking?

Tonight, I could eat Thai, Portuguese, Japanese, Italian, Indian, Korean, French, Afghan, Egyptian, Indonesian, Mexican, Spanish, Argentinian, Greek, Eastern European, Jewish, Lebanese or several regional Chinese cuisines. The place is so full of ethnic restaurants, I don't know where to look. But if I am an average Melburnian, I probably won't eat any of them. I'll probably go to the supermarket and buy a box with a photograph of a meal on it containing a frozen food-like substance made in a factory and take it home and microwave it and sit in front of the television and watch The Biggest Loser or maybe heat up a jar of glop and tip it over some gluey spaghetti and call it pasta or order a takeout cardboard carton containing a disc of flat burnt dough with ham and pineapple on it and call it pizza. If you don't doubt that there has been, over several decades, a net loss of cooking skills and food culture, take a look at the trolleyloads of packaged junk and slabs of C

The cocktail party: the speeches.

Paul tapped on the microphone and shouted over the noise of the party, calling everyone to attention. There is something hilarious about someone announcing speeches in their own honour. Paul had organised three speakers, one representing each branch of his family and the third representing his friends. It sounds like he's conceited but he's not, he's just eccentric. (He also got one of his film crew friends to film the whole party. The guy had been walking around all night with a Arriflex on his shoulder followed by a sound man with a boom.) Someone from Paul’s father’s side of the family, a shaggy professor of something or other at some university, got up and droned on for about half an hour about fighting the good fight and never giving up and being a rebel and the Eureka rebellion and union struggles and doing everyone proud; and in between all of that, he told a few anecdotes, apropos of what I'm not quite sure. Tittering and chattering could be heard from the back

The cocktail party, continued.

A band was warming up on a platform in the corner and waitpeople were doing tours of the room with trays. It was a warm night and early guests had taken up positions out on the balcony. I wandered through the open doorway. There was a nice cool breeze. Out on the harbour, a brightly-lit ferry was backing away from a pier, loaded to the gills with a party. Music drifted across the water. Four or five people were standing at the edge of the balcony and a large florid man with a brandy balloon in his hand was entertaining them with his loud voice. If you didn’t pick him as a retired judge by the too-rounded vowels and the extended delivery, you would by the red nose. He sounded like 3AW's breakfast announcer John Burns after a couple of bottles of red. But then John Burns always sounds like he's had a couple of bottles of red, even at six in the morning. The florid man was waving his brandy glass around in circles to emphasise whatever he was saying but didn't appear to be spi

The cocktail party: finding it.

I was blundering around Docklands looking for a place. It took a while to find the place for two reasons. The first reason was that about thirty bars, restaurants and those odd places called venues were housed in a massive new steel-and-glass development that had only one street number, and my invitation didn't show the number of the actual venue. The second reason was that it was dark. Other people were having the same problem, wandering around like lost sheep then clustering together and asking each other where to go. Arms were pointing in all directions, like those old crossroads signposts. I asked a man in a blue shirt who was pushing a broom if he knew where I was. He knew. If you're lost, always ask the cleaner. Cleaners know everything about a place. He pointed to a glass door that opened onto a stairway leading towards a balcony. The glass door was only about three steps away and there was a large sign on it with the name of the place I'd been looking for in two-fo

Fun with double-barrelled names.

Why is gado gado gado gado? I don't know. But I think I just invented a way to run four identical words together in a sentence and still mean something. I suppose the same question could be asked of Woy Woy , Wagga Wagga, Grong Grong , Mitta Mitta and Lang Lang, which is both a renowned concert pianist and a small dusty town halfway between Melbourne and Phillip Island complete, according to its website , with 'Church's' and 'Bank's'. As usual, I digress. But it was fun! Digressing is even more enjoyable than procrastinating. I had some gado gado at a Thai cafe, Aloi something or other, in Hardware Lane recently. Yes, I know gado gado is Indonesian but they had it on the menu with a Thai twist. It was good but it took forever. If you're in a hurry, go to Don Don. Anyway, I thought I'd try it at home. It's dead easy if you have the ingredients. Peanut sauce for gado gado You will need: Half a cup of crunchy peanut butter (I only had smooth) Two

With apologies to Mr Kilmer, the poet.

Every year, I have a summer love affair with a flowering tree. One year it was oleander. Maybe it was the name. Oleander rolls off the tongue sensuously and speaks of summer romance. Or maybe it was the colours - white, pink, occasionally orange, crimson; like the stages of passion. Another year I lived somewhere else and everywhere I looked that early summer, there were smudges of an unearthly blue, like low-lying clouds, except clouds could never be that colour. They were the fleeting canopies of jacaranda trees and they seemed to hover and drift and then, like summer romance, they were gone. This year, red flowering gums have taken my eye. They are everywhere, unashamedly displaying their vermilion fire. They line streets, they lean over fences , they soften the verges along railway lines and they mass together in stunning parkland plantings. They are red like you've never seen red. A few days ago I walked from the train station at the end of a dry, windy day that was still as h

The Fastest Cafe in the Universe.

I was seventh in the queue one minute and being served the next. I'm not sure how it happened. The staff seemed to be picking off customers like snipers. There must have been twenty of them behind the counter. One took my order, the next took my money and shoved some change at me, a third banged a black lacquer tray down on the counter, someone's hand came from behind that person and placed a bowl of wasabi and soy and a serviette on the black lacquer tray and the last person pushed me off the production line with a wave and a smile that said 'Please sit down!' I sat on a stool that was slightly too big for a midget and placed the tray on a tiny semi-circular table that jutted out of the wall and within seconds another waitperson had placed my lunch on the tray and disappeared. I'd been in the place about two minutes. I've never had such quick service, anywhere. It's not just speedy, it's noisy. All those wait staff behind the counter don't work by s

Enough about the food. Let's talk about the plates.

I mix and match crockery because I like the English faded glory look at the table. They call it shabby chic, but of course it is neither shabby nor chic. Eccentric, maybe. What I don't like is a table that is so pristine, ordered and up-to-the-minute that it looks like you're trying to impress someone instead of being hospitable to them. Plus I don't live in Templestowe. If you come to dinner or lunch or afternoon tea, you might drink and dine from one or more of the following: Richard Ginori Manifattura di Laveno ironstone dinner plates and soup bowls, purchased from David Jones in 2001. Each plate and bowl has a different herb design in green on plain white: parsley, marjoram, oregano, sage, thyme, basil. Very pretty. Did I say ironstone? It chips when you look at it. It wasn't cheap. Typically Italian. Glad I didn't buy the whole set. Hutschenreuther Schumann, Bavaria. Dinner and side plates in white china with a floral and lattice embossed rim and a fluted ed

The Wrong Rice.

I hate it when things run out. I ran out of rice. It's OK if you haven't started cooking yet, but I had already scored a couple of garlic cloves, diced the flesh of a red capsicum and chopped some delicious fresh calamari into one-inch sections. Stock ready, white wine ready. Stove on. Olive oil in the pan. I don't do everything backwards, just some things. I went to the pantry for the rice jar. There was about an inch of arborio in it, enough for maybe half a serve. I wasn't about to rush to the supermarket. It was late. I was tired. I was hungry. The hell with it. I'll just use the rest of the arborio and add some other rice to fill it out. But what other rice would go best with arborio? I had: parboiled rice, red rice, white short-grain rice, sushi rice, jasmine rice, basmati rice and brown rice. Plus barley, which makes great risotto, except it isn't, it's orzotto. But barley would take longer to cook than arborio, so I chose the sushi rice. It worked k

William and Thomas's Much Older Sister.

She was only eight when she first moved out from under my roof, leaving me with an emptier feeling than when, a year previously, my marriage to her mother had ended. When a partner leaves there is sadness and emptiness, but this is sometimes leavened, if that is the right word, with an oddly sustaining self-righteous anger. When a child leaves, there is only sadness and emptiness and nothing else. My former wife and I had an arrangement whereby the children, then aged ten and eight, could move, within reason, between our houses by mutual agreement; rather than having enforced blocks of time at each place. At first they lived with me, with regular visits and stays at their mother's. It worked as well as things can work after a divorce. A year later, in 1988, my daughter, now nine, wished to base herself at her mother's, with regular trips back to me. So one Saturday morning, we moved her clothes and her toys and her school things and her dolls and her bicycle and herself; and th