April 2004

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What do you have in your cupboard?

As a rule of thumb, the less time up and down the aisles of a supermarkets, the better the home cooking. Not to bag the whole Woolies experience, keep to the edges and you’re less likely to feel like Chicken Tonight, Chicken Tonight.

Steve Gilliard strays from politics and has an interesting post on stocking up with food.

Anzac Biscuits

I thought I was doing my patriotic duty by having mutton but Helen at Blogger on a Cast Iron Balcony has the recipe for Anzac biscuits. Anzac biscuits were the fundraising biscuit of choice for the Anzac troops in WW1, hence the name.

While you’re there, have a read of this and then go bang your head against the wall until you feel better.

Roast Mutton

Mutton. Mutton. Mutton. It’s meat that tastes like meat.

I roasted a leg of it on the weekend and cooked it the traditional way with a few tweaks.

Take 1 leg of mutton and trim off any papery “skin” and excess fat. Use the knife to make about 8 holes the size of a quater of a clove of garlic in the meat.

Into each hole insert: a quarter of a clove of garlic; a sprig of rosemary;a sprig of thyme; and spoon in a bit of black olive tapenade if you’ve got it.

Then rub the leg with olive oil and season with pepper and sea salt.

Place in the oven at 180C for 20 minutes and then up it to 200C. This took me about 60 minutes all up, but there was a fair bit of messing about with the oven door open while I tried to squeeze in the potato gratin. After 40 minutes give it a poke with a skewer and as soon as the juices turn clear, yank it out. Cover it with foil and let it rest for 15 minutes. This is important. The juices run in terror from the heat to the middle and then, when the heat has gone they creep back to the outer bits. It’s also important to make sure the leg has defrosted properly. This really means letting it defrost in the fridge but you can hurry the process by leaving it in the oven with the heat off but the fan on. The more constant the temperature through it, the more even the cooking. Also, while I’m on the hints, put the roast on a rack or rest it on some 15mm potato slices (what I did) if it sits on the pan, it’ll stew, rather than roast.

I made my usual jus/gravy – some spring onion whites chopped and sauteed in butter, followed by some chopped mushrooms. When cooked, add a cup of beef stock, and a cup of wine, bring to the boil. Drain the fat off the roasting pan and add the stock etc. to the pan, deglazing. Reduce the stock over a high heat and thicken with cornflour mixed in a little water.You can whisk in a bit of butter at the end.

The dinner was served with roast potato and sweet potato along with brussel sprouts. The womens weekly cookbook told me to cut a cross in the stem and then boil in lightly salted water for 8 minutes. Making sure to peel the darker leaves off the outside. I also made a potato gratin. Can’t be arsed typing it up but I didn’t have enough milk so I substituted some buttermilk and it wasn’t too bad.Think potatoes and sour cream.

Down South

More roving about. This time we headed north towards Dunsborough and drove around until we magically found ourselves at the Bootleg Brewery. It’s well designed for spending an afternoon there and they’re quite serious about their beers. I just had time for their new Pale Ale. I enjoyed it and thought it was a good choice for anyone who thought the Little Creatures Pale Ale was a little on the sweet side.

I should have taken my time. The second brewery, Wicked Ale is a work in progress I hope. The wheat beer was watery and the dark beer they had was like one of my own home brews on an average day (not good). Novelty beers like chilli beer can’t do it any favours. Ah well.

The good thing about this was stumbling across Yallingup Woodfired Breads. There was a sign on the road and we turned and pulled in only to find the place deserted. We walked up to the door to find some bread on a table with the note “back at 3, please try the bread”. There was a small jar for money, a few more loaves for sale, and two loaves for tasting with a board and a knife. Snatching the money, we jumped back into the Volvo, snapping the car into the reverse and tearing down the road with a rooster tail of dirt pluming behind us. Ha! Actually, no we found both of the anonymous breads fantastic, one, I think, was a rye bread and the other was a pumpernickel. I can’t remember the last time I had bread this good, maybe I haven’t. The bread is organic and free of artificial additives and obviously made by somebody who has made their bread the result of their principles and outlook. I can’t recommend the bread highly enough. We bought two loaves and left our money in the jar. The bakery is on the corner of Biddles and McLachlan Road, Dunsborough.

In the afternoon we got a Barbie going out the front with some wood and a steel plate on some bricks and cooked up our sausages, a few lamb chops, sweet potato, salad, and some red snapper cooked in foil with parsley, butter, and a few slices of lime.

Down South

South is the cooler woodier part of Western Australia. Usually I bludge a spot at the beach town of Dunsborough but this time I’m staying at the small village/town of Cowaramup. It’s about 300km south of Perth and slightly inland. It seems further than the than the three hours it takes. I blame the removal of such former interesting features as the drive past the tanneries and the need for a desperate 5 car overtake into the flashing lights of an oncoming truck. Now the trip is all housing estates and dual carriageways. Cowaramup is also about 10 minutes north of Margaret River. Which is pronounced -” We’re going to [slight pause][rise in volume]Ma[extended]garet River”. Margaret River is a nice little unassuming town, but for some people you’d think they were going to a gated enclave for the special. The town really could just be a stake in the ground with a strip of tape tied to it. What it signifies, is wine country.

Sitting here at the (wince) Udderly Divine in Cowaramup and watching the traffic go by, it’s obvious that the town, for most people, functions as a traffic calming device. This is a shame. Despite being small and surrounded by cows, it’s completely self sufficient for good food. The cafe I’m at has great coffee and the apple and walnut muffin were superb. It has a fudge factory. A Country Store (yes I picked up on the redundancy) with fresh local produce. A gourmet delicatessen with cheeses, breads, spreads, oil and so on- it’s range compact and superb.As well as a couple of wine tasting places. I’d add that it only lacks for seafood, but apparently the Meat Specialist here has fish Fridays. It’s a great town and the only thing stopping me from pushing it harder is the fact that I don’t have a large block of land to sub-divide here.

Cowaramup is also a good point to explore from and that’s what we did yesterday.

Olio Bello: Olio Bello is apparently owned by a wealthy American who liked it here and set up an olive farm. Olive farms have the whiff of tax scheme about them, but this one seems very earnest. The olives are grown organically, as are a number of others such as stone fruits, avocados, and macadamias. The oils are available for tasting, as are a few tapanades. Their Romanza Olive Oil is very nice and on the sweet side but I ended up buying their Nuovo Olio as something different. Most oils are allowed to settle and then are tapped off. This one is more or less pressed straight into the bottle. It’s rough,and tastes like you’re chewing leaves but very likable. We also bought some of their black tapenade which was strong flavoured and tasty for it.

Margaret River Venison: Along with grilled rooster testicles, one of my more memorable food challenges was raw Venison in the south of Japan. This wasn’t thinly sliced carpaccio but raw cubes that look like they’d been hacked off the hindquarters of a still bleeding doe. It was surprisingly nice and was closer to the tuna that I hadn’t expected it would have been like, than the raw beef it wasn’t. Maragaret River Venison probably doesn’t do venison sashimi and I wasn’t going to ask them for it but they do get a wide range of food products from their deer. All the usual cuts as well as sausages and smallgoods (are sausages smallgoods?) I walked out with their Venison Prosciutto – richly coloured and gorgeous, and some sage apple and venison sausages.

Tassell Park Wines I had gone off the Margaret Wine tasting experience shifting my loyalties further East, towards Mt. Barker. I found the tastings around here less than fun, just part of one long chain of cars pulling in, trying the range of wines, and maybe picking up a token bottle or two. The tasting hosts had that kind of glazed over tour guide feel “… and this is where Davy Crockett is said to have…”. I also had trouble finding anything I thought was particularly worth shelling out the bucks they were asking for. This put me in the dilemma of guilt for not having bought anything or annoyed buying something I didn’t really want.

This left me reluctant to pop into the wineries. I got lost somewhere East of Margaret River and then made a large loop back to Cowaramup. Just before getting back, I noticed Tassel Park Wines, had a good feeling and reversed the car 50 metres back down the road. We wandered in and the room smelled of mulled wine and the owner came out from the back in his wine stained pants and asked if we’d like to try some of his wines. He opened 6 bottles of wine for us for tasting and an hour later we left. It was really pleasant. He talked about his plans for a Port and a new variety of grape he’d planted. There was also a nice concern as to what we thought of it, like he’d just pulled it out of the oven. It was an education and we reciprocated a little by telling him what we knew about the Japanese wine market. The wines were good too – Toni liked the twin decked Cabernet Merlot. I find bargains unavoidable and bought a case of the 2001 Sauvignon Blanc. It’s a great white, being both crisp and smooth but, after bottling, the batch suffered from small calcium crystallisation – tiny “diamonds” in the bottom of the bottle. They don’t affect the wine but cause trouble when selling it from bottle shops “-ere there’s bits in it”. I got what I thought was the best of their four whites for less than half of what they might have cost otherwise. I might offload half to some friends but will probably end up drinking it all. Myself. Alone.

We said goodbye to the husband and wife team, promising to come back for the Port, and went back to Cowaramup. We bought some baguettes from the deli and had them with the olive oil, the prosciutto, and the tapenade. We had met our makers.

For a bit of context – go here

This is an interesting spin by the Japanese on the pancake. Okonomiyaki roughly translates as “as you like it cooked” as there are a range of filling/toppings. This leads to it be wrongly imagined as “Japanese Pizza”. As a home cooking experience it really just stretches the parameters on pancakes but it’s much more interesting as an eating out experience. Many of the Okonomiyaki restaurants in Japan are do-it yourself. You sit down at a table with a metal hotplate in the middle, order from a range of the batter and ingredients mixes, and then cook it on the hotplate while drinking beer from big mugs. I know going to a restaurant and having to do the cooking is a little self-defeating but, then again, the Japanese also developed self-performed performances with Karaoke and made suicide and integral part of warfare.

Now we’re going to have to depart a bit from authenticity here. One reason is we don’t have a key ingredient – yamatoimo. Yamatoimo recently appeared as the surprise ingredient in Iron Chef last Saturday and is a kind of yam. Once ground down, it has almost no flavour, and the texture of phlegm. Another reason is that it’s a simple concept so it should be kept simple.

Batter: 1 cup plain flour; 1 cup of water (or weak dashi if you have it); 2 eggs; a little salt – mix as for any other batter. Adjust for consistency.

Things to add to the batter: chopped cabbage; chopped spring onions- greens & whites; corn – mix in with the batter but too much of these and it stops being battery and become more like batter coated vegetables and it’ll fall apart when cooked.

Features: chopped octopus and prawns are great but I used some chopped squid and some chopped pork – the fatty rib bits.

Heat up a frypan, with some vegetable oil, and then cook half a cup of squid, when it’s almost done, remove and then pour in some of the batter, and then scatter the squid on top. It should be ab out bread plate size and about 2cm thick.

Flip when cooked underside. Cook and then flip again. Smear some sauce* on top, cook for a little longer. Pop on a plate, and cut into pieces. Serve with more sauce and some mayonnaise on top and some crushed dried nori if you’ve got it.

Repeat with the pork and so-on until you’ve run out of stuff.

*The sauce is called Bulldog Sauce but you can make something similar with

1/4 cup of tomato sauce, 1.5 tbs Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 tsp Dijon Mustard, 1 tsp soy sauce

Heat gently, stirring, until it reaches a simmer and the remove from the heat.

How safe is that steak?

This article in the Age started off like it was going to be a “jeez we’re the best in the world” type article on Aussie beef production but push on and it comes up with some worthwhile stuff on hormones, chemicals, and clueless butchers. This part pleased me the most-



And finally, I’d make sure the beef I was eating was pasture-fed, not lot-fed. I know today’s chefs love the big, fat flavour of 300-day grain-fed Wagyu beef, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: Between 1999 and 2001, Queensland beef farmer Deb Newell ran a series of national beef tastings using farmers, restaurateurs, chefs and journalists (disclosure – I was one). During those three years we tasted countless pieces of pasture-fed and grain-fed beef. At the end, there was a unanimous preference for the flavours of pasture-fed beef.

Free the cows.

In the garden

Look it’s not that hard to make a herb garden and dried herbs have all the charm of petrol huffing. Currently in the garden are

  • Basil – size 14

  • Thyme – manageable

  • Sage – steady

  • Coriander – one of those depressing 19th Century tombstones with an infant on it

  • Rosemary- limping along, continents move

  • Blue Basil – barely made it out of the car

  • Italian Parsley- has been footy star

  • Mint – reappeared two feet away

  • Fennel – now gone lived well

Haloumi

Haloumi is a Mediterranean cheese that doesn’t melt*. This makes it interesting in itself but it also opens up a few interesting options for cooking. It cooks like meat and tastes like cheese so you can use it, for example in kebabs, or you can slice it and cook it on the barby for an easy entree.

I thought I’d treat it like tofu and pan fry it. First thing was to slice the haloumi into fish finger width slices and give them a quick rinse to lose some saltiness. Next was to mix up 2 parts flour with one part cornflour along with some fresh thyme and a bit of pepper. Then I heated up some olive oil in a pan with a chopped clove of garlic. Once the garlic started to colour, I dusted the haloumi in the flour mix and then put it in the pan and cooked it until golden.

Just served it with some toasted rye bread, tinned sardines, and a glass of sherry. To save on dishes, a neat trick is to take the lid off the sardines and cook them in the tin, on the burner, until heated through.

*I assumed that what made cheese melt was its natural quality of meltiness. A cheese that doesn’t melt contradicts this. The answer is, more or less here

Limoncello

After a few racy posts yesterday I needed a stiff drink and thought I’d try some of the Limocello I’d been given with the instructions to keep the bottle in the freezer and to drink it straight from a frozen glass. Making for a good aperitif, it tastes much like a sweet lemony vodka. I found out it is actually that and if you’re looking for a home project, you could always try this.

I attempted this kind of home made booze in Japan. This is the traditional plum wine called umeshu. You make it by putting green plums and rock sugar in a jar and then filling the jar with a kind of Japanese vodka called shochu and then leaving it for a few months. It’s like a beefed up sherry and you can eat the plums as well. With a 2 litre batch it also means you’re not going tofind yourself short on drinks around the house for a while. Pictures of making it are here.

Why thanks for noticing

New code a month. Handy

Well Bugger Me

My family name causes a few problems because of its obscurity. It’s actually Anglicised Bulgarian dating back to my Great Grandfather who came here from Bulgaria when the Bulgarians were allied to the treacherous Hun and therefore none too popular. A translation of Candide and a quick google with -what was I thinking-“Bulgar Buggery” took me to www.fact-index.com confirming that my ancestral homeland’s contribution to the language is


buggery originated in medieval Europe and was an insult used to describe the rumoured same sex sexual practices of the heretical residue around the Bulgar region (in what is today known as Bulgaria). The Bulgars were one of the last European tribes to hold “heretical” forms of Christianity and so because of the rumoured link between celibacy and anal sex they were labelled in this way.

I thought the expression “heretical residue” was a nice touch. If only we’d invented karaoke or algebra or something.

Coopers Heritage Premium Ale

I bought a 6 pack of Coopers Heritage Ale and found it one of the nicer locals I’d had of late. I was about to give it a write it up when a bit of research led me to stumble across Beer Ratings. A quick read took me back to my days as an horrendous music snob- if music writers are frustrated musos then pity the frustrated music writer. Anyone who’s read an indy ‘zine or Hi-Fidelity will recognise the features but it may be missed how much of a template they are for obsessive male behaviour.

If I weren’t so lazy I’d do a separated at birth type thing but the features should be obvious. Go here and have a quick game of bingo

  • lengthy noun clauses

  • accusations of selling out

  • accusations of cashing in

  • old stuff better

  • bagging imagined target audience

  • lack of perspective

  • invitations to acts of a sexual nature

Sad or, as Heath Sensei put it more sagely to a Ducati loving boy, “loving something very much is a good thing but it doesn’t mean you have to hate other things”.

Butter your Muffins

TBogg has a muffin recipe using Reeces Peanut Butter Cups. RPBC’s are easily the finest candy treats in the US, don’t know why they never made it over here, maybe a little on the sweet side.

Eggs Poached in Pasta Sauce

Easy brekky. This is kind of my bastardised manticore like version of Huevos Rancheros.

A bit of olive oil in a medium sized frypan and then a tub of garlic tomato pasta sauce with a couple of dried chillies in it. Heated through and then 3 eggs broken equidistantly on top of the sauce with a sprinkle of tabasco. Left to simmer for a while before I popped a lid on to speed things up. When the eggs were done, served on a couple of bits of toast.

Easter Smoked Cod Pie

I guess if pushed I’d have to line up as some kind of agnostic Anglican but, to be honest, Easter has about as much spirtual significance for me any of the number of other religious festivals that fall around this time of year. My funniest memories of Easter would be my Dad eating salami on Good Friday to provoke us into pleas of stopping lest he be struck down in front of the fridge. He never was, but as somebody who strictly observed “Smoked Eel Day” in Japan, I’ve a soft spot for food related traditions. Daytime telly pointed me in the direction on this recipe and a chance stopping at at Seafood Van with smoked cod on the way to the farm led me to this recipe .

It extends a very traditional recipe just far enough with the capers and the lemon. I only made a couple of changes. As well as smoked cod, I used some dhufish fillets and the meagre haul of yabbies we caught.

Became part of a very long and enjoyable lunch which stared about 11:30 with a beer and finished 12 hours later in a beanbag.

Footnote: Dhufish is also wrongly called Jewfish. So to help out with this this campaign the fish has nothing to do with Jews.

Catch-up

Trying to catch up on a few recipes after some light blogging so posts won’t have a lot to do with real time for a few days. BTW the satire’s a bit laboured but anything with rabbit in it has to be good from an Australian perspective. With the good people at Sadly, No! Cassoulet Lapin au Romarin

Raita

Easy peasy. My small contribution when a friend had cleverly made some curry which became a fallback for the Muntadgin Pub not opening its kitchen on Saturday.

5 lebanese cucumbers – chopped into grapes sized pieces; 2 crushed garlic cloves; 2tbs chopped mint; sliced whites of 3 spring onions; 2 cups plain youghurt

Kabli Channa – Curried Chick Peas

Margaret Fulton is to be thanked for this recipe. She is a kind of Grand Dame of Australian cooking and it was her slim book on Indian cooking that I bought many years ago after I’d promised to do an Indian dinner party for a friend. The book is detailed but amazingly impersonal, I don’t think there’s a single “I” or gushy reference to the romance of India in the whole thing, let alone an account of being violated, possibly metaphorically, in a cave. Regardless, the dishes work well. For some reason, the smell of bacon doesn’t do it for me any more, but for olfactory jollies , the cooking-spices-in-oil technique of Indian food is up there.

Chick peas are great and I should have them more often but getting my crap together and soaking them the night or the morning before is just too hard. Just give them a wash and soak them – apparently, the longer you soak them, the less of a danger you become in confined spaces.

Now

250gm Chick Peas and 3 cups of water with a little salt and simmer until the chick peas are tender. Drain but reserve the water for later.

Heat 2tbs oil (or ghee) and then add a chopped onion and fry until coloured. Add four cloves and an inch of cinnamon stick and fry for a few seconds before adding 2 crushed garlic cloves; 1 inch of ginger-chopped; 2 green chillies – chopped finely; and 2 tsp of ground coriander and fry for 5 minutes. Add one chopped tomato and cook until the liquid’s gone.

Add the chick peas and cook gently for 5 minutes. Then add the reserved water and simmer for 20-25 minutes. Add 1 tsp garam masala and stir well. Top with some chopped coriander.

A bit dry on it’s own and could have done with a saucier accompaniment.

Cantillon Cherry Lambic

I picked this up from the International Beer Shop, henceforth IBS, on the recco that it was dry. Lambics are what people should be drinking instead of RTDs and are a little on the sweet side. This one was incredibly sour – not a common taste in our food lexicon and the sourest thing I’d had since umeboshi. I’m struggling to think of a food match with it but it is unique.

Chicken Liver Paté

Paté had been on my food-to-try list for a while and I’ve been having some great paté recently. A simple recipe came up in the latest Vogue Entertaining that looked worth a try. The only modification I ended up making was to marinate the livers in a little brandy for an hour before cooking and throwing in a few green peppercorns. Chicken livers are no fun but I enjoyed making the quatre epicés. Took me back to fussier days in cooking and and a reminder that it’s worth the effort for the aromas tossed up. It also resolved misnomer problems with this blog where I decided to call it. Spiceblog on a whim without thinking that I’m more of a herb person. Still, the name does scan well.

The paté was well received. It’s very understated leaving the cloves to dominate. A little more brandy may not have done any harm.

Anyway here’s the recipe

One onion -sliced thinly; and one clove of garlic – chopped. Both cooked over a gentle heat in 40gm of butter until soft and slightly browned. Put in blender but hold on blending just for now.

300gm of chicken livers – trimmed of their connective tissue. Marinated in a little brandy for 30 minutes – impatience prevented longer. I messed up a tad and seasoned the livers with 2tbs quatre epicés* and a sprinkle of salt just after adding them to another 40gm of butter rather than before pureeing. Cooked for five minutes or so on a medium heat, stirred often – should be cooked but pink in the middle. Add to the blender.

*quatre epicés 4 parts peppercorns and 1 part cloves – ground; 1 part ginger powder; one part grated nutmeg.

Increase the heat in the pan and add 1/4 cup of brandy cook for three minutes scraping the pan to “deglaze”. Halfway through I added a teaspoon of green peppercorns. Add to the blender.

Now you can blend until smooth. Put in ramekins with a layer of butter poured on top and then refrigerated for at least 2 hours.

Served with toast.

Au revoir toffee nut crunch

Half way through a bagel the other day, I noticed one of my molars seemed to be missing a bit and that I’d lost a filling. Off to the dentists to join the wait around and see what happens queue. Didn’t take too long but all the dentist could do was put in a temporary filling until I can get a root canal in two weeks time. Everyone was massively apologetic about the cost of it all, even with private health insurance. For a low post rebate $15 I could have had an extraction, saving myself $85 in the process. Dentists must be a sore point with people’s wallets here. No teeth, no mastication and with this in mind there’s little point complaining about a few bucks every and putting my back out every now and then.