Friday, June 11, 2010

An ode to the lemon tree in my neighbor's backyard

O tree so laden with fruit
you stand so tantalisingly close
yet you might as well be far away
guarded by steel and yappy critters as you are
Why do they ignore your bounty?
If you were mine I would not neglect you so..

In the dark of night I may come,
and snatch one or two of those fragrant, golden orbs
They will be zested into a single, fresh pasta dish;
with pecorino, murray river pink salt and grassy olive oil
.... and a grinding of freshly cracked black pepper....

Friday, May 21, 2010

A few food memories from Thailand

(left) 'Tiger', my little restaurant buddy on Phi Phi Island, I wanted to bring him home!

Below; The beers are just better in Thailand! Not to mention the food...

Little Tiger Restaurant, Phuket, Thailand, the happiest place in the world :)

Berkshire Pork + The Silver Spoon = 1 very happy foodie

Tomorrow night I am finally trialing the much-praised Berkshire Pork, which I have heard great things about. I have decided I’m no longer comfortable with buying meat unless I know for sure if the meat is produced without causing the animal to have an unhappy life.

Growing up we always had our own meat butchered, so I know for certain that up until the moment of their death, our animals were fat and happy. I’m sure this is why the meat tasted so good!

Ever since I have found it hard to source good quality meat, and pork has been the hardest (we didn’t have pigs but they still seemed so much better back then). The pork of my childhood had a good half inch at least of fat in the rind, now the shoulders/loins etc that I see in many butchers or supermarkets barely have half a centimeter and the roast is always a dry, crackling-free letdown. Why on earth breeders tried to lower the fat content of the pigs is beyond me. If there are some fatties out there who can’t say no to a normal pig then that’s not my problem; I want my pork as fatty as possible (I just work it off at the gym).

Anyway, after hunting around for outlets of the much-lauded ‘Berkshire Pork’ I have a lovely loin cut that I plan to roast up tomorrow night.

And of course such a beautiful piece of meat deserves the best treatment so I will be using a recipe from my latest favourite cookbook; ‘The Silver Spoon’; I can’t believe that it has taken me this long to buy this classic. It is stuffed so full of recipes so I did the math and found if I cooked one of the recipes a night it would take me about 6 years to cover the whole book! This is my kind of cook book, not full of lovely styled photos (these have their place, but really you’re paying for pretty pictures and not many recipes), just packed with as many recipes as can fit on the pages.

Anyway, stay tuned as to how this dish turns out. I am reading ‘Everything but the squeal’ by John Barlow at the moment, hence my minor pork obsession at the moment.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I'm not a food snob, I swear!

Reading back on some of my posts, it has occurred to me that I must come across as a pretentious twat! I swear I’m not a food snob and here is proof in the forms of some of the more low-brow guilty pleasures I indulge in:

  • Kraft Macaroni & Cheese; the only reason I don’t keep this on stand by in my pantry for emergencies is because of the calorie count, but it’s unbeatable for a massive carb-fix!
  • Cadbury ‘Wipsa-Gold’ chocolate bars: The ones that for some inexplicable reason only Coles supermarkets sell; probably a good thing though because I’d probably eat one every day if I could get my hands on them more easily. Kate Moss once said ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’; she obviously hasn’t tried these!
  • ‘Emergency pasta’ – 1 can of Rosella Tomato Soup (it must be Rosella brand!), pasta, 1 cup grated cheese. One word; awesome
  • KFC potato & gravy with KFC chips (don’t knock it til you try it)
  • Mee-Goreng instant noodles (picture me hiding my face in shame)
  • Cookies and Cream flavoured anything – enough said
  • Fried haloumi cheese; nothing added to glam it up; just fried and eaten immediately; how can anything that tastes so good possibly be so bad for you?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A happy accident

Yesterday I created a dessert by accident; I had successfully made profiteroles (after finally biting the bullet and getting over my fear of screwing them up!) and even made the creme patisserie filling, things were looking promising. I decided that I might as well go the whole hog and make toffee to coat the profiteroles, problem was I forgot that boiled sugar continues to cook long after you take it off the boil. If I had taken it off the boil just a bit earlier things would have been ok, but as it was I took it off the heat just as it came to the right colour. Problem was, it quickly turned a dark brown molasses-like colour within a few minutes.

So stuck with a batch of profiteroles with no toffee to finish them off; I had to find another solution. I pulled out my copy of Stephane Reynaud's 'Ripailles' and flicked to see if I could find something else to top them off; a glace icing presented itself as a solution but with no way to make the chocolate or coffee icings recommended with what I had in my pantry I had to think of another flavouring.

The only essence I had handy was some Rosewater, a few drops of this with some pink food colouring; this is how the Turkish Delight Eclair was born; I just need to come up with a more creative name for it in the fashion of Adriano Zumbo, who gives his pastry creations such wacky, hilarious names :-)

When I make a more attractive looking batch I will post photos..

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A good life

Overhearing a discussion at work the other day, I came to realise that from a food point of view I am actually extremely lucky in my upbringing. As I listened to a discussion about my colleagues disillusionment about the source of our meats and fruits/vegetables and their worries about what they are putting into their bodies and those of their children it make me come to a few conclusions as to why I was lucky to grow up on a farm rather than in a suburb in the city (not that I ever envied city kids, what a dull life to only have a backyard to roam in):

Raw Milk: One of the wondrous things about growing up on a dairy farm was I never went wanting for dairy; and the pasteurised & skinny version I buy now just doesn’t seem to have the same flavour. Of course; it is illegal to sell raw milk in Australia but it’s not illegal to go to you bulk tank with a jug and fill it up! I don’t understand why; it never made us sick! I still remember seeing that gorgeous layer of cream settling on the top of the jug as it sat in the fridge and having to stir it in so that it wasn’t quite so rich! This is probably something I will never be able to have ever again, unless the laws change in Australia.

Killing our own meat: Aside from the fact that my dad used to chase us kids around with the decapitated heads of the sheep he sometimes butchered for meat, I recall finding it fascinating to watch the process of an animal becoming the various cuts of meat that ended up on the dinner table. Sure, there was a tinge of sadness (lets face it, sheep are kinda cute) and revulsion (it’s a smelly and bloody job!) but I also understood that this was the way things are.

It’s not pretty but its part of life. I always get a laugh when some city people are horrified at footage of animals being butchered for meat; how exactly do they think the animal is killed? With flower petals and fluffy bunnies? At least in the case of our meat; it was quick and the animal had a good life up until its death. The steers we sent to the butcher (a bit too much of a job for a farmer without the right tools) had a happy life grazing in green fields and it was just an accepted part of life that they would come back to us in the form of a table full of cuts that needed to be bagged, labeled and frozen for later use.

This is probably why no I am such a fan of the whole ‘nose to tail’ concept of not wasting any part of the animal and don’t understand why people get squeamish about eating certain parts of the animal. All this pro-meat blathering makes me sound pretty callous but I love animals of all kinds (except spiders, they can just leave me alone!), it just so happens that I also love meat and I want to ensure that the meat I eat is ethical. Nobody who proclaims to be an animal lover is a fan of battery farming.

The Veggie patch and orchard: This is what I miss more than anything; I used to love sitting in blood plum or mulberry tree and stuffing myself silly with fruit until I felt sick! I still can’t find an apple that tastes anything like those picked right off the tree and eaten unwashed (no sprays or chemicals here!). And there was something Christmas-like in waiting for the vegetables to be ready for picking; I loved to pull radishes out of the ground; take them over to the garden tap then rinse and eat on the spot (I must have had terrible breath!). Tomatoes that are home grown are a revelation and there is no equivalent I can find even at the central market. Don’t even get me started on broad beans! These appear for just a few weeks at the central market, and then sadly seem to vanish just as quickly. The only thing I don’t miss is finding hunts man spiders in the silver beet leaves.

Fresh eggs: Once I get a decent sized back yard the first thing I will do apart from establishing a vegetable patch is get myself a few chooks; they really do have the most comical personalities and nothing beats a fresh eggs that is still warm. A bigger challenge still was coming across a batch of eggs that the chooks had hidden in the orchard and doing the ‘float test’ to see if they were off or not.

The kitchen; I think this is where my love of all things food began; as I have mentioned in previous posts, mum was an awesome cook and had she been a working mother I might never have had the chance to learn to love preparing food as much as I did. Coming home from school and being able to smell roast beef and potatoes, or cake and biscuits before I even entered the house is a fond memory. When I eventually have kids of my own I plan to spend as much time in the kitchen (and taking them to food markets) with them as possible. Of course the necessity of having to earn a living will probably mean this is not as much as I’d like but I can work with that.

Reading back over all of this makes me wonder what on earth I am doing living in the city sometimes! At least for me, seeing where my food came from made me appreciate it a whole lot more and certainly makes me appreciate it when I can find great quality ingredients. The only drawback is that it can make you terribly fussy about what you buy and is a cause of many rants when I see the quality of fruit, veg and meat in the ‘Big 2’ supermarket (“they call this basil?? It’s barely fit for human consumption!!”).

Friday, January 15, 2010

My Cooking Role Models

I got to wondering the other day who has had the greatest influence on the how I cook, and unlike a lot of passionate home cooks it’s probably not the run-of-the-mill Jamie Olivers (although he is awesome) and other internationally renowned celebrity chefs. I’m not sure what that means or if it really even matters, but here is my list anyway:

Maggie Beer

Probably the closest thing I have to a celebrity on my list (let’s face it, she is pretty big, even if just here in Australia), but I’ve yet to see any Chef get as excited about food as she does and a personally signed copy of my all time favourite cookbook (Maggie’s Harvest) takes pride of place in my bookshelf. Here’s a woman who started off with a simple idea and has turned it into an empire without compromising the quality of her product for the sake of profit.

Margaret Fulton

Every time I see this woman on TV I just want to hug her, she is adorable! Of course I was too young to remember her in her hey-day when she ‘taught Australians how to cook’ as she is credited with doing so I have come along a bit late to Fulton-worship. She is now this tiny, frail looking woman but she lights up when she is talking about food and still has so much energy. Her encyclopedia of cooking is another favourite of mine; there are no pretentious ‘foams’ or ‘soils’ or other weird ways of preparing food, just no-nonsense recipes for those of us who want to know how to make a perfect pastry or sponge or want some questions answered when we can’t reach our mum for a phone consult on why the Chocolate Ganache seized (I didn’t get a drop of water in it I swear!!), which brings me to my next point:

My mum

Ok ok, it’s cheesy I know, but the amount of times I’ve had to call her up to answer some cooking related question for me is astronomical. My childhood was spent coming indoors from getting all muddy and smelly on the farm to the scent of freshly baked cookies, cakes or some other treat. I still learn from her to this day (and I like to think she has learned a few things from me too by now!) and I have to admit I was just a little bit smug as a child as I knew all the other kid’s mums were rubbish cooks compared to her.

Possy (my Grandmother)

I think the greatest compliment that I have received recently about my cooking was that my Christmas Pudding was ‘almost as good’ as Possy’s. That’s saying a lot because she was an awesome cook. For some reason everything she prepared always tasted so yummy!