Archive for June, 2009


Bean bewildered too long…

June 30, 2009

legumes and cerealsCulinary confession #76843.

I am deeply confused about beans. Dried ones, that is – I think I have a handle on the fresh green/flat/snake/broad variety. And I’m all over the lentil and the chick pea (kinda).

But for the life of me, I cannot fathom the difference between a great Northern bean and a haricot and a cannellini and a ‘white bean’ when I’m in the wretched grocer.

I have decided to get into dried bean cookery, when I have time, rather than going the canned route every time, especially when things need a longer cooking times and I don’t want them to fall apart.

But of course my search for haricots at the veg shop yielded only great Northerns, or ‘white beans’. Are these just differently named versions of the same thing? They sure look similar.

While we’re on the subject, a little while ago a friend asked me the difference between a fava bean and a (dried) broad bean, and I had no clue.

Are there actually really four million different kinds of beans, or are they just called different names in every region of every state of every country? Because when I see, on this helpful-looking site that:

“fava bean = broad bean = butter bean = Windsor bean = horse bean = English bean = fool = foul = ful = feve = faba = haba = haba”

I simply despair of ever getting to know my navy from my haricot from my cannellini, let alone my eye-of-goat bean from my black-eyed pea!

Is there some simple resource to turn to here? Do you have rules about when to use one bean in preference to another? Or an easy rule of thumb for substitution? Are beans that look very similar likely to be of similar density and cooking times and methods?

Or should I just give the whole beany game away and go back to the tinned ones – at least there are only five or six kinds of those!

Awaiting your expertise….

PS: If you stick with canned beans, you could do a lot worse than pop over to stonesoup for these excellent recipes – scroll to the end for extras. Stonesoup has it going on with beans in a can.


21st century honesty system

June 29, 2009

thingsontoastWe had a swift overnight trip to Dungog, in the  Barrington Tops area of the Hunter Valley last week. The reason for our drive was very sad (vale Valerie, and may you rest peacefully), but the countryside was absolutely gorgeous.

Dungog itself is a really beautiful little town, and unlike most country towns I know of, has a perfectly architecturally preserved main street without yet having succumbed to the chintzification that afflicts other such ‘historic’  towns. (Dungog also, I hear, has a brilliant Australian film festival each year which draws thousands of folk to town.)

Anyway, on our drive home we took a slight detour to the award-winning produce growers, Johnson’s Farmgate at the hamlet of Glen William. We’ve heard a great deal over the years about Johnson’s Farmgate, as our friends J&B return from their Gog weekends with boxes full of lovely veg.

So we stopped in and filled our car boot with locally-grown goodies.

Love the vibe of this place. It’s a little wooden shed at the farm gate (surprise) on the side of the road, stuffed with either produce from the farm itself, or grown by other local or regional producers (with the possible exception of Eumundi Smokehouse snags & bacon, which, as ES is just  up the road from us here in the inner west of Sydney, we left alone!).

Inside the shed are a couple of fridges and lots of baskets and boxes of beautiful-looking grub. No sign of actual people, but a very convienent honesty system based on a set of scales, a calculator, a notepad & pen and a cash box.

This seems to work perfectly, perhaps partly because of the sizable closed-circuit television screen in the corner of the shed!

As Senor remarked, however, that must be more for appearance’s sake than anything because it would be pretty difficult if not impossible for the telly-monitor elsewhere to see if one were cheating at any point of the transaction including the cashbox that you stuff your moola into.

It was all luscious-looking stuff. We came home with three beautiful eggplants, with which I made baba ganoush next day; two bags of divinely ripe tomatoes (Romas and small garden toms – I slow-roasted the Romas, seen here on toast with a slathering of the Dungog baba and some avo -mmm, best lunch); a couple of hefty bulbs of garlic; two pristine leeks; a bag of silky salad greens; some sweet green baby beans; a good thick bunch of rosemary; a massive bunch of beetroots which I’m either going to roast or make a beetroot dip once I prise the empress’s recipe from her fingers; and a jar of fig jam.

That set us back about thirty bucks. I don’t know if that’s cheap or not, but the freshness and quality of the food and pure pleasure of the experience made  it a complete bargain to us. So, viva the farm gate and the honesty system, and long may it prosper well into the 21st Century…


Herb troubleshooting – help!

June 27, 2009

garlic2 day 14 june 27So here is my garlic-in-progress, beginning with Ricardo’s special housewarming garlic, of which I took one clove and planted it.

By day 5, all was well; new growth was peeping out of the potting mix. Day 8, it was up and at ’em and lovely bright green.

But we’re at day 14 now, and I am a bit worried about it – it’s taller, but it is looking rather wan – pale and washed out.

Any advice?? Am I overwatering? Not enough sun? Need food already?? It did rain a lot in the last couple of weeks…

Luckily, if this one doesn’t make it I have a plan B – thanks to the fabulous Cate Kennedy, she of the stunning short story collection Dark Roots (as well as a new novel in the works and, I am proud to say, being a contributor to our new anthology Brothers & Sisters, out in November – her story is a killer).

I arrived home yesterday to a little packet in my letterbox. When I opened it, I was thrilled to find a little plastic zip-lock bag full of baby garlic plants! This package was accompanied by a card from Cate saying she’d read my blather here about Oz garlic being hard to find, and yanked these out of her Victorian lawn.

How good is that?? Have planted those babies today and you’ll see them appearing here very soon I hope!

In the meantime, I’ve also herbs day 14begun planning my herb garden, which will go under the bathroom window as soon as the window frame is painted.

Am raising some thyme, basil and parsley from seed.

At least, I’m raising some basil and thyme, as you can see – but what’s gone on with the damn parsley?? Not a peep. Two weeks in, and nutting doing.

Once again (Jamie, are you out there?), I need help! Will it come up? Dud seed packet? too cold? What have I done wrong?


Blame it on the (culinary) boogie

June 27, 2009

kitchen musicLike everyone else on the planet, this morning I downloaded The Essential Michael Jackson from iTunes.

I confess I’m always confused by public outpourings of grief for celebrities – everybody dies, right? And it’s not like anyone actually knew him … and while he’s left behind some rich cosmetic surgeons and some very screwed-up children, he’s also left us with the utterly brilliant, surprising, clever, unstoppable music. So here’s to MJ, fucked-up genius.*

Who doesn’t love iTunes, and an iPod, specially the ‘shuffle’ function? Our crappy old CD player died a while ago, so when we moved back home I “invested in” (don’t you love how magazines always use that phrase for shopping?) one of those dinky little fold-up speaker pod thingies. Set it to shuffle within pop, or R&B, or jazz, and off you go…

Anyhoo, all this  MJ revival has made me decide I need a Music to Cook By playlist. Needs to be upbeat enough to allow a little benchside boogie while you flambe the fish, but not too frenetic – some particularly fast Latin music, for example, turns a pleasant morning’s cooking into a speedy janglefest. You’re pretty safe with funk, disco or some nostalgic singalong pop, I reckon. Here are some definites to go on my kitchen playlist.

  • Can You Feel It – Michael Jackson, RIP
  • Use Me – Bill Withers
  • Everyone’s a Winner – Hot Chocolate
  • Grace Kelly – Mika
  • Is She Really Going Out With Him? – Joe Jackson
  • Love Serenade – Barry White
  • My Sharona – The Knack
  • Little L – Jamiroquai
  • Got To Get You Into My Life – Earth Wind & Fire
  • I Don’t Feel Like Dancing – Scissor Sisters
  • You’re So Vain – Carly Simon
  • Pump it Up – Elvis Costello
  • Can’t Get You Out of My Head – Kylie
  • Love Will Keep Us Together – Captain & Tenille
  • Rescue Me – Fontella Bass
  • I Will Survive – Cake

Think this will be a work in progress for some time. And your own cookery playlist? Love to hear some more suggestions ….

* If you are looking for an antidote to all the ghoulish sentimental drooling over MJ, this may be interesting (thanks to reeling & writhing for the Twitter link); and so is Germaine on Michael (and thanks to Matt for that link).


Beer o’clock for Steph

June 25, 2009

stephbeerAfter an annoying absence in their online content last week, happily the SMH has posted the Empress’s 3-of-a-kind column again this week.

This week she’s got her beer goggles on. Specifically, to examine food cooked with beer, from shanks to pork hock to beef & Guiness pie (mmm).

Pop along and have a look here.


Reducing your waste line

June 21, 2009

foodwasteAustralians, I am told, throw away three million tonnes of food each year, averaging 145kg of discarded food for every man, woman and child.

And Sydneysiders are apparently the worst offenders – half of our weekly domestic garbage is food. While so many people in the world have no food at all, we throw half of ours away. Obscene. And not just because of the sheer wastefulness of it, but the environmental impact – disastrous levels of methane, a damaging greenhouse gas, arise from all this organic matter going into landfill.

I must admit I’ve been less watchful of this than I should be, and have used the fact that we have a worm farm rather too nonchalantly when it comes to disposal of unused food.

Senor, on the other hand, has always been a vigilante in this area, using my regular Monday evening absence from home to act as a kind of weekly fridge bottom-feeder, eating leftovers and concocting some often rather unusual dinners for one (corn cobs and curry sauce with a mayonnaise & raspberry coulis chaser? Mmm-mm! Just another instance of the usefulness of his iron-clad stomach).

But I hereby declare a personal war on food waste. Last night, having spied a very weary eggplant in the bottom of the crisper, I rang the Empress for a tip or two, then made baba ganoush for the first time ever.  It was easy, pretty quick, and extremely good. And a perfectly usable whole eggplant was saved from the worms.

For other fridge scraps, I invoke the memory of my Aunty Pat, who stayed with me for a month or so many years ago. I worked near home, and would pop home for lunch. Every day there was some incredibly delicious soup she’d made from what I had seen as highly dubious scraps and nubs of past-it veg in the crisper. Occasionally it didn’t do to think of what some of that veg had looked like, but the soup was always amazing.

So, how do you reduce food waste?

There are a few websites devoted to this issue, containing lots of tips and tricks for preventing waste, but I have to say that anyone with half a brain could figure out a good proportion of them (‘freeze leftovers and reheat later’ and ‘keep vegetables in bags to keep fresh longer’ – ingenious!) And the Australian one is rather depressingly skewed towards the use of Tupperware, its major sponsor (no mention of the greenhouse gases produced by manufacture of plastic, of course). And lots of reader tips involve that apparently very popular practice of popping leftovers of all kinds into ice cube trays [“too much bouillabaisse? just pop excess into an ice cube tray for use as needed“], which I have always found amusing. How many ice cube trays does a person have??

The main advice, of course, is not to buy too much perishable food in the first place – sounds crazy, but apparently it works! And secondly, don’t cook too much food.

At the very least, get yourself a worm farm, if not a proper compost bin, so that unusable food scraps don’t go into landfill. We have a spanking new worm farm with two thousand head of worm, ready to chomp. We had to set our old worms free when the building work began, so are hoping our new batch are as ravenous as the old ones. All the advice is that worms won’t eat onions & garlic, but our old lot chowed down on them with relish, so fingers crossed that the newbies are similarly omnivorous.

Anyhoo, check out these sites; some of the readers’ tips are not bad, and quite a few are good for a laugh. However, I reckon we could get a much more interesting list going here.

1. Using up carrots: My first contribution will be ol’ Guillaume’s carrot puree, used to thicken his BB – I made too much, but have used it twice since, in thickening a chicken cacciatore and a lamb and pea mixture for a pie. Wherever a recipe calls for thickening with flour, chuck in your puree. You could even pop it into an ice cube tray to create easy-to-use individual portions!

2. Grow your own herbs: which means only using what you need. I’m forever throwing out half-bunches of parsley or thyme (I know, I should be freezing them into damn ice-cubes – but growing them is more pleasurable and aesthetically pleasing to boot).

Okay, now your turn. What do you do to reduce food waste?


Moore fictional food from Lorrie

June 20, 2009

like life lorrieAnother taste of food-in-fiction from the superlative Lorrie Moore, still from this old collection Like Life.

This from a story called Joy, where Jane works in a midwestern shopping mall, in a cheese shop called Swedish Isle. Her job is to proffer samples of cheese spreads and dips on crackers out in front of the shop.

She liked the customer contact. “Care to try our chive-dill today?” she would ask brightly. She felt like Molly Malone, only friendlier and no cockles or mussels; no real seafood for miles. This was the deep Midwest. Meat sections in the grocery stores read: BEEF, PORK, and FISH STICKS.

“Free?” people would ask and pick up a cracker or a bread square from her plastic tray.

“Sure is.” She would smile and watch their faces as they chewed. If it was a man she thought was handsome, she’d say, “No. A million dollars,” and then giggle in the smallest, happiest way. Sometimes the beggars – lost old hippies and mall musicians- would come in and line up, and she would feed them all, like Dorothy Day in a soup kitchen.

Jane runs into an old high school friend in the mall.

“Bridey, you look great. What have you been up to?” It seemed a ridiculous question to ask of someone you hadn’t seen since high school, but there it was.

“Well, last year I fell madly in love,” Bridey said with great pride. This clearly was on the top of her list, and her voice suggested it was a long list. “And we got married, and we moved back to town after roughing it on the South Side of Chicago since forever. It’s great to be back here, I can tell you.” Bridey helped herself to a cheddar sample and then another one. The cheese in her mouth stuck between her front teeth in a pasty, yellowish mortar, and when she swallowed and smiled back at Jane, well, again, there it was, like something unfortunate but necessary.

At the end, Jane’s colleague Heffie quits work at the shop, “but the day she did she brought in a bottle of champagne, and she and Jane drank it right there on the job”.

They poured it into Styrofoam cups and sipped it, crouching behind the deli case, craning their necks occasionally to make sure no customers had wandered in.

“To our little lives,” toasted Heffie.

“On the prairie,” added Jane. The champagne fizzed against the roof of her mouth. She warmed it there, washing it around, until it flattened, gliding down her throat, a heated, sweet water.

She and Heffie opened a jar of herring in a cream sauce, which had a messily torn label. They dug their fingers in and ate. They sang a couple of Christmas carols they both knew, and sang them badly.

Inside the deli case, the dry moons of the cheeses and the mucky spreads usual plastic tags: HELLO MY NAME IS. Jane reached in and plucked out one that said, HELLO MY NAME IS Swiss Almond Whip.

Here,” she said to Heffie. “This is for you.” Heffie laughed, gravelly and loud, then took the tag and stuck it in one of her barrettes, up near the front, where the hair was vanishing, and the deforested scalp shone back in surprise, pale but constant, beneath.

Long extract, I know, but I couldn’t resist.


Winged victory – chicken brodo

June 18, 2009

brodoI have never been a big fan of chicken wings – too fiddly, greasy, just annoying, and for what?

But Ms Karen Martini (I only just thought recently what a killer name this is. How I would love to be called Charlotte Martini) has changed my mind, and found an excellent use for the delights of these tender moist little bits of flesh without the finger-licking tedium. Or at least, the tedious bit is only the cook’s job, not the diners’.

Here is Ms M’s chicken & vegetable brodo faithfully reproduced by some other braver recipe-sharing blogger  (the original is from KM’s second book Cooking at Home – buy it, it’s brilliant apart from way too many arty personal kitchen and/or new baby photos – why do people do that??), and below is my slightly altered version, replacing a few ingredients with whatever we had in the fridge. But the big debt is to KM.

Getting the flesh off the chook bones is the fiddliest bit, but from start to finish it took a bit over an hour, and was sooo delicious – was feeling a little off-colour with burgeoning headcold (swine flu?) yesterday arvo, but after a bowl of this stuff was bounding with good health.

I urge you to make this at least once in the next week – I promise it’ll cure what ails you!

Chicken & vegetable brodo, with thanks to KM

  • 1kg chicken wings (mine were organic from woolies, and cost six bucks. Bargain.)
  • 2 litres chicken stock
  • 1 leek, finely chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, ditto
  • 1 small red chilli, split
  • 3 fronds silverbeet or cavolo nero – stems diced, leaf roughly chopped
  • 1 celery stick, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • ½ chorizo sausage, finely sliced (optional, can leave out)
  • ½ cup arborio rice
  • Small handful spaghetti, broken into 5cm sticks ( I acidentally used tube spag, but it was still fine)
  • 2 zucchini, sliced
  • ½ cup frozen peas
  • Chopped parsley
  • Grated parmesan, to serve Read the rest of this entry ?

Beef Bourguignon, Bennelong style

June 15, 2009

guillaumeMy cyber-savvy mother-in-law cooked dinner for eight on Saturday night, including us, and her main was a spectacular beef Bourguignon she found on the SBS Food Safari website.

The step-by-step recipe is all in an online video with the Opera House Bennelong restaurant’s Guillaume Brahimi showing the way. The result was too good to describe – and one of the fab secrets is using pureed carrot instead of flour to thicken the stew.

Of course, being a fancypants chef, he used Wagyu beef (hello??) – but he also says he’d have no trouble using ‘any piece of beef’ so I guess I’d go for chuck. Annie if you’re out there, what did you use? It was soo tender.

Anyway, here’s the video – I might give it a whirl this week, will report back with results. And thanks to Annie for the amazing taste test.


Sitting duck – cheat’s cassoulet

June 14, 2009
Assembled, not yet baked...

Assembled, not yet baked...

Today, with gloomy rainy cold weather and a heavily pregnant friend here for lunch en famille, we decided to go all-out on the winter stodge and revisit a deliciously easy duck cassoulet I made a few times years ago.

The cassoulet recipe is a great Brigitte Hafner dish, from Good Living in May 2004 – a very stained and blobbed-on bit of newsprint that lives in our big folder of cut-out recipes. The original has a whole fresh duck chopped up and roasted in pieces, instead of the traditional confit duck, which makes it not so pricy and still pretty easy, but today I went the total Convenience Cassoulet route with bought confit duck and canned beans, thereby bastardising this into an even simpler recipe which still packs an excellent punch.

Bless the internet, because I’ve just found the original Brigitte Hafner version here, and below is my even quicker version. Read the rest of this entry ?