Sunday, July 31, 2005

CheckOut Chick

When I was in my teens, heaps of my friends got jobs as check out chicks when they were about 15. They were employed by a small chain which was notorious for hiring 15 year olds at very low pay and then scaling down their shifts as soon as they turned 17 and were required to be paid higher rates by law.

I was busy with my own menial drudgery at that point, and it wasn't until later that I applied for positions in retail, but alas, never made the grade.

And thus, until last week, was never presented with the opportunity to scan groceries. Picture this. It was a very crowded supermarket and the queues were long. I noticed that the area in the middle of the check outs was empty. It was the Self-Scan area, which I'd always avoided on the grounds that it looked too hard, but suddenly, filled with bravado and the desire to avoid waiting in line, I decided I could do it. How hard could it be?

I pulled up with my full trolley and began scanning and swiping. I warmed up with a few basics and then decided to go for the old triple swoop - you know, when you have 3 cans of tuna and you swipe one 3 times? The machine wasn't having that. In a loud bossy voice, it Ordered Me To Place the Item In the Bag And Continue Scanning. I couldn't believe it was watching me. How did it know?

Things continued much in this vein; the machine got cross when I had more than 3 bags and hadn't finished, the assistant (human) had to come over and intervene a few times, a certain customer behind me kept trying to grab the station each time I put some bags in my trolley (honestly, how many times do I have to exclaim "No! I'm not finished!"?).

I'm not joking, I think it took me 20 minutes to scan and load 5 bags of groceries. And I didn't even get to read about Britney Spears while I waited.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

$3000 poses a dilemma

I was at the endodontist yeserday (girls who eat sweets rot their teeth apparently) and he was explaining how IF the twinging tooth needed to be fixed, it would cost somewhere in the realm of $3000.

I told him straight that I could buy a lot of handbags for $3000. We hummed and hawed and he looked at the x-ray and told me I could go.

But rememher those truffles? They wound up at the Botannical which is beautifully situated just opposite the gardens of the same name. For $3000 a kilo.

Now I have a dilemma .....

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Sweet Like Chocolate

Yes it does bring me joy.

It's an odd day which doesn't see me eating chocolate. Sometimes a piece of cake but usually just a handful of chocolate buttons. I have taken to only keeping a small amount in my chocolate drawer on the grounds that if it's not there, I can't eat it, but this sometimes backfires.

Like today. My stash of chocolate callets had run out and I had no real prospect of getting some more until tomorrow. So I went a hunting in the chocolate drawer and pulled out a block of Callebaut white chocolate. This had been there, quite safe, for some time, because I don't really like white chocolate. Not on its own. I quite like it in other things - a mousse topped with raspberry or passionfruit coulis, a triple chocolate stack or in chunks in a chocolate brownie. But by itself? Not likely.

But deprived and driven to desperation, I clawed open the packet and chopped up the block. I love the way chocolate shaves as it breaks, there is something beautiful in the way it falls. This was no exception and I happily scooped up a couple of pieces. After two I was sated, but I took one more, the Fateful Piece of Chocolate. Soon I wanted to swoon with sugar-induced sickness, to fall into the gutter, scattering chocolate crumbs as I went.

White chocolate is just too sweet for me. And on top of that, it's not really chocolate without the cocoa liquor. Somebody call the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for me.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Goat’s cheese toasts with garlic oil and tomato

It’s hard when driving over a bridge, to remember that it has collapsed before. I hate driving over the Westgate Bridge (as I did today) and hold my breath as I get towards the end, chanting “almost, almost, almost there!!”

It’s the same thing with a cooking debacle. With each step – the mixing, the folding, the stirring – it is impossible not to recall how this dish once failed spectacularly. I burned the chicken baked in salad dressing for dinner. Not enough to make it inedible but certainly enough to make it unenjoyable.

But the pre-dinner snack I threw together more than made up for it. Sourdough sliced and toasted. A garlic clove grated with my Accutec grater (the first thing I grated with my Accutec grater was my fingers. The second thing was some cheese. The third, my fingers again. Fourthly, some chocolate. But now I lurrrve it)). Four tablespoons of Kyneton extra virgin olive oil splashed over the garlic in a little bowl. A huge ripe organic tomato sliced. And the item in the fridge which just HAD to be used up today – a container of fresh goat’s cheese from the markets.

Simple assembly and adoration. Warm toast, covered in about a tablespoon of the oil, making sure you scoop the garlic bits up. Slather lavishly with a quarter of the cheese. Arrange a few slices of tomato. Salt, pepper and another tablespoon of the oil. Yummy.

And then we had the chicken salad. But let’s not talk about THAT.

P.S. the above is actually from my notes of dinner during summer. But it might be of interest to our northern friends. Why am I bringing this up now, in the midst of Melbourne winter? While looking for a clock on the weekend, I came across my beloved Accutec grater for sale at Matchbox and Roost for $29. This is a steal! Go to the store now, run, run!!

Friday, July 22, 2005

He Came In With Krispy Kremes

He walked in the door and my face lit up. "Krispy Kremes! You brought me Krispy Kremes!"

To fully appreciate this moment you have to understand - I had begged. I had cajoled. I had pleaded, but to no avail. Figman was not going to detour to the "ridiculously located" Krispy Kreme outlet at Sydney Airport on his way home. (It appears that the store is not actually at the airport but some distance away, in the middle of the taxi rank and not at all accessible by mere mortals.)

I do like a doughnut, but Figman is the true connisseur in our household. At one point, I was chasing down doughnuts all over the suburbs and he eventually settled on one - the Laurent jam beignet. So it was a little unusual that I was begging for a doughnut and now he was refusing.

So when he came in with Krispy Kremes I was stunned. Not at the doughnuts, but that he did it despite his protestation. This however was soon explained. "They clearly realise that no one is going to risk missing their plane to go and get a doughnut from the back of beyond. They've now set up little stalls outside the boarding gates."

I have been waiting a while to taste these. When I first heard that Krispy Kreme were coming to Australia, I expected a Melbourne store to follow soon. But no. And after reading about them here and here, I was a little bit impatient. Just a bit.

I opened the box and inhaled. The aroma was sweet - so sweet, it was almost off-putting. But I bit in. Light and airy and sugary sweet. The texture is nothing fantastic - Figman said bluntly "it's very Doughnut King to me". Purists only consume these when fresh and hot and I can see how that could make a big difference.

I left the box of original glazed and returned to my crisp green apple. But soon, despite not being impressed, I couldn't get the taste out of my head. I WANTED ANOTHER ONE. And it was so. Disgusted with myself, I studiously ignored the fourth and remaining doughnut. Figman had polished off his and then asked if I wanted it. "No". I hesitated. "They're quite rubbishy really, but ..." we finished together "there's something about them that makes you want to stuff your face!".

For the record, Figman got the last one, while I got a bite out of it. And thank goodness he didn't get the large box!

Thursday, July 21, 2005

YaY! It's truffles!

One of my favourite places in the whole world is the Yarra Valley - a wine making region about an hour out of Melbourne. Easy enough for a day trip, lovely for a short holiday.

The food of the area is fantastic, there is a Yarra Valley Regional Food Trail, and every time I'm out there I discover something new I didn't know existed - like a blueberry farm in the middle of nowhere!

And now they've grown truffles there too. Not the gorgeous chocolately kind, but the aromatic fungus sort.

I suddenly feel the Valley calling me .... : )

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Middle Eastern Mix-Up

You know, when I started this blog, I wondered how I would find something new to write about each day. Particularly when many of our meals are repetitive -the same old favourites over and over again.

But I've discovered that I do cook a wider range of dishes than I'd suspected and anyway, there are always my favourite ingredients to rave on about.

Today - it's Malouf's Baharat Turkish Spice and Pomengranate Molasses. I was hungry and wandered into the kitchen looking for some inspiration. And I found a packet of lamb chops. I felt that I'd like something a little sweet, so I decided on a drizzle of pomegranate molasses at the end of cooking (bad things happen to pans when molasses goes in too early, BAD THINGS I TELL YOU!). The lamb cried out for a wider flavour, so I surveyed my spices and grabbed Malouf's Baharat Turkish Spice. It's a wonderful mix of flavours - cinnamon, black pepper, nutmeg, star anise, caraway seeds, cloves and ginger. The label recommends its use with lamb and I heartily agree. Greg Malouf is a very respected chef, with his roots in Middle Eastern cooking. I have a copy of Arabesque, his first book with wife Lucy Malouf, on my bookshelf, but I have to admit I have not done much more than browse so far.

So back to the lamb. I browned four chops and cooked them for seven minutes a side. I sprinkled over a half teaspon or so of spice during the fry. I yanked them out of the pan and left them on a plate while I sauteed the sliced red cabbage in the lamb fat and juices (ok I may have just nibbled a chop or two!). Added more spice and a dash of water to the cabbage and then served it up, with a teaspoon of pomegranate molasses.

The flavours work wonderfully together, which is not a surprise given their origins. The astringency of the cabbage and the pomegranate partner the sweetness and spiciness of the lamb just perfectly! Mmmmn, I know it's a good dinner when as I put the dishes away, I'm already looking forward to leftovers for lunch tomorrow. Can I wait that long??

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Oh Honey!

Recently, Nic at bakingsheet hosted Sugar High Friday, with the featured ingredient of honey.

I didn't even dream of being ready for this, but when I read Niki's entry yesterday, it reminded me that I had a new jar of honey sitting in the cupboard (that makes me sound like Winnie the Pooh, doesn't it?)

Now this is a bigger occasion than it sounds - I haven't had honey in the house for a long time - I threw the last dregs of a squeeze bottle out a couple of years ago and as it's recommended that babies not be given honey, I haven't bothered to replace it. The other day Figman said "Look, I think I can handle a good dose of botulism - get me some more honey" and off I went on a honey hunt. Well not far actually, there is a stand at the Prahran Markets which specialises in honey and I found a jar of Clover Honey from New Zealand, made by the good folks at Honeyland. The girl behind the counter could not have been more ensnared by her phone call and less interested in serving customers but I noticed that they have tasting jars, so maybe I'll go back and do a full tasting another time.

This morning, I was out of raspberry jam at breakfast time and inspired by Barbara, I thought, "what about honey and yoghurt?" A few scoops of creamy yoghurt with clover honey drizzled over it. I licked the fork. The taste hit me like a smack in the face! This was no pale lacklustre supermarket squeeze-honey. This is full flavoured, with a rich depth that simply blew me away. The tiny amount almost overpowered the tang of the plain yoghurt but I can see that it would be wonderful in a honey ice cream. The flavour would also enchance a savoury dish with its strength and not its sweetness.

After watching Brit chefs Rick Stein and Nick Nairn rave about heather honey I have been scheming about how to get some here, but I may stop - this is all the honey I need for now.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Sale Watch Minimax

Well I hit the Minimax sale early this morning - we were out of a few essentials (by which I mean milk and yoghurt, not pans and blenders!)and what better excuse than to pop into the store?

Fortunately for my budget (or apparent lack thereof for all the attention I pay to it) there weren't any cookbooks that I wanted. I might go back for a cheap vase or two, but otherwise, I think I'm pretty safe.

But I did want to let you know that they have these silicone mitts on sale. They were marked $29.95 but the basket said $24.95. This is the cheapest I have ever seen them - I got mine for $35 when David Jones had 30% off all kitchenware. Each store has different stuff though, so check before you go if that is all you want.

They are not that much more expensive than some of the fancier kitchen gloves and they should last a lifetime. They go in the dishwasher and are amazing for lifting hot enamelware out of the oven. Figman is the kind who dances around the kitchen hopping with pain even when his hands are bound in TWO tea towels so he loves these. He looked askance at the price, but one use and he was won over!

I'm thinking of opening a separate blog for this sort of thing - I don't know if it's of any interest to the non-Melbourne readers. Thoughts, anyone?

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Tuna For A Little Girl

isn't that just gorgeous? I found it on ebay when I was looking for a book. It was published in 1919 and I would love to read it - but $99 is too much I think. I will keep a lookout in second hand bookstores from now on - it's always good to have a book to scour for!

Would you believe today was the first time I cooked tuna that didn’t come from a can? My goodness. And it was good. I was a bit dubious, since the tuna steaks had been sitting in the fridge from yesterday, when we scooped a bargain at the markets. I was picking up my chicken and told Figman to go check out the fish stand next door to see what he wanted (he is the seafood king in our household – I only dabble). It was about 3.30 and the family that runs it were starting to clear out some of the fish but the bargain hunting hordes had not yet descended. There was a tray of garfish fillets (which I love) and tuna. Now a tray usually costs $5, but I could NOT believe that 3 big pieces of red raw sashimi tuna could cost only $5. To be clear here, one piece was a main meal size. Now we had half a kilo of whitebait, 2 cleaned whole flathead, a tray of delicate garfish fillets and 3 tuna steaks. All for $23.50.

When we got home, Figman was starving, so he fired up the barbeque and fried the whitebait on that, with just some garlic and salt. He found a lemon on the tree and squeezed it over. They were hot, crispy and delicious. Even the Plumbaby ate them, whole and tasty.

The garfish, I dusted very lightly with Turkish spice and just a spoonful of flour. Fried quickly in the pan and served up to Figman, who had been working hard in the garden, with toasted sourdough and rocket salad. Oh, and a beer, of course.

Now what was I writing about? Tuna. Donna Hay, in her various cookbooks, is always banging on about seared tuna. Frankly, it seemed to me that she never shut up about the stuff. But when I actually flicked through the 3 cookbooks of hers which grace my shelves, there weren’t that many recipes – sometimes only a couple per book. Clearly, I was oversensitive on the subject and had completely misjudged her.

I found one recipe that seemed simple enough and I could cope with the ingredients – one of the problems of market based cooking is that I come home with the freshest seasonal produce but don’t always have the accompaniments by the time I decide what I’m going to cook. I whipped up the marinade, wasabi, soy sauce and mirin and plonked the tuna in it for 10 minutes. I washed the rest of the rocket, sliced some spring onions and attempted to make the accompanying asian salad dressing. It tasted vile, but this was undoubtedly my fault for trying out some new inexpensive sesame oil which tasted more like petroleum. I abandoned the dressing and decided to make do with pepper and olive oil instead.

I heated up the fry pan and added a swirl of oil. Figman’s 2 steaks went in. Now the recipe said 5 seconds per side, but even he thought this was overdoing it. It was more like 15 or 20 and he said his were perfect. I had a little taste and the texture was wonderful but I was too gutless to cook mine like that. If the fish had been fresh that day, yes, but not when it had been sitting around in the fridge all night and was now a dark brown colour instead of the glorious red. So I cooked mine until almost done and by the time I ate it, it was just cooked all the way through. Still tasty but not as sumptuous. Next time, though ….

Saturday, July 16, 2005

My First Pot Roast

I don't know if this qualifies as a pot roast, but I am always reading about them in North American stories - mothers seem to always be making it for cosy family dinners.

This was an invention born of necessity - our oven is pretty crappy and it can take up to 2 hours to roast a large leg of lamb properly. Shortly after we moved into this house, I had an oven technician come out to repair it, because I was convinced that there was a leak or a loose seal that was letting the heat escape. But no, he inspected it carefully and told me that it was just the condition of the device - charged me $80 and was on his way after ten minutes!

I was in the mood for a lamb roast but couldn't face a long cooking time. At the butchers, I found some small lamb shoulders, boned and rolled and tied with string. They had slivers of garlic and sprigs of rosemary inserted and a tiny amount of stuffing at the bottom. Now I am normally not one for pre-fab touches - I'd rather put my own flavourings on - but this looked pretty simple and the shoulder was small enough to cook fairly quickly.

I browned the roast on each side in my Le Creuset Dutch/French oven (I thought they were called Dutch Ovens, but I see on the Peters of Kensington site that they are French Ovens there too). I then added a little water - maybe 2/3 cup and while that came to the boil, I chopped three potatoes and added those around the meat. Reduced to simmer and left for about 3/4 hour, cooking away on the stove.

Absolutely delicious - moist and tender and just pink in the middle. I'll have to try this again. The potatoes were soft and the juices from the roast had formed a lovely sauce, with bits of intermingled breadcrumb stuffing.

Oh, and if anyone's interested in a Le Creuset very french oven, the 26cm round in blue is on sale at the Minimax sale commencing Monday. And an additional 10% off if you have an invite!

Friday, July 15, 2005

Something Positive about Me apparently or Fish and Chickpea Soup if you Prefer it That Way

Today was a sleepy sort of stay-at-home day. We mooched about and carried out little household tasks, had visitors over to play with Plumbaby, but that was about it. In the afternoon, we all curled up for a pre-prandial sleep - all of us asleep during the day is a very rare thing.

By the time I got up, dinner was running a little off-track. I had some firm white rockling fillets from the market yesterday and I really had to use them up. I'd poked about in my cookbook collection and dug up a recipe from Soup for Fish and Chickpea Soup. This involved roasting red capsicums and tomatoes but I wanted something a little simpler that would use up the wilting celery in my fridge.

I threw some butter, diced onion, garlic and the aforementioned celery into a stockpot. I added tiny cauliflower florets, a tin of chickpeas and a tin of diced tomatoes and about 3/4 teaspoon of cumin. By this time, the Plumbaby was agitating for dinner and Figman was getting cranky about it not being ready. I still had to add water and the fish and at this point, threw in the towel and bubs was fed bread and yoghurt for dinner.

Figman was decidedly pissed off, when I plonked a steaming bowl of hot soup in front of him, piled high with pieces of white fish and chickpeas and vegetables. "Hmmmn", he said "You do have some positives".

The recipe was a bit more complicated than that, and it did require chopped basil, mint and parsley which I left out simply because I didn't have them on hand. I'll add them to the leftovers tomorrow. But every recipe I have tried from this book I've loved - except for the Chicken Tortilla Soup and really, I should have guessed that I don't like warm avocado. It's just wrong.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Chocolate Book Binge

Now it can't be said that I have ever hidden my fondness for chocolate. (A near obsession is what some impolite people would call it).

Of recent times, I have become more interested in chocolate cookbooks - those solely devoted to the love and pursuit of chocolate - and have been lingering over the Chocolate Desserts of Pierre Herme and Bittersweet by Alice Medrich. Lingering, because they are imported books and very very expensive here. I have been thinking of going on an Essential Ingredient binge - if you spend $200, you then get a discount of about 12% for a year or so. So in odd moments, I would casually contemplate exactly what I would buy to fill up that $200 and the bulk of it consists of chocolate, chocolate books and a bit more chocolate. But I didn't do it for fear of what the Figman would say when he saw the bill ("You spent WHAT?? ON CHOCOLATE??") and it's just as well I didn't.

Near the Prahran Markets, is a discount book store. They had one at the Melbourne Airport for a while (and I became amazingly fond of going to the airport!) and another at Melbourne Central in the old Daimaru space. They have a great selection of cookbooks and while the one at Melbourne Central was open, I used to stop off on my way from work and then stagger home with bags of books.

One has now opened up on Chapel Street and the selection is pretty good. Jill Dupleix's books for $19.95, a range of Gordon Ramsay, and heaps of odd little books that you wouldn't find elsewhere and definitely not so cheap! I picked up two of Trish Deseine's cookbooks last time I was there, for only $12.95 each! Trish is another writer I was introduced to by Clotilde of Chocolate and Zucchini and indeed I hadn't heard of Herme or Medrich before I started reading food blogs. It is a fabulous way to discover books from other lands.

Anyway, the books you say!! I had a feeling that I should stop in today. Soon I saw Chocolate Bar, which has been mentioned twice in recent months in the Age's Epicure. I then glanced over the piles of books and saw it: Bittersweet by Alice Medrich. I Simply Could Not Believe It. Reduced from $60 to $19.95! I grabbed it and looked ferociously at anyone who might lift it from my pile. On the way out, I saw luscious chocolate desserts, which I have been drooling over in a local bookshop for months now.

Chocolate Bar is sarky, hip and full of chocolate philosophy, very different to your average runofthemill choc book. Bittersweet by Alice Medrich is lovely and is already next to the bed for thorough reading, not flicking through. Luscious I think will be a lot of fun, with some good recipes.

Three chocolate books and a packet of Callebaut callets! Now that's a good shopping trip!

(I can only hope that Figman has forgotten all about the existence of this blog!)

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Orange and Garlic Chicken With Linguini

Heated some olive oil. Browned pieces of chicken (one whole chicken cut into eight pieces) on both sides in a frying pan. Added the juice of an orange, a bit of cider vinegar and enough water to come up half way. Poached for 10 minutes. Turned chicken and added one huge chopped clove of Russian garlic. Poached for another 10 minutes. Removed chicken and reduced sauce.

Boiled salted water. Added wholemeal linguini. When cooked, added linguini to the fry pan. Stirred the sauce and seasoned. Added chicken and heated through and served.

Figman loved the linguini – his talking to at the corporate commandos included a plug for whole grains, believe it or not.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Who knew butter could taste so good? Bourdain, that’s who. In Kitchen Confidential, he mentions it as the reason restaurant food tastes so much better than home cooked food.

But in my recent organics order, I tried a new type of unsalted butter - Tatura, which I hadn’t tasted before. Throwing Plumbaby's dinner together, I sautéed chicken breast in about 100g of butter, and then added zucchini julienned. It was meant to be a simple baba dinner, but it was unbelievably tasty. Figman and I were both sneaking bits out of the pan on the grounds that we were “testing” for temperature etc. It could only be the butter.

But the Plumbaby rejected the chicken after one bite, and refused to even countenance the zuchinni. He was about to be sent to bed, when I noticed how hard he was crying and that his molars seemed about to jump through his gums. Both parents felt suitably chastised, and some cold leek and sweet potato soup with rice was fetched and fed to the sobbing child. He ate a HUGE portion, which shows that he wasn’t being fussy and he was still hungry, he just couldn’t chew with his gums hurting like that. Aren’t we awful parents??

He ate all his lunch today, so I don’t feel so bad.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Something Simple

Some days it doesn't take much to make me happy.

Like a bite of Godiva dark chocolate. Or a spoonful of raspberry jam.

Or a five dollar tea towel from Bed Bath and Table.

(Picture coming soon!)

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Speaking of Haigh's

Niki at Esurientes is about to head off on the Haigh's Chocolate Factory Tour.

It's funny, because sitting here on my desk is a golden bag which up until an hour ago contained my first set of Haigh's filled creams. I have always been fond of Haigh's, although I do find their chocolate bars a little sweet. I enjoy it as a treat every now and then but it's not chocolate I'd like every day.

In the Age's Epicure section this week, they featured an article about what food and drink to pack on holidays, and prominently displayed was a handful of Haigh's Lemon Myrtle creams. They were so cute - the little round brown creams, with a perfect bright yellow spot on top. I just had to have some.

Today I was near a Haigh's store and made good use of this. I selected just a handful - two of Lemon Myrtle Cream, Violet Cream and Rose Cream. I suppose the name "Cream" should have made me think of Peppermint cream and how I Do Not Like that texture nor taste, but it didn't.

After dinner tonight with Figman and my brother - slow cooked lamb shanks with couscous - I brought out the chocolates. We were all bursting from the shanks, so it was a perfect little sweet taster to end the experience.

I bit into the Lemon Myrtle Cream and was instantly shocked. I don't know quite what I was expecting, but it wasn't the gloppy, incredibly sweet, filling. Once I got past this, the flavour was quite nice (I'm very fond of lemon myrtle) but simply too too sweet for me. My brother tried a Violet Cream and didn't say anything. Once I tried one, I realised why. I said "This tastes like Face Cream" and we then diverted to a conversation about Face Creams I Have Known. You will not catch me eating that one again.

The last one I tried was the Rose Cream and it was lovely - still very sweet but with that turkish delight flavour I adore. We ate the last one curled up on the couch, watching the results of the second French battle on Iron Chef. It was nice, but I'd rather have pashmak.

The verdict? An occasional indulgence, not an everyday treat. And not Vi(o)le(t) Cream, ever ever again.

Packet Pasta

Oh that sounds dreadful, doesn't it?

It brings to mind the cheap Continental Tomato and Onion instant pasta I used to eat at uni - mix with milk and heat in the microwave. And I thought it was so yummy! I couldn't even guess when I last ate that. (But I must admit a secret hankering occasionally for instant noodles - especially when coated in some MSG laden flavouring sachet).

At the Melbourne Good Food and Wine Show in June, I selected many many things. I took three trips to the car to deposit my bags and even then I hesitated about whether to get more (always get more if you like it! always! always!). Despite the slightly stunned look on Figman's face as I continually brought YET MORE bags in, we have enjoyed eating our way through most of the delicious products - Doddle Creek Coriander and Chilli Mayonnaise (the best!), Dalhousie Garlic and Mint Jelly, Fudgeman Fudge in about fifty flavours and so forth.

Tonight I thought we'd have pizza from a local place - but changed my mind close to dinner time - too close really to buy ingredients for something else. So it was to the store cupboard and there wasn't a huge amount I wanted to cook. The cupboard is actually ridiculously full, but it just wasn't inspiring. AT all.

And at the back, I found a packet of porcini pasta and sauce which I'd picked up at the Motto stand. I don't remember the cost - but I think it was pretty pricey. the sauce was a mixed one - tomato, eggplant, mushrooms etc - their Four Seasons sauce.

The serve of each was for two - I think that they have a four person serve as well. When I ripped open the top of the pasta packet the aroma was incredible. I took it to Figman, who was feeding Plumbaby dinner, and said "this smells amazing but I don't think I'll like it when it's cooked". And I didn't.

The texture was great and it cooked very quickly but something in me just didn't respond to it. Maybe I'm just one of those people who don't like porcini - Quick! Call the Gourmet Police!!

The sauce was lovely though. And the Figman appreciated it all - all two serves of it.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Mrs Beeton Soup

Monica Dickens writes in "One Pair Of Hands" of making soup in a family home and only discovering as she ladled it out that a child had cut pictures fo food out of Mrs Beeton and added it to the dish.

This Is Not That Soup.

Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management was published in 1861 and has been a success ever since. An updated version was published recently and indeed I believe that it has been constantly updated since original publication but I am talking about the original or at least close to.

When I lived in England, there was an old worn copy of Mrs Beeton on the kitchen shelf. Something which I suspected had been bought more for the antique look than its contents, but I read it avidly as a cookbook. There were some difficulties, as the measurements were in Ye Olde English a lot of the time but the recipes were enchanting - a link to a bygone age.

The first recipe I ever made from the Book of Household Management was a rice and tomato soup. It featured white rice, chopped tomatoes, onion and stock. I don't remember other ingredients but it was simple, delicate and delicious. It was the second rice soup I had ever tasted and instilled a love for that style of soup in me.

Last month I made dinner for the Plumbaby - brown rice, tomato passata, chickpeas and a few other good things. He did not like it. He did not like it the next day either. The third time he simply pursed his lips and looked me in the eye as if to say "Why are you even bothering to bring that stuff near me again". So the leftovers went into the freezer to be eaten by us.

I dug it out a few days ago but when lunchtime came, I was longing for a soup. Something simple, warming and nourishing. I heated the rice dish and boiled the kettle. Water to bowl and it was suddenly soup. It was just what I wanted and it made me remember those days in England and Mrs Beeton.

Thinking of London again now. Best hopes for all. Plum

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Chicken and Barley Soup

Figman loves a good chicken soup. It is ingrained in his soul - the smell of it takes him away to childhood and the comfort of coming into a warm house to find that his mother had cooked up a big pot of soup.

I had some chicken from the market - maryland pieces cut into half - drumsticks and thigh pieces. It was the first time I'd used these instead of a whole chicken and coincidentally, one of Figman's colleagues told him just the other day that "that's what the Italians use for soup".

I fried up a diced onion and added the chicken pieces, skin side down. I wanted them to crisp just a bit as I do not like limp, white, gluggy chicken skin in my soup. That little bit of colour and flavour makes a huge difference.

I added four diced carrots, five stalks of celery and about 2/3 of a cup of barley. It was the first time I'd used barley and I couldn't find anything in my cookbooks about how long to cook it. I guessed, and I guessed incorrectly. It took at least 1 1/2 hours to fully soak up all the liquid and be properly cooked. Given that I only put the barley in after the soup had been on for a couple of hours already, this was a minor nuisance.

Salt, seasonings, and a dash of extra virgin olive oil on top when served.

Figman walked in the door from a blustery Melbourne night and sniffed.

"Our house should always smell like this" he said.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


Oh how was the chocolate tart I hear you ask?

(The noise is desfening from over here by the way)

Well, it was solid and firm, a dense rich mousse that was obviously chocolate, eggs, cream and not much else. Gorgeous and almost over the top, in the way that chocolate can be sometimes.

That, however, was just the filling.

As I scooped down to the crust, I started to get chunky bits of nuts infiltrating my moussey bites. And the nuts were not good. They were very big and tasted like nuts mixed with butter and maybe a binder, but it was NOT GOOD. Not in my opinion anyway.

And trying to eat just mousse while avoiding the nuts, let's just say it was unlikely to happen. But hey - it was a good concept and the top 85% worked really well.

I see in today's Epicure that Phillippa's are offering tours of their bakery on Monday nights in July, August and October. I missed out on these when it was part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival earlier this year - I was put on the waiting list for a cancellation but it was obviously a very popular event.

On the other hand, what if I go to the bakery and see something that puts me off eating their bread forever? I am very fussy after all. not that you'd ever guess it.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Sandwich story

The sourdough mentioned below was proudly carried home. Plumbaby was playing with a lemon once indoors but when I held up the boule in its clear bag and said "Bread?", he flung the lemon down and scampered after me, with an alacrity not seen for some time. He dug in with gusto and even I had a piece later for lunch.

Well a piece with Sirena chilli tuna and rocket and dressing etc etc and it was very late in the afternoon at this point, so I really didn't feel up to eating dinner.

I told Figman when he came home that he was probably getting a sandwich for dinner and He Did Not Look Impressed. After I gave him a lecture on the Emancipation of Women, he asked whether some of the garfish from last night was still in the fridge. There was an entire tray left to be cooked and after the Plumbaby went to bed, this is what he had:

2 large slices of sourdough boule, toasted and buttered
Bowl of mixed salad leaves, seasoned and coated with Kyneton extra virgin olive oil and SJ organic balsamic vinegar
Heap of spicy plum mustard seed chutney

and a tray of garfish fillets, fried gently in olive oil and butter.

It looked sensational! Just a sandwich, indeed!

Just a loaf of bread

Well that was the plan at any rate.

After a quick browse through Wheel & Barrow, I popped into Phillippa's bakery to grab an organic sourdough boule. This is the bread of choice in our household, and although Plumbaby had been making do with some dark rye I picked up at the supermarket the other night, he looked decidedly unimpressed with it, so it was time to stock up again.

They bake these round boules which can be bought whole for $12, or $8 a half or $5 a quarter. So it is obviously to your advantage to stock up and buy as much as possible. I just had a plan for a half.

But earlier, I had gone rummaging through the chocolate drawer (yes I do have an entire drawer just for chocolate!) and found three callettes left in the packet. A packet which had been full a few days ago. I thought "it's not possible that I could have eaten my way through a 250g packet of Callebaut dark chocolate callettes in three days!" but that was the only explanation. Well I did give the Plumbaby a couple to taste (his first ever chocolate!) but that doesn't count for many.

None of the other chocolate in the drawer appealed to me much, and most of it was still in block form. This is one reason why the Callebaut callettes are so addictive - they don't taste as nice as the block choclate melted and moulded, but they are so handy! So easy to grab by the handful as you walk past to the toaster .. or the dishwasher ... or whatever.

I am not a girl who goes quietly without chocolate. And Phillipa's do a wonderful chocolate and hazelnut cake, with a thick chocolate ganache layered all over it. I must eat it twice a month at least. I usally buy a whole cake and cut it up into very small pieces (teaspoon sized) and freeze it. That way, I can have a small nibble on a gorgeous cake every day, instead of wolfing down an entire piece in one sitting (and quite possibly feeling ill afterwards from all that chocolately buttery richness!).

There were no whole cakes today, only a large one, with half and a slice remaining. To buy it by the slice is to induce bankruptcy, so I asked the girl if I could get the half cheaper. She agreed to sell it for something close to the small cake price and I was cheered by that. While she packed it up for me, I had a squiz in the cake section under the main counter. I suspect it is refridgerated and they tend to keep the other tarts and cakes and quiches that they're not displaying yet, down there. I spotted something which looked a little like an upside down fruit cake and it was too consistent in texture for that. Too suspiciously chocolately.

I enquired and she told me that it was a chocolate mousse tart - something which I had never seen there before. I avidly requested a slice of that too and eventually stumbled out of the store with half a large chocolate cake and a slice of chocolate tart.

And a boule of sourdough bread.

Getting Ready

Well who would have thought it could be this easy?

To set up a blog in about ten minutes flat! Excellent.

Although the deliberations did take slightly longer than that - mostly over which template to chose from the Blogger stable. I fancied the Scribe design and picked it for a test blog, but no matter how long I stared at it, it looked like Debbie's blog not mine.

So I chose this one and it looks lovely I think.

Roll on the blogging! Break out the chocolate cake!!