Archive for October, 2009

h1

The platters that matter…

October 13, 2009

4candlesMenu for a 40th birthday lunch

My absence here over the past week has, till now, been almost entirely food-related. Well, celebration-related anyway – and in my family that means food. My sister’s 40th birthday on the weekend involved a bunch of us staying in houses on the coast just south of Sydney, and a few others popping down for the day. The main event was a birthday lunch for 25.

All our old family favourites (both human and culinary!) came to the table – a table groaning with platters of lovely food, it must be said, and as the last stayer at the coastal house I am the beneficiary of my sister’s generosity, still chomping my way through the leftovers.

Sadly I was too busy on the day to take pictures, which is a shame cos it looked beautiful. But nevertheless thought I’d share the menu with you here in case you ever need some stalwart standouts to cook for a crowd – everything on this menu is low-stress, almost all of it can be made ahead of time, every dish can be served warm or at room temperature, the platters set down a long table create an impression of great, colourful generosity and luscious diversity, and with a couple of vegetarians and one coeliac among our guests, this menu makes everyone happy. I’ll gradually add these recipes to the blog down the track – right now I’m still in culinary recovery – but let me know if any strike you as desperately urgent to have now.

  • Oysters – of course! – freshly shucked, with a squeeze of lemon
  • Rare rump of roast beef, according to Stephanie Alexander’s instructions
  • Poached whole salmon (with a horseradish cream for both this and the beef)
  • Zaatar chicken – from the fab Ottolenghi lads
  • Green beans braised in olive oil, garlic, tomato & dill
  • Roast carrot salad with mint & balsamic
  • Citrus couscous salad
  • Fennel, feta, tarragon & pomegranate salad – another Ottolenghi fave
  • Chickpea, roasted red pepper & marinated feta salad (all from jars & cans, but it looks and tastes fab)
  • Lentil, sundried tomato, parsley and Balsamic salad (ditto)
  • Crisp roast potatoes with minted creme fraiche dressing
  • Dessert, made by sweeter cooks than me, was an incredibly good chocolate and coffee birthday cake (Alice, we’ll have the recipe for that, please?) and the Manna from Heaven chocolate crunch made by Miss Jane; this is a lusciously dastardly version of the old fave hedgehog cake, updated into an utterly irresistible  death-by-chocolate experience.

Lunch went on for hours, the birthday girl looked a million bucks, the speeches were lovely, the wine flowed and the love goes on. Thanks Lou and J&B for a great weekend.

And thanks for the leftovers…

h1

Sibling chivalry!

October 6, 2009

2008_Siblings_Sauvignon_Blanc_Semillon_FRONT_LABEL_(WEB)A quick cheerio to Leeuwin Estate Wines, for generously agreeing to send some of their delicious Madge River Siblings Sauvignon Blanc Semillon our way for the launch of our new anthology, Brothers & Sisters. A cut above the usual book launch wine, I think you’ll agree – and so beautifully apt! Yay Leeuwin Estate. And I have just noticed that this match was meant to be – the Siblings label colours even match our cover!

The launch is on November 10 at my favourite bookshop and local, Better Read than Dead in Newtown, Sydney – so you must all come along.

brothers&sistersPS: Today is an exciting one for other reasons too – we have been sent a copy of B&S‘s  first review, to appear in next month’s Australian Bookseller & Publisher mag, and it’s a cracker!

Can’t say too much as it’s not out yet, but an esteemed reviewer says of our short stories:

“It’s a measure of the strength of the form, and of the calibre of contemporary Australian writers using it, that the writing is keen, sharp and challenging.”

I’ll drink to that – off to buy some Siblings SBS to do it with.

h1

Small potatoes: having a crack at spud farming

October 5, 2009

SAgardenWell, I cracked.

I have been lusting after it for some time, and was going to try to wait till December to see what Father Christmas brought, but last weekend I fell off the restraint wagon (I know: me, giving in to instant gratification – who’d have thought?) and bought it – Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Companion.

I love this book. It’s a beautifully produced companion to the other big fat orange/stripey that we all have, but each ingredient section begins with a good two or three pages on how to grow it. Same great alphabetical structure for the book, plus ‘basics’ sections on how to build a no-dig garden, recipes for compost, fertiliser, natural pest control and so on, and then three or four pages of recipes for each ingredient. It’s a damn fine idea. And, because of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation and its work in all those school gardens, you know she knows what she’s talking about.

As with the other cookery books, she writes in the same friendly, inclusive voice, encouraging beginners, urging you to experiment and make your own way. I have a few other garden books with bits on cooking, but if the garden advice is good, the food looks awful; and if the food advice is good, the gardening advice is patchy to say the least. Hence my joy at this purchase.

So, emboldened by Stephanie’s give-it-a-shot-even-if-you-have-no-idea-what-you’re-doing encouragement, and some solid advice from our Jamie over at Garden Amateur, I am going to have a crack at growing potatoes in sacks. No sunny space left in the garden beds, and not enough height anyway, so the potato-in-a-bag experiment begins.

Of course once I made the decision, do you think I could find the damn seed potatoes & their funky bags? No. Sold out, blah blah. But today I saw some pontiac spuds on special at the excellent Booth St garden centre in Annandale and threw caution to the wind. Bought the overgrown sprouty seed spuds (is this bad, Jamie??) and then as the nursery had no real potato bags, we skipped down to the best hardware shop in Sydney, Booth & Taylor Hardware, a Thrifty Link hardware shop on the corner, surprise, of Booth & Taylor.*

potatofarmGot home, lined the hessian sacks with garbage bags, poked a heap of holes through them with a skewer, and bunged my potentially dud pontiacs in with some composty/strawish mix. We shall see how I fare, but I must say I quite like the weirdo aesthetics of my new mini potato farm … the idea, I understand, is that as the plants sprout you chuck in more straw & stuff and unroll a bit of bag, heaping the soil/straw etc up as the tubers grow, so you end up with a little high-rise apartment building for spuds. Okay, I’ve never done it before and it could all end in tears, and the sacks are rather slender, but thanks to Stephanie & Jamie, I’m having a burl, Shirl. If you want to join me, best read Jamie on the topic first.

Oh and for those of you desperately wondering (ha) about my ailing herbs , they have survived! I got sick of waiting though, so bunged some much larger seedlings in the herb bed along with them, and now they’re all getting along happily, the ones grown from seed much smaller, but now quite healthy, while the biggies are already serving their purpose in the kitchen..

*A hardware shop digression you should feel free to skip:  I love this place and want to give it a plug. The shop is the size of a postage stamp, but is a total Tardis inside, with stairs up and down and roundabout. The guys who work there are incredibly friendly and helpful. They are specially perfect hardware guys for women to consult: not ever once, in many many years of custom, have I ever detected the faintest vibe of condescension, boredom, peevishness at my dumb questions, chauvinism or perviness from any of their staff, which is more than I can say for any other hardware shop in Sydney, including the one across the road from it and all the gigantic hideous bunningses. And I have never ever walked out without the thing I needed. Today it was hessian sacks, which one of the charming blokes fetched while Senor consulted another who gave him some sage advice about some specialist outfitting of the Art Van Go vehicle. Okay. End of ad break. You are free to go.

h1

Shopping vs ‘sourcing’: scrap the sanctimony

October 4, 2009

ecoshoppingIn adding the postscript links to the Julia Child post here the other day I was led to the Julie Powell New York Times op-ed piece on organic food that apparently raised the hackles of foodie multitudes in the States a while back. I happen to agree with every word she writes in this piece about food snobbery and class. Her main objection is the moral high ground taken by those who only eat organic food, and their derision of ordinary folks who shop at crappy supermarkets:

What makes the snobbery of the organic movement more insidious is that it equates privilege not only with good taste, but also with good ethics. Eat wild Brazil nuts and save the rainforest. Buy more expensive organic fruit for your children and fight the national epidemic of childhood obesity. Support a local farmer and give economic power to responsible stewards of sustainable agriculture. There’s nothing wrong with any of these choices, but they do require time and money.

When you wed money to decency, you come perilously close to equating penury with immorality. The milk at Whole Foods is hormone-free; the milk at Western Beef is presumably full of the stuff – and substantially less expensive. The chicken at Whole Foods is organic and cage-free; the chicken at Western Beef is not. Is the woman who buys her children’s food at the place where they take her food stamps therefore a bad mother?

“That’s not cooking, that’s shopping.” This epigram has been attributed to Julia Child and several other chefs of an older generation, in reference to the tenets of California Cuisine. It is sometimes used – often pronounced in a snooty French accent or Childean warble – by devotees of the organic movement (like Doug Hamilton, writer and director of the documentary “Alice Waters and Her Delicious Revolution”) to mock these fusty old-school cooks. For the newer generation, a love for traditional fine cuisine is cast as fussy and snobbish, while spending lots of money is, curiously, considered egalitarian and wise.

Like Powell, I’m as farmers-market addicted as the next gal, and I prefer to buy organic and free range stuff for the sake of the soil and the animals rather than any belief in its ‘safety’ for my own health (the various studies concluding that organic food is no healthier for humans than other food are perhaps dispiriting, but they are there – and claims from organic food producers like this one, that “Eating non-organic food will lead to ill-health with medical costs that will be far greater than the price of healthy eating” are  just simplistic rubbish).

If I’m honest, one of the main reasons I like to ‘source’ (we can’t say ‘buy’ anymore, don’t you know?) food from small fancy grocers and farmer’s markets is that it just feels nicer.

Supermarkets are ugly, and horribly lit, and often more expensive than other shops, and there’s hideous music, and the fresh food has been in cold storage for a year, and one is confronted by more people speaking viciously to their children, and the packaging is aesthetically displeasing and there’s too much plastic, and the cold food section freezes your bones, and the space is vast and impersonal and noisy, and so the whole experience just makes one feel one has been turned into a mindless participant in the whole mass-production, over-processed consumerist nightmare.

So it stands to reason that visiting a market where there’s open air, and one person selling meat, and another selling cheese, and another selling salad (picked leaves in bags rather than whole lettuces, I might add; I’m not averse to that kind of packaging and processing)  and so on, is a whole lot more pleasurable. But morally superior it ain’t. And it can far too easily topple into into fashion-driven pretentiousness (as we’ve discussed before), and, as Powell points out in her piece, can be as unattractively consumerist as any supermarket:

With his gastronomic tests, Brillat-Savarin sought to find others like himself, of whatever economic status, who truly enjoyed food. It’s easy to do the same today, but the method isn’t to assume that everyone at Whole Foods is wise and everyone at the Western Beef benighted.

Instead, look in their carts. Some shop at Western Beef for nothing more than diet cola and frozen bagels; some at Whole Foods for premade sushi and overdesigned bottles of green tea. These people have much in common. So, too, do the professorial types poring over the sweet corn and dewy blueberries at the greenmarket and the Honduran family at the discount grocery, piling their cart high with rice and dried beans and canned tomatoes and all the other stuff you need to make something out of nothing much.

End of rant. Read the whole Powell opinion piece here.


h1

Snark & envy

October 3, 2009

Just a pointer to a postscript I’ve added to the Julia Child post from way back in August (which, weirdly, seems to be getting a hell of a lot of hits this week – must be the movie coming out). At the end of the post I’ve added a couple of links to some amusing JC-related stuff I think you would like, so do skip back and check them out while you wait for the kettle to boil…

h1

Return of the mojo …

October 2, 2009

flameYou may have noticed I haven’t been so present here lately – what with a few trips away, followed by a couple of coming & going head colds, deadlines, book writing going ornery, a bit of piglet flu & a cricked back, I’ve not been in the kitchen much. Well, we’ve been cooking at home, but for the last little while our kitchen has had that dreary workaday feeling –  no spark, no ideas, no life. A brain drain, a lack of culinary imagination.  Know that feeling? When dinner seems a chore, the fridge is all but empty, and despite all the books on the shelf you can think of only two things to cook, and one of them is Thai takeaway?

However, I am happy to say that with a weekend of cooking for friends & fam ahead, my cookery mojo is coming back. Started making duck ragu for lunch a day ahead, and that led to tonight’s dinner of fennel risotto, with the disgracefully decadent roasting of fennel bits in duck fat (and it was gooood), plus a zinger side effect of tossing some duck necks in a pot for stock, bubbling away as we speak.

Oh, and this was all aided by a surprise delivery of a bottle of very fancy wine by a man from the postal service and a too-generous pal.

Nice to get the mojo back. And once again, it’s friends who get it happening … thanks kids. Now what about you – anything that gets  your flame fired up again after a low patch??

h1

To peel, or not to peel?

October 2, 2009

Carrot peelAs I was chopping a bunch of ingredients for tomorrow’s lunch (duck ragu – trying out a Ms Martini number from the white book, but adding a bit of this and that), I realised that I pretty much never peel vegetables, unless absolutely necessary because the skin is too hard or lumpy to eat.

I may as well admit that I almost never skin or de-seed tomatoes, regardless of instructions – what’s a bit of tomato skin between friends? I do peel parsnips and sweet potato,  and lumpy stuff like celeriac, but if I can avoid it, I do. Mostly because I can’t be bothered, but I also hate the idea of the waste – that, and my mother’s voice ringing in my ears, insisting that half the vegetable’s nutrients are in the skin. Is this true, or just one of those things mothers say when they can’t be bothered peeling?

What about you – peeler, or no?