Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Eve

Earlier this evening, Figman asked me to stop eating so many of what he calls "those stupid candy canes". Refusing to be chastened, I said "If I can't eat candy canes on Christmas Eve, when can I?"

The candy canes had been obtained after much stress, to make Peppermint Bark - an ambition long held after reading Heidi Swanson's post about it back in December 2003.

It is now after 11pm and I am beginning to doubt the wisdom of starting yet another of my insane holiday cooking projects at 9.30pm on Christmas Eve. What on earth possesses me? I should be listening to carols or meeting with friends or at the very least (and best perhaps) tucked up cosily in bed. Instead, I am waiting for the second layer of chocolate to harden so that I can slice up the Peppermint Bark (which is more botched than bark at this point).

Merry Christmas everyone!

Friday, December 23, 2005

All Excited about Cutlery!

Not the Christmas season, not 24 hours of non-stop eating and drinking, but my new cutlery. The sort of things that excite me. Ahem. After an early morning excursion the other day, Plumbaby and I were wandering around in South Melbourne with not much to do. We'd had a peek at the South Melbourne Markets and shared a smoothie. I was going over my Christmas list in my head and all thoughts soon turned to cutlery.

You see, I don't know about you, but Figman and I have a motley collection of spoons and forks. Odds and ends collected from when we moved in together years ago. The odd family heirloom and items nicked from work. The only ones which now match are the remants of a 24 piece set I bought from Target and I can't even scrape together a matching set of four if we have people over for dinner. As guests are sitting down, I am opening the dishwasher and hastily rinsing forks with egg batter stuck to them. But we struggle through and really, it's not that big a deal.

Until I realise that six people are coming for breakfast on Christmas Day. And at last count, I had four table knives. And maybe five forks. Unless I tell someone to eat with their fingers, it was definitely time to get some new cutlery. I've been keeping an eye on the sales of big sets but there's nothing I've fancied. Some of the Villeroy & Boch cutlery is beautiful but it's obscenely expensive and really, does this kind of thing belong in the hands of someone who loses a teaspoon a month? I think not.

I'd been wanting to check out Chef's Hat on Cecil Street for a while, and so I stuck my head in the door on the elusive cutlery search. They had some Stanley Rogers sets and a few others but it wasn't what I wanted. I loathe soup spoons so why should I pay for six of those? And a set of entree knives?? What planet do these people entertain on? But at the back of the store I had a revelation - boxes and boxes of loose cutlery - a couple of dollars by the piece and even cheaper by the dozen. I chose the sturdy and utilitarian Luxor range and then had fun putting together my own selection. A dozen table knives, spoons and forks. 12 tea spoons (soda and coffee also available). 4 matching serving spoons and 2 salad spoons for $3.50 apiece. These usually cost $20 for a pair, so it's an offical BARGAIN. And the boxed dozens cost me from $8.15 for the teaspoons to $21.55 for the knife. All up, my chosen settings for 12 cost just over 60 bucks.

So I'm happy, SO VERY HAPPY!! Now I just have to wash them and put them away. And come Christmas Day, I won't be fishing around under the vegetable peelings for that last knife, because I'll still have another ten!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Cacao Nibs

I am a Chocolate Geek. There are no other words for it.

While doing some of my Christmas shopping online, I was browsing the Peter's of Kensington site. This is a great place to get kitchenware, but I was poking around in their general brand list when I came across the Dagoba listing. I've seen Dagoba chocolate bars in my local organic shops and they've gotten some good press recently but I've never really been tempted. Until now. You see, I've always had a hankering to get my hands on some cacao nibs and David Lebovitz says to try these. So really, it's all just serendiptious and out of my hands.

$15 for 170g seems a little outrageous, but hey, this is a culinary experiment, right? I finished my shopping and added in a bag of nibs. Giftwrapped (to me). I love being able to open a little parcel, covered in gold paper and wrapped in ribbon. Particularly as I am just about to embark on our annual Christmas extravaganza. Like many women, I feel that this falls to me, due to the fact that Figman pretends to have the wrapping skills of a five year old. Without opposable thumbs. I think that this must be a charade, in order to spend more time in front of the Test Match, because I refuse to believe that a man who can assemble a barbeque cannot use sticky tape. Anyhow.

I came home from a minor grocery expedition in 32C heat to find a pile of parcels at the front door. A Christmas present from overseas, a giant box containing the Plumbaby's loot and a small Peter's box addressed to me. I opened the box (and tried to crush my guilt at all the packing and insulation for this one tiny package). I slowly unwrapped it and then stopped. Quick! To Bittersweet. Alice Medrich has a section on cacao nibs here and I simply must read her words before I open this long awaited (well two days really) packet.

I scan the pages impatiently but I do learn a couple of key things. Don't expect this to have the sweetness of processed chocolate. Taste the essence of chocolate. Think of the first time you took expresso. I pause, I ponder, I rip the packet open. One small pinch and UGH! How bitter!

I immediately shove a handful of Callebaut into my mouth to get rid of the taste, shuddering as I go. What the hell am I going to do with 167g of this? But an hour or so later sees me back at the counter turning the packet over again. One small pinch and ah ha! I taste it, I get it. It's not in the slightest bit sweet and lacks the rich indulgence of processed chocolate, but this really is chocolate. Alice Medrich has a range of recipes and if I can find my ice cream maker, I'd like to make the Double Cocoa Nib Ice Cream, but I'm really keen to experiment with the more savoury dishes.

The side of the packet reads as follows:
These nibs are sourced from a group of small-scale farmers located in southern Ecuador. Together with DAGOBA, these farmers are working to bring back the rare heirloom varietal known as Arriba Nacional. These nibs offer flavors of tangerine and red berry with a dark chocolate finish. A slight lavender floral bouquet gives sign to the Arriba Nacional bean.
It's not as sweet or immediately satisfying as a chocolate bar, but with time, I think it could be more suprising and sophisticated. We'll have to wait and see! Now where did I put that ice cream maker?

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Smoked Trout and Cherries

Today was the first Saturday in ages I've been free to wander round one of the local farmers' markets. So notquitesobrightandearly, the Figster, Plumbaby and I headed off to the oval on Auburn Road, for the Boroondara market. This one is held on the third Saturday of every month and while it isn't nearly as picturesque as the one at the Collingwood Children's Farm, most of the same vendors attend and it is a great deal more convenient for me on this side of the river.

I've been going to these markets since they started up in Melbourne and it's always good to bump into the regulars - the garlic guy (one plait of garlic and 3 punnets of strawberries), the green guy (one huge bunch of watercress and 2 salad plants). Also interesting to see the new stalls cropping up and it's plain to see what's in season. There was rhubarb, rhubarb and more rhubarb to be seen. Also heaps of strawberries and apricots. And the cherries, did I mention the cherries?

When I was growing up, cherries were a once a year occasional treat. Hideously expensive and pretty much one variety fits all. But now, at one stall alone I found 4 different types and my favourite kind of sign "No Spraying. Feel Free To Taste". They had Ron and Bing and Rainier but my fave was definitely the Bing. And they weren't particularly expensive and came free of the nasty pesticides! Plump, firm and succulent, I gazed at three dangling from the same stem. And then I stuffed my mouth full with as many as I could at once, just to delight in this wonderful plenty.

We picked up heaps of other things - Swiss brown mushrooms, elderflower cordial, tomatoes and the best organic coriander I've seen in ages. And when we got home, I threw some cherries into a bowl and sliced open the packed of Smoked Buxton Trout. The Buxton Trout Farm is located near Healesville (Victoria's oldest commercial hatchery apparently), and while I've only gone past, I couldn't do the same to their stall. The trout was coral and slightly smoky, with a delicious oily texture that, well, went perfectly with the cherries! To be blunt, I ate half the packet standing up at the counter before the Figman even got a look in.

So note to self: Next time, get a whole kilo of cherries and another fish.

Friday, December 16, 2005

There aren't any recipes or recountings in this post - it's all about sending my Feel Better Quick wishes to Barbara at winosandfoodies and Debbie at Words to Eat By.

I can't send you flowers, so here's a little something from the garden! Hope to see you both up and thriving soon.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Mr Wolf: Restaurant Review

What's the time Mr Wolf? Like they've never heard that one before ....

An unexpected chance to go out for dinner had the Figman and I leaping hastily out of the house, ignoring the indignation of the small one in Winnie the Pooh pyjamas. I had been meandering up Gertrude Street earlier in the day and had been taken with the idea of dining at Ladro, but such a popular spot could only fit us in at the window bar and even then, only "if you rock up as soon as we open, around six". Figster could not be bothered with this kind of carryon ("If we go there, we go properly") and I cast my mind around for something similiar - casual, pizza, but a bit different. And so, I picked up the phone and rang Mr Wolf (no, not that one). Maybe at the bar, maybe they could do it later ... oh actually, a table at 8.30. Someone's cancelled.

I was surprised to arrive at this restaurant in the seedy side of St Kilda, to find the place half empty. The bar next door was jumping but the restaurant was eerily quiet for a Saturday night. We were seated and served quickly, but I was still puzzled at the lack of atmosphere in a popular pizzeria at this time. The specials sounded good and we mostly ordered from these: salt cod balls, radicchio and tomato salad, potato pizza with pippis. The only item from the regular menu we ordered was the Funghi pizza - roast garlic paste on the base and a scattering of mixed mushrooms. The aroma from this was amazing as it hit the table - you could smell it coming three steps away, but the taste didn't quite follow through. The advertised roast garlic paste was indiscernible and another salty ingredient would have rounded it out properly - anchovies or a mild but salty cheese. We had the salt cod balls to start but they were so so - so much so that I let Figman eat five of the six.

Bizarre to say, but the side salad was a star. I quizzed the waiter on it (as I was surprised to find a salad amongst the specials) but he just said "that's what Chef's decided we'll have for the next two weeks". Chopped radicchio. Flavoursome tomato (hard to come by at this time of year). Perfectly dressed. Simple, but beautiful. Our wine was a German riesling, by the glass. Figman said "thank goodness you're getting over that sauvignon blanc thing" and sipping this stunning riesling, I had to agree. The best of the night was the pippi pizza. The potatos could have done with another minute or so but the garlicky seafood and potato on a crisp thin base was just scrumptious.

Too full for dessert, but we managed to walk down to the St Kilda pier and by that time of course I was ready for gelato. There's a new little gelato place right down the bottom of Fitzroy street and it was packed out. It wasn't even close to the best gelato I've ever eaten, but the beach, summery night and ice cream - how can you go wrong?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Those Three Minutes

Sunday evening, standing at the sink, staring out the window. It had been a lovely family dinner - quick simple food thrown together - barbequed chicken in lemon and garlic and stirfried green vegetables. The dishwasher is stacked, the counter is clear and yet - I cannot bring myself to move.

There are only a handful of tasks left to be done - the knives to be washed by hand, dried and put away. The counter to be wiped and the Plumbaby's highchair scrubbed of all those little handprints. The last vegetable peelings and scraps to be lifted out of the sink and put in the bin. That's all. Three minutes tops. Then I will have a clean kitchen, that won't irk me when I walk in for a glass of water and spy all the mess lying around. But it seems too much, too hard right now.

Maybe it's that I just spent six hours on my feet at the largest shopping centre in the Southern Hemisphere. Sheer foolishness at this time of year, but I needed a few bits and pieces from there before promotions stopped. Burst in on in a change room (once). Sneezed on in the toy department (once). Car park space swiped from under my nose (once). These are all trivial things but that, and the great hordes of Christmas shoppers made it a rather tiresome experience.

I spend four or five minutes at the bench, talking myself into it. And then, it is done. Clean. Sparkling. Finished. But why was it so hard to do? And does anyone else feel like this?