Archive for July, 2009

h1

Lady Marmalade

July 19, 2009

marmaladeMy husband recently returned from a visit to his mum, Annie, bearing Gift: this jar of cumquat marmalade, made on a whim from the cumquats in her own garden and last week’s Good Living recipe (I think this recipe here is the one, right Annie? Let me know if not!).

Anyway, it wasn’t till yesterday that I had some of it slathered on toast (sourdough from the excellent Bourke St Bakery which happily for us has opened a new shop just a couple of blocks from our house). And my, that stuff was good.

This marmalade is magic – I’m not much of a jam person, having a reasonably low sugar tolerance, and so absolutely love this stuff which is sweet but tart and just with that teeny subtle bitterness that  makes marmalade so much more interesting than jam.

So this is, as you see, a cheat’s blog, given that today’s recipe is not only someone else’s but I didn’t even make it  – but it’s so good, and looks so beautiful, that I thought the Lady Marmalade wouldn’t mind me sharing her triumph with you.

The Lady reports in her comment on the polenta posting that this recipe is easy and results in feelings of industrious virtue.  And I am sure that if there are any tricks or tweaks required, she will let us know.

I have never made jam or anything like it in my life, but I heartily recommend you all rush off and make jars of this stuff (and then pop one  in the post to me…)


h1

Difficult to swallow

July 17, 2009

Devour a BookI am so depressed about the Productivity Commission report that I have nothing more to say. Others write more eloquently on this topic than I can.

One thing I have been shocked by is how much really deep personal hostility seems to be out there toward writers themselves, which I find depressing beyond belief. The pro-PC camp has called us “greedy” – which sticks a leeetle in the craw when the average income of an Australian writer is $11,000 pa – “parasitic”, “self promoting”, “pretentious”, ” ‘authors’ ” (for this person the word itself is obviously a term of abuse – hence quote marks) and the list goes on. Call me naive or just out of touch, but where does this deep-seated antipathy towards creative people come from? What have they done to deserve it, apart from make a (very) modest living? Are other artists equally hated?

There has also been a lot of sneering when authors like Tim Winton and Richard Flanagan and Mem Fox express their views, described as “elegantly expressed outrage” and so on; it’s the same tack the anti-Obama camp took during his campaign: i.e. associating  skill with words with some kind of sneaky duplicity, logical conclusion being that anyone who uses language well is a deceptive person who must under no circumstances be trusted. Of course this also ignores the fact that the opposition commentators use language equally “cleverly”.

The funny thing is that all those people who hate writers so much are apparently still keen to get their hands on the dirt-cheap books that will flood the country as a result – that is, books written by the same kind of greedy, parasitic, pretentious, word-lovin’ “authors“.  (NB when I see a major retail discount chain passing on huge savings to customers I will eat my hat; according to the 7.30 Report’s piece on this the other week, quoting the ACCC, the CD /Oz music industry deregulation resulted in CD price drops of 8%. If the same thing happens to books, that’ll be a saving of $2.40 on a $30 paperback. Woohoo, break out the Krug.)

Below are some comments written by people who are less depressed than I, who still have some fighting fire in the belly. I’m giving up and never reading newspaper column blog comments on this topic again. Be warned though – these comments are by “authors” and use “words”. Let’s lynch ’em.

h1

A corny issue: how I cured my polenta paranoia

July 16, 2009

polentaCulinary confession  #93475 – I have always been terrified of polenta – that lovely-looking bright yellow corn meal that other people cook beautifully.

Before last weekend, the only time I’d attempted it was long ago, trying to make those little grilled-polenta fingers you see about the place. The result when I did, in a word: unspeakable.

Sooo, I have since then steered clear. However, my friend Jane is the queen of supercreamy, smooth-as-silk polenta and serves it with the kinds of slow-cooked shanky, meaty things we’re enjoying at the moment. So I emailed her asking for her secret.

She sent me a very brief reply, headed Piece O’ Polenta (hmm, I guess this means she’s hitherto known as the Potentate of Polenta? I’m running out of p-words…)

I tested it out on some unsuspecting chums last weekend, and it was great! And so simple – a fair bit of stirring involved, but the result, my friends, is worth it. We ate with a delish osso bucco (Karen Martini’s recipe, natch).

Here’s the recipe, short and oh so sweet. My thanks to the P of P for sharing. I doubled this quantity for eight people, and it was plenty, with a smidge left over. I also threw in some grated parmesan at the last minute but it’s completely unnecessary if you’d rather not.

Soft polenta

4 cups milk
1/2 onion
2 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
75g polenta

1. Combine milk, onion, thyme and bay leaf in a heavy-based saucepan and slowly bring to the boil.

2. Remove from heat and stand for 15 minutes. Strain, return milk to a clean saucepan, bring to the boil, add 1/2 teaspoon salt and slowly whisk in polenta.

3. Cook polenta over lowest heat, stirring regularly with a whisk for about 30 minutes or until soft. Season to taste. Should be soft and flowing – if too stiff, add some boiling water.

h1

Oriental Empress gets her pot hot

July 16, 2009

stephhotpotThe online bods at SMH like to keep things lively in terms of the Empress’s weekly column (now it’s there, now it isn’t. Happily this week Steph is there in full living colour with a spot on Chinese hotpots. She writes:

Huddling over a huge communal bowl of steaming broth, poaching meats, vegetables and noodles may qualify as the perfect way for a group of friends to spend a winter’s evening. Some believe the poaching technique originated in Mongolia, while others argue it’s unlikely, given the people’s nomadic ways and the need for specialised pots and equipment. Szechuan residents are also strong contenders for the inventors’ crown.

So pop along to Good Living and check it out.  Incidentally, I’m excited today for a couple of reasons. First, I just ate the best lazy person’s lunch I’ve had in ages – a can (greedy!) of chickpeas mixed with the Empress’s famous tomato oil pickle and a dollop of yoghurt – oh my, it was good.

Second, we get to go goodfood hunting with her tonight – Uighur Chinese in Hurstville. Uighur food is amazing – kind of Turkish Muslim influence, I believe, yet Chinese. You may have only heard the word Uighur because of the recent horrific violence in China between Uighurs (Muslim folks) and Han Chinese. But don’t let that obscure the fact of peaceful relations here in Oz, with Uighur restaurants happily dotted through Chinatown and elsewhere. MMMmmm.

*Postscript: Speaking of the above, Sydney PEN (of which I’m a proud member) has put out a statement today condemning the astounding attempt by the Melbourne Chinese consulate to censor the Melbourne International Film Festival by demanding it remove a film about a Uighur activist from its program. Foolish of course (the film has now got huge publicity as the story is covered all over the mainstream media from here to Britain), but also creepy. Check out Sydney PEN’s statement here.

h1

Class act: Alan Hollinghurst’s venison

July 13, 2009

The Line of BeautyI’m loving The Line of Beauty, immersing myself in it at last after having avoided it for years because of Booker hype (how many of us, do you think, are turned off rather than on to a book by literary prize hoohaa?). But I’m having that thrill of discovery of a writer one instantly loves, knowing there are more of the author’s books lining up after this one to be enjoyed.

I so admire Hollinghurst’s psychological precision and the superfine texture of every passing moment. Tricky to pull off for long without making the prose drag, but right now it’s making me see how lumpen and heavyhanded are my own clumpings through scenes, and is particularly instructive for the novel I’m working on at the moment, which I now realise demands a much, much finer net in which to haul along its catch, if that makes any sense at all.

Anyway, of course this novel is all about class, being set in Thatcher’s England, when the young protagonist Nick is coming gloriously, though secretively, into his new love life as a gay man. He’s staying with family of his old Oxford friend Toby Fedden, Toby’s father being the up-and-coming parliamentarian Gerald. I am only a quarter of the way in, so have no idea what’s to come, but am loving the writing itself so much that I hope it takes a long time to unfold. But as Nick’s ultra-rich Tory hosts aren’t entirely aware that he’s gay, and his lover Leo is black and working class, I predict trouble at mill.

Last night I came to this passage about a long, ghastly dinner party full of homophobic old politicians, uptight matrons and pretentious upper-class claptrap. The beast in question comes from a family estate, prepared by the family’s ‘help’, Elena, in the afternoon and then served at dinner by pompous Gerald.

Elena hurried in from the pantry with the joint, or limb, of venison, plastered up in a blood-stained paste of flour and water. The whole business of the deer, culled at Hawkeswood each September and sent to hang for a fortnight in the  Feddens’ utility room, was an ordeal for Elena, and an easy triumph for Gerald, who always fixed a series of dinner parties to advertise and eat it. Elena set the heavy dish on the table just as Catherine came down from her room, with her hands held up like blinkers to avoid the sight. ‘Mm – look at that, Cat!’ said Badger.

‘Fortunately I won’t even have to look at you eating it,’ said Catherine; though she did quickly peer at it with a kind of relish of revulsion.

…. [later]

When the venison came in Gerald yapped, ‘Don’t touch the plates! Don’t touch the plates!’ so that it sounded as though something had gone wrong. ‘They have to be white hot for the venison.’  The fact was that the fat congealed revoltingly if the plates were less then scorching. ‘Yes, my brother-in-law has a deer park,’ he explained to Morden Lipscomb. ‘A rare enough amenity these days.’  The guests looked humbly at their helpings. ‘No,’ Gerald went on, in his bristling way of answering questions he wished someone had asked, ‘this is buck venison … comes into season before the doe, and very much superior.’  He went round with the burgundy himself. ‘I think you’ll like this,’ he said to Barry Groom, and Barry sniffed at it testily, as if he knew he was thought to have more money than taste.

h1

Becoming broad-minded…

July 9, 2009

driedbroadbeansHaving got my dried bean anxieties off my chest, I am happy to report that I am now running my fingers through those slippery little beauties at every opportunity (thankyou Steph for the advice to get over myself …)

Once I remember to do the soaking – pretty easy, you must admit – the course is set, and it forces me to actually make the thing I had planned. And everything I’ve done – okay, two things (a repeat of the cassoulet, but with dried beans, and this one) – are tres simple and delicious (even without a pressure-cooker, Empress…)

A couple of years ago we stayed a fortnight in a rented house in Puglia, in the south of Italy, with some educated friends who knew that although Puglia was in the daggy, bogan bit of Italia, it also had the most spectacular coastline, beautiful towns and THE most incredible food. Anything we bought at the supermarket was astoundingly good quality, from chooks to calamari, and if we bought at an actual market market, even better.

Anyway, there are two things I remember very clearly from the menu of one restaurant we went to in the elegant town of Lecce (earlier researched by Italophile Jane, who speaks the language beautifully and knows her food): a rich, tender dark casserole of horse meat, which was meltingly delicious* and a smooth, delicate but complex broad bean puree for dipping stuff into – ditto.

So I was very pleased recently to see this recipe for Pugliese broad bean puree with chicory in Gourmet Traveller’s Italian edition, and made it today. It is the simplest thing in the world (and note to the confused, i.e. me, broad beans are fava beans, apparently) but creamy and delicately layered in flavour and silky in the mouth. I haven’t yet done the chicory and garlic oil bit, but plan to in the next day or two.

Go ahead, make it – basically it’s a broad bean version of hoummus. Lemon juice, garlic, oil, salt, whizzed up with the beans which are earlier cooked in chicken stock. Really good. And aren’t dried broad beans so beautiful to look at, apart from anything else?

*Before anyone freaks out about eating horse, I see no problem with it if, like me, you also eat pork, lamb, etc etc. Morally it’s entirely equivalent – which, I admit, means it is deeply complicated and basically indefensible. But the separating of some animals from others for purely cultural culinary reasons is ridiculous. Same with dogs, crickets, rat, whatever.  If you eat a clever, sensitive animal like a pig, you can’t judge anyone for eating a dog or a horse. And if you feel fine about eating animals of lower ‘intelligence’, why is that? Okay, lecture finished…. sigh. Enjoy the beans.


h1

Neil Perry’s lamb, mint and pea pie

July 9, 2009

lambpie(or How I Got My Bottom Crispy)

I wanted to make some freezable food for a friend’s father who has been having a rough time, so I turned to an old favourite, this lamb, mint and pea pie from Neil Perry’s Good Food – it is a chunky, hearty little number full of comfort, but with the zing of the mint to give it a lift.

The only trouble is that I hate pies that have no bottom – in my book that’s not a pie, right?

And as I am no pastry-chef (my sister, on the other hand, makes the best flaky pastry this side of paradise) I pretty much always use the frozen stuff. (Except for one great pastry made with suet for rabbit pies – hmm, must get that one out again. Sooo delicious.)

Anyway, even with frozen pastry I have too often failed in the past to get a crispy bottom (vale Mrs Slocombe), and as the only thing worse than no base on a pie is a sludgy, undercooked one, I determined to get it right this time. And it worked – shortcrust pastry on the bottom, which I made sure for once to really thoroughly blind-bake, which also provides an excuse to use my lovely ceramic bauble pastryweights. And puff pastry on the top, well-brushed with egg wash.

And if I say so myself, these little babies turned out beautifully crisp on the base, reasonably rich on the innards and suitably golden on top. And if you cook them in these disposable aluminium trays you can chuck them in the freezer and then distribute to the needy as your heart desires.

PS: As I keep saying, just buy Good Food – it’s a great book; every recipe is a winner. Saves faffing around all over the internet…