October 2012

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In Italy, a bowl was something special. Often given at special occasions such as weddings or christenings, they would become part of the family. Each scrape of the spoon; another mark on life to be noted and remembered. Una ciotola è come amici – pochi ma ben scelti. As bowls were few, dishes tended to very simple affairs – a lasagne, for example, would be a simple combination of ragu and white sauce.  A salad – some lettuce with ripe tomatoes.

In today’s industrialised society, we have lots of bowls.  So why not celebrate by using a shitload of ingredients and and a whole cupboardful of the hemispherical fuckers?

Tadah! The multi ingredient lasagne for hungry pre-Blackwood Marathoners.

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My lasagne had the following:

silverbeet steamed and then lightly tossed in a pan with chopped walnuts
tomato sauce. Quarter two kilos of ripe tomatoes place in a roasting tin with half a head of garlic cloves, olive oil and salt. Roast at 150C until soft. Breakup in a frypan and run through a colander. Return to the frypan to mix through a couple of tablespoon of tomato paste and to cook down to the right consistency.
smoked chicken breast, sliced. This is what helps to bring the chicken flavours up in the mix rather than just sit there like sauce-coated chewable protein chunks.
similar amounts of raw chicken – thighs or breasts or both. Cubed and then lightly browned and cooked with 8 sage leaves.
eggplant. Sliced into cm slices, lain in a roasting tray coated in olive oil. Drizzle a bit of the olive oil on top and allow to soften in the oven at the same time as the tomatoes.
broccolini, asaparagus, and something that looks a lot like broccolini but is purple. Steamed and chopped.
white sauce.
button mushrooms. Sliced and cooked in butter.
mozarella, parmesan, and butter on the top with white sauce.

Layer as you see fit. I actually can’t remember what went with what and the more I try, the more confused I become. I think the smoked chicken went with the mushrooms and the eggplant and some white sauce. And the chicken with silverbeet. I hate doing white sauce. For one, it takes forever. For two, it doesn’t help with cooking through the butter and flour if you don’t turn the hotplate on. For three, it makes me think of a thousand failed Home Ec assignments – really, it’s like walking on the bones of the dead. Beautiful fresh pasta was very nicely hand made for me – class.

Our crack team ‘The Mescaleros’ went on to rag tag glory of 23rd out of 84 horseless competitors. I reached my own personal cycling leg goal of a time somewhere between 40-50 minutes, not having a myocardial infarction and heatstroke, and not being overtaken by a mountainbike. Other features included swimmer getting lost, our paddler having his boat the wrong way, and our runner wearing a heavier t-shirt than perhaps he could have worn given the hot weather (that’s not all that interesting but I had to round it out a bit).

Lasagne was great. All possible nutritional bases covered and a lovely mix of meaty, crunchy, earthy, cheesey, fresh and acid tomatoey. Sure it’s a lot of faffing around but friends are worth it. Rhubarb clafoutis for dessert.

Day two in Melbourne and I’ve yet to have a $1.50 single origin long mac administered by staff so skilful they also performed risky laser eye surgery from a pop-up food truck owned by the short one in Master Chef with a ‘free range egg’ on a Belgian quinoa brioche. In fact, my afternoon breakfast, or ‘brinner’ as they say, came to:

a) $2.05
b) $8.00
c) $21.00
d) so embarrassingly cheap that when I looked through the curtains and saw their small child that probably lived a small little old terrace house with just one bathroom and a garden that barely doubled as an outdoor entertaining area, that I chucked a handfulful of mining $50s at them and hurried away, ashamed and embarrassed.

It was tasty though and savoury crumpets is something I shall take back with me and ask for at every opportunity and roll my eyeballs derisively and say ‘uh Perth’ when they say they don’t have it.

Anyway ‘voulez vous couchez avec mois‘ – the more things change, the more they stay the same. I was here a long eight years ago doing a marathon, this time I’m doing a 210km ride. I’ll always associate Melbourne with shopping, eating and fucking myself up so badly I can’t walk for a day or two.

More reports of men with heads in their chest and a mystical Pony Fish Island no doubt.

martini martini

It was with some sadness that Cardinal Martini passed away the other month. He was, as they say, one of the good ones. His conversations with Umberto Eco Belief or non-Belief? on religion and agnosticism were the kind of grown-up dialogue we could best hope for:

Thoughtful responsible believers and nonbelievers adhere to a profound sense of hūmus. of humanity, although they don’t necessarily give it the same name, there are more important things than names, and when defending or promoting essential human values it’s not always worthwhile to quibble over a quaestio de nomine, over semantics.

Admittedly he’s not wildly radical in the bigger scheme of things – just few considered variations on the big no-no’s which inevitably involve sex and sexuality and basically leaving a note saying ‘not 1812 guys’. But reading this particular Boney M fan I found that not only was Cardinal Martini a ‘heretic’, he was also ‘a modernist’, ‘a Mason’ and a Gnostic. Combine this with his last written pieces being a very jazz albumy “Conversazioni Notturne A Gerusalemme” then we’re looking at such a triumph of mid-century smoothism that, after a few of these modest tribute drinks, you’ll be making love in a Mies chair.

Vodka because its pure and uncorrupted. Martini Bianco (obviously). Whiskey as used in a smokey martini – because he was remarkably close to getting the papal smoke over reactionary benchwarmer Ratzinger. As his middle name was Maria and the role of the Virgin Mary in Catholicism a hint of virgin mary. Dangerously chthonic celery and fruits of the New World tomato with a dash of hot sauce on them (in this instance Sam Ward of El Publico’s very good hot sauce).

Cardinal Martini Martini

– Two measures of vodka
– Splash of Martini Bianco
– Splash of Laphroaig

Add a dab of tabasco or similar to a cherry tomato and small piece of celery at the end of a toothpick.
Chill your martini glasses. Shake the mix with ice. Pour, add your tomato and celery and drink thoughtfully with someone you disagree with.

Notes: And success. The boozy kick of a martini but wrapped in whisky – you’ll need some fine tuning for balance. Hot sauce adds the nices of kicky finishes. A regular no doubt.

martini martini

A moustache is like a skeleton key that opens doors to social circumstance.

I don’t know what the above means, or even what it has to do with this post but it was said on the day of the happy occasion of the wedding and moustache insights are auspicious.

This all began at a Dumas talk and dinner for 16 I did at regional food champion Taste of Balingup, which was pretty much as good a mix of fun and nonsense I could have hoped for. One of the friend guests (as opposed to complete stranger guests) asked if I did wedding and if I could do cocktail food for her wedding in Pemberton and I said ‘sure!’ and banged up my bona fides. Normal people might ask a details question like ‘how many people?’ They probably also ask questions like ‘is this thing on?’ or ‘it this pan hot?’ and the like. So it turned out to be 130 and while I’d say I was anxious and wildly out of my depth, I also get anxious making what I’ve trumped up to be ‘a nice sandwich’.

I’m also not an especially good and organised self-motivator so my self improvement strategy is to commit to something out of my league, and do it. Anyway the only way I could get through this is with my smarts and what it would require was strategy and tactics – something you don’t forget when you’ve spent 5 years in the jungles of Afghanistan fighting Maoist rebels.

First thing – staff of me and maybe somebody else.
So – couldn’t be faffing around with ovens, fryers, or carrying around lots of trays.

Second thing – I imagine a hungry mob devouring everything in seconds in a great fury of feasting and then turning on me.
So would require some kind of choke point and delaying device. Essentially funnelling a wall of guests into a smaller space – essentially what we refer to as a ‘kill zone.’

What I eventually come up with was a series of tasty foods in jars that I could prep in advance and then, basically, when I could there, just crack open some lids. Prep was also key as the budget can be hauled in nicely if you cook things from scratch. It takes more time, but the results are there.

Very handy was the use of a professional kitchen at a lovely winery in a lovely place. I don’t know if they want to associate their kitchen with my faffing about but lets just say ‘mislaid body of water’. Professional kitchens, as well as making you feel all professional like, are great because they have big hot ovens, lots of wipeable stainless steel, big sinks and everything is hanging up or out in the open so you don’t spend half your time searching through kitchen draws for where somebody’s put the ladle. Lots of tea towels too.

Also very handy was help from a somebody who knows what they’re doing and daughter and a home ec student on the morning and during the day. You can never underestimate the value of being able to ask someone to do something and having people there so you don’t ‘lose your shit’ and ‘start sobbing uncontrollably.’ Also handy if someone forgot to put two soft eskies full of sauces and jellies in his car when moving over to the venue.

Results

Well, very well, if I might say so myself. Nobody died and the food was well-received, eaten, complimented on, and some said they ‘loved me’. The food lasted through the hour or so of drinks and this was because people could come over and leisurely help themselves to little bits of food. Food that was carried around on trays (pfffft so old school) – the gougeres – was scarfed down in short order.

The wedding as a whole, I couldn’t fault (apart from the short 80s pop dance set) – the weather was gorgeous, the avacado farm it was on looked stunning, the lovely couple more so, the flash mob ceremony was inspired, they played Franz Ferdinand, there was meat and cake, the company delightful, the booze didn’t run out and the bus left at 2am.

Food notes below.

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Smoked and Cured Salmon in a Jar

Salmon. I’ve you haven’t had, or aren’t planning to have, a child of your own then four freshly filletted 1kg slabs of salmon is as much a source of home arrival pride as one could ask for. If you’ve used a knife, you’ve never enjoyed it so much as seeing thin orange and white strips peeling off under the gentle pressure of a yanagibocho. If you’ve eaten salmon off a shiny gold bit of cardboard and not coated in light but complex flavoured olive oil, then my condolences.

The salmon was the inspiration for the whole jar strategy, having seen salmon in a jar in French Saveur a couple of years back. I couldn’t find the copy but I did find this recipe on the internets.

Half the salmon was ever so lightly smoked with soaked hickory bark in a smoker box in my lidded barbecue. Basically just keep the smoke ticking along for 15 minutes or so to infuse, but not cook, the salmon. After that it’s on to the gravlaxing.

For the gravlax part, I combined a few things but this recipe is pretty much it + some juniper berries, which end up make it more gin cured.

 

Duck Liver Paté

Pretty much this recipe from Vogue Entertaining without the slightly gauche gold leaf; the addition of some chicken livers; and the replacement of vinocotto with some sherry to deglaze the pan. Four kilograms of it – good grief. Terrible to get into jars when hot – goes everywhere.

The bread that went with it was par-baked baguettes and they’re great. 15 minutes at 180C with a bowl of water in the oven for some moisture and they’re beautifully crisp and hot. The alternative was taking baguettes up with me and having them two days old for the wedding so, no.

Albany Oysters with Champagne and Virgin Mary Jelly

Albany oysters are small and sweet and I had 13 dozen delivered to my home. They’re still alive when delivered and keep well in the fridge with a wet towel over them. They’re designed to live a while when the tide drops down. This does mean they’re alive when you shuck them, which is a little sad. But given they don’t write books about shagging lots of younger lady oysters as a way of dealing with their own impending mortality, I don’t think they dwell on it too much.

Make sure you use a tea towel to hold the oyster down so the shucker doesn’t go through your hand. Force should be required as really all you’re doing is severing a couple of tendons at the pointy end. Albany oysters seem a bit trickier to open and it’s not just operator error. Not a big deal with a dozen but with 13 dozen, it did add up. Given them half an hour to open up a bit out of the fridge.

A trick I learnt is if you don’t want to spend all the event shucking oysters. Shuck, them and tip the oyster and the juices into a container. Pop in the fridge and then just pop some oysters and collected juice back into the shell. It avoid oysters sitting around drying out on an open shell and as an added bonus, grit settles to the bottom.

The jelly is just dry sparkling white with gelatine and the other mix up a virgin mary. 3 titanium leaves of gelatine per 500ml of each. No need to heat the wine or the virgin mary but do soak the leaves for a few minutes in cold water. Then put them in a small amount of hot water to dissolve before stirring through, allowing to set and cutting into small cubes.

Marron with Shaved Fennel, Chilli and Garlic

Marron, if you, don’t know, are freshwater crustaceans about 8 inches long, tip to tail. They have claws on the ends of their legs and beautiful, sweet, delicate flesh. Pemberton is famous for them. These were freshly caught, purged, cooked and shelled and delivered to me. Sweet.

These were a worry because if you cook something that’s a local specialty, you can only really fuck it up. So a light touch. A dozen or so marron. A big mason jar with olive oil. A few crushed cloves of garlic. A red chilli and half a finely shaved fennel bulb. Just doled it out to smaller jars at the wedding.

Enormously popular and well received – may have been out of towners but chalking it up as a win.

Cherry Tomatoes stuffed with White Anchovies

Nothing graceful about making these. Hull and stuff with a quarter to a half of a white anchovy. Coat in some of the white anchovy marinade. Interesting because they look like the peppers stuffed with goats cheese but aren’t so ahhh surprise!

Martini Olives

Vodka, vermouth as per usual. Soak whole green olives for a few hour. Drain and keep marinade and serve olives. Shake marinade with ice and serve  to yourself with twist of lemon.

Gougere with Smoked Tomato Sauce

Recipe from the very good cookbook, Mr Wilkison’s Favourite Vegetables, from the very genuinely talented and funny chef Matt Wilkinson of Pope Joan, Melbourne fame. Buy it.

Gougeres are like savoury cheesey profiteroles. The fantastic thing about them is that they freeze very well. Bake, pop on a tray with greaseproof paper and covered with clingfilm, and then once they’re frozen, pop them in a zip lock bag. When you’re ready, just put them frozen on a tray, eggwash them, sprinkle some parmesan and cook until golden in a 180C oven.

I smoked the tomatoes by soaking hickory chips and putting it at the bottom of a wok. Place a rack above the chips, place the tomatoes on the rack and cover with foil. Then heat outside on a portable burner. The tomatoes will only lightly cook but the smoke will pervade.

They’re pronounced goo zhair but will  inevitable be referred to ‘cheesy puff things’

And don’t overfill your pastry bag. Ever

Celery dunked in Virgin Mary

Yeah , yeah, crudites. But they’re crunchy, clean the mouth and palate and look lovely piled in a glass with a few leaves and the green offset with the bloody mary red. I think 3 sticks were eaten. Tsk.

Smoked Almonds

I bought these, aren’t I clever?

Truffle Popcorn

Easy and bulky carbs for the hungry. Make popcorn. Toss with truffle salt and place in large mason jar. Great and just a hint of truffles. Got through two jars.
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Donut robot


Donuts Super Donuts Untitled

These boys mean business. Creamy dough, hot and fresh, lovingly dipped, and double bagged. Accept no substitutes.

Near the station entrance.