Archive for August, 2009

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Eat her words…

August 12, 2009

eating booksJust listened to the good ol’ Book Show on Radio National, to a piece I missed a little while back with Helen Greenwood, a very experienced food writer who, among her other many gigs, apparently  teaches workshops in writing about food. I’ve actually been toying with the idea of having a crack at teaching such a workshop myself (about food in fiction, only), but from what I hear Ms Greenwood probably does it better. In this interview Helen pretty much covers what is so riveting about grub – not just the eating, but its tendrils into everything else that’s important: history, art, culture, medicine, love, conflict, ethics, death, emotion, memory … no wonder what’s on the plate is so endlessly interesting to mind, body and soul.

Anyway, check out the audio of Helen Greenwood’s interview here – and as I twirled around the net after Ms Greenwood, I came across another good bit of her work here, in a review* she did quite a while back for the SMH of  a brilliant-sounding anthology of food writing, rather boringly titled Choice Cuts: A Selection of Food Writing from Around the World and Throughout History. But though the title may be dull as dishwater, the book itself sounds excellent – one for the Christmas list I say, if it’s still around.

*I have to say the first line of this review, where Ms G takes anthology editors gently to task, gave me a leetle shiver; ours is out in November and I’m the editor who might be copping it –  yeek… but you know what? I don’t reckon I will. Because the stories in our book, Brothers & Sisters, are fricking gold. Take one Nam Le, mix with one Cate Kennedy, one Tegan Bennett Daylight and a Christos Tsiolkas, and blend with one Robert Drewe, a Roger McDonald, an Ash Hay, a Tony Birch, an slug of newness a la Virginia Peters & Michael Sala, rounding off with a sprinkle of One, and I say that is one impeccable recipe. Oh, how a metaphor can be stretched and mangled. Believe me, though – unlike this blather of mine, the book is a cracker.

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Say cheese (cake)

August 12, 2009

This week the Empress’s Good Living column discusses the only dessert apart from chocolate that I am officially in love with – cheesecake:

stephcheesecakeThink cheesecake and most of us have an image of the high American baked versions, rich with cream cheese, eggs and sugar. Sometimes known as Lindy’s cheesecake, after a now-defunct New York restaurant, it rests on a buttery base of crushed biscuits, flavoured with citrus rind and often topped with fruit compote. Even though there are more cheesecake recipes from the US than anywhere else, other cultures have their own versions using other cream cheeses.

To follow her investigations of the best three cheesecakes in Sydders, check out her column here.

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Shelf help

August 7, 2009

cookbooksToday’s post is inspired by two things – first, the empty space we now have in our new cookbook shelves; and second, our chat here about Julia Child, and especially Julie’s & Fiona’s recollections of working from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which Fiona so beautifully described as “my first cooking book mother – the human mother being a frozen chop sort of cook…”

Now, as you can see, in place of our crappy old single cookbook shelf jammed into a corner of the living room are these spacious purpose-built cookbook shelves in the kitchen itself (I know, the top one is a leetle cramped, but good for mags perhaps?)

So I discover to my delight that we need more cookbooks. We did chuck out a few duds when we cleared the place for the reno, so pretty much only useful ones remain.

And all this Julia Child talk has made me think about classics I should own but do not – and I would love your advice. I want to hear about your ‘cookbook mother’ – the book that got you into cooking in a way your own mum didn’t.

I know we’ve touched on this via my Elizabeth David ramble here, but I want to hear more about your early cookery book love affairs. After Elizabeth, it was two Aussie blokes who led me up the kitchen garden path – Paul Merrony, with a slender (almost self-published-looking) book called The New French Cooking in Australia: Recipes from Merrony’s Restaurant, and the other was Geoff Slattery, with a very workable and appealingly instructive book called Simple Flavours. Both of these propelled me wonderfully towards fresh, simple yet classic dishes and flavour combinations. What about you?

And what about those classics every cook should have – you must have at least two or three on your shelves that One doesn’t?  Help me fill the void!

Postscript: A couple of recent birthdays round here have suddenly yielded two beauties since I wrote the above – Marcella Hazan’s The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking and Greg & Lucy Malouf’s Saha: A chef’s journey through Syria & Lebanon. Happy, happy days in this house!


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The martian’s pizza

August 6, 2009

stephmartianThe Empress’s SMH Good Living column has been the most emailed SMH article so far today – and with good reason. This week she checked out an outlandish (to boring old Anglos like me!) Japanese dish called okonomiyaki, which her husband has described as “a martian’s idea of a pizza”.  Writes the Empress:

This could be one of life’s weirdest dishes. Having said that, when done well it’s compellingly delicious. Cabbage with pork, seafood or a combination of both are lightly bound in a flour, egg and dashi batter that is fried as a thick round. This is where things start getting trippy: once cooked, the okonomiyaki is covered with squiggles of Japanese mayonnaise and special sauce that is like the Aussie barbecue variety, sprinkled with nori flakes and piled with bonito shavings, which wave slowly in the pancake’s rising heat.

To find out where to eat this strange delight, visit her column here.

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Herbal remedies?

August 5, 2009

parsley seedlingOkay, so contrary to all sensible advice I have planted my herb seedlings too early, and now they’re in the garden – surviving, but still looking decidedly peaky.

I separated all the weeny dicotyledons (love saying that) and planted them in the new herb bed a few centimetres apart. But at this time of the year, until the sun gets a little higher and reaches over the studio roof all day instead of for only three or so hours, the bed just ain’t getting quite enough sun I guess.

The thyme, planted in a long row right along the cement edge of the bed (as advised by Jamie here), is looking just fine, nice and deep green. But the parsley, basil and coriander all seem to be wearing this rather wan shade of green that doesn’t quite convince.

I’ve been watering every couple of days, very gently with a watering can (from our new rainwater tank – so satisfying), and have given them one slurp of seaweed food and one of diluted worm juice. Is this too much, or not enough, do you think?

The basil in particular (the fat-leafed baby at the back of this pic) seems to have completely stalled, though looks quite upstanding still, so I’m thinking from Jamie’s earlier advice that despite our current average daily maximums of 19 and 20 degrees C,  it’s perhaps still just too cold for this summer herb?

I’m hoping the main issue is warmth and sunshine, which will gradually improve as we move towards spring.

But bring on the advice! Do let me know if I’m doing anything else wrong, specially with the food and beverages?

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Michael on Julia’s legacy

August 4, 2009

Does anyone in Australia understand the Julia Child adoration thing, or is this purely an American phenomenon?

I have known virtually nothing about her except her name – but in the New York Times this week  is a long and lovely essay by the wonderful Michael Pollan about Julia Child, the first American TV chef, prompted by the new movie Julie &  Julia, starring Meryl Streep as JC.

He muses about the changes in American home cooking and the influence of television upon it, starting with the way Julia Child apparently liberated a generation of American women from fear of cooking by dropping a potato pancake and then retrieving it and patching it back together – her show was live TV, after all.

Pollan is such an engaging writer (his book Second Nature, about gardens, was a big influence on me as I wrote my second novel The Submerged Cathedral, and his other books on food production and ethics, In Defence of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, are just as lively and provoking), and this essay is a beauty.

michael pollanPollan’s essay goes on to discuss the exponential rise of television cookery, and how American studies show that people spend more time watching cooking being done than doing it themselves (particularly interesting given the popularity of  Master Chef here, and the talk about how it’s supposedly got people back into the kitchen. I wonder…).

Pollan writes that there are oodles of cooking shows on US television, but says of many of them:

These shows stress quick results, shortcuts and superconvenience but never the sort of pleasure — physical and mental — that Julia Child took in the work of cooking: the tomahawking of a fish skeleton or the chopping of an onion, the Rolfing of butter into the breast of a raw chicken or the vigorous whisking of heavy cream. By the end of the potato show, Julia was out of breath and had broken a sweat, which she mopped from her brow with a paper towel. (Have you ever seen Martha Stewart break a sweat? Pant? If so, you know her a lot better than the rest of us.) Child was less interested in making it fast or easy than making it right, because cooking for her was so much more than a means to a meal. It was a gratifying, even ennobling sort of work, engaging both the mind and the muscles. You didn’t do it to please a husband or impress guests; you did it to please yourself. No one cooking on television today gives the impression that they enjoy the actual work quite as much as Julia Child did. In this, she strikes me as a more liberated figure than many of the women who have followed her on television.

He also notes that Julia Child began her cooking show in the same year that Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, and points out that although they could have been seen as adversaries, this wasn’t true: Child had an aversion to the word ‘housewife’ and treated cooking as a skill and an art, rather than another bit of household drudgery for women.

Anyway I could go on and on – but better for you to simply read this excellent essay here.

Then discover more about Julia Child here (or this fab Youtube video of her show here – it’s hilarious), and more  here about the Nora Ephron movie (which in the way of this strange new world, originated from a blog. Yes, a food blog, called the Julie/Julia Project.).

I just watched the movie trailer and confess that I can’t wait!

Postscript – October 3 2009

Two more amusing additions to this post must be made.

First, this link to the beautifully narky Regina Schrambling at Slate, on ‘Why you’ll never cook from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking’.

And second, rather more entertainingly, The Defamer’s round-up of cranky food bloggers and their snooty dismissals of Julie Powell, the blogger whose work started the whole JC revival. Hilariously chock-full of envy and rage at their fellow blogger’s success, this stuff makes for rich reading. One namedropping post by a ‘trained chef’ even says, with disgust, “People who happen to eat and are able to type are now our new food experts”. Seems rather to miss the point of Julia Child’s taking cookery to the masses, no? Not to mention that the remark is written by a food blogger.

Anyway, all good for a laugh and found here.

Bon appetit!


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Kitchen capers

August 2, 2009

capers2Regular visitors here will know that salt is one of my most particular friends. Hence a very close and loving relation to that friend is the humble caper, which surely must also be filed under essential ingredients.

The caper, I learn here, is the immature flower bud of the caper bush, Capparis spinosa. Either pickled in brine or preserved in salt, as you will all know very well, the caper is an essential zing thing for a great many dishes. I tend to go for the salted babies, although the briny version are just fine if you can’t get the salted ones. And I’ve just found this site about Australian capers, which are apparently even more intense in flavour than the imported ones, which can only be a good thing!

Capers seem to have some quite direct root into my memory, for some reason – must be the piquancy of that little flavour bomb that takes me instantly to a few great holiday food moments: a Rottnest Island picnic of sourdough slathered with creme fraiche, smoked salmon and capers with a squeeze of lemon; or a plate of roasted red pepper strips dotted with luscious capers in Greece … sigh.

pinenuts etc currants olives capersAnyhoo, I was reminded of the caper today because I made again the Neil Perry zucchini ‘lasagne‘ that uses the classic combo (Sicilian, I think?) of capers, breadcrumbs, red onion, pine nuts and currants, which looked soo beautiful together I had to take this snap before assembly.

Another easypeasy bit of capery goodness I make regularly is a little dollop to accompany panfried or barbecued fish fillets – some good creamy yoghurt with lots of chopped capers, very finely chopped soft-leafed herbs (coriander, basil, parsley), a smidgin of honey and an anchovy or two.

Now your turn: what do you do with capers that I should know about?