Monday, December 31, 2012

Indonesian foodslutting

I first tasted Indonesian food in my early teens. A nasi goreng cooked up by mum or dad in Singleton, in the Hunter Valley of Australia, it would have been from a recipe in Women's Day or Women's Weekly or may have been one of those packet mixes of dehydrated stock/vegetables and flavourings that were then and distressingly still are added to rice in home kitchens, it may even have been a Rice a Riso packet flavouring. I don't recall what meat we had with it, probably beef, and I recall we did have strips of omelette mixed through.

I think my next taste would have been a satay in my Uni days from one of the many cheap Asian restaurants that were opening up in Chinatown in Sydney and later at Kensington as Asian students began to live there while attending the University of New South Wales. It may well not have been at an Indonesian restaurant but at some place like the Malaya, which used to be on George Street and was a haunt of a coterie of Malaysian students with whom close friends of mine socialised. At the same time I would have had my first taste of gado gado and blachan.

Since then I've eaten at several Indonesian restaurants in Sydney and a few in Bali when I holidayed there briefly with my daughter, Mary when she was just pre-teen, though I think we mainly ate in the hotel that time and probably stuck with what I was used to and I thought Mary would handle. That I can't remember is probably a good measure of the quality.

It's never ranked especially high on my South East Asian cuisines list, but when I went in search of Komodo dragons on my 60th birthday, with days spent idling in Bali either side of a two-day boat trip in the Komodo National Park off the coast of the island of Flores, I was determined to explore the cuisine further, particularly its warung (the small family-business cafes where most eating out of home happens) and street food. Hereunder a few of my finds.

A rice packet in Ubud: white steamed rice, sambal, tempeh, chicken, mee, with the traditional wrapping of banana leaf reduced to a small plate size, the whole then wrapped in a waxed brown paper into a conical packet. The bugger of Ubud is that there is no place to sit and relax outside of the Monkey Temple grounds or a cage/restaurant, or, as I did, on the low parapet running around the very sad park in the middle of town.

A meal at Saleko, a warung at Jalan Nakula 4, just down from the corner with Jalan Legian, Legian:, specialising in Sumatran dishes:fish curry (turmeric and coconut gravy), steamed kankun, a piece of fried tuna dredged through a fresh red chili sambol, and a fresh green chili sambol.  

This was perhaps the find of the trip for me. I went walkabout  at the  Jimbaran market post a visit to the Jimbaran fish market. On the corner outside was Ms Bukadeh at her street stall mixing up coconut and seaweed salad to order. This one has two types of green seaweed, coconut, galangal, whole kaffir lime and a red chili all grated separately them mixed with a vinegar and chili souse and bagged up for take-away. A terrific combo of salty, sharp flavours.

I had a lot of meals at the Warung Padma behind my hotel, only frequented by  locals, the Aussie tourists thronging the streets being too busy heading for the cafes and restaurants with modified Indonesian/ pizza/ burgers/ beer crowd pullers. Me, I liked the simplicity of Padma's: this is steamed rice topped with some fried onions, one slice of tomato, one of cucumber, fresh blachan, and ayam battetu (chicken in a light curry).

Avocado in Sri Lanka when I was growing up there was never a salad option, It was served either as a sweet dessert (mashed and mixed with jaggery (palm sugar) or condensed milk) or a drink. I had missed this before in both Malaysia and Indonesia but was thrilled when I boarded my dragon cruise boat to see a glass of avocado shake waiting for me: avocado mushed up, mixed with a little milk, sugar syrup and in this case poured into a glass that has a light coating of chocolate syrup.

On my last night as I strolled home there was a street vendor serving up something to security guards outside a cafe. Turned out to be an excellent chicken ball soup with bean sprouts and glass noodles. I took it back to the hotel and for want of anything else poured it into a cup and used a teaspoon to sup.





Friday, December 28, 2012

Green Mango Pickling

My mango tree has for no reason I can fathom chosen this year out of the 20 odd for which it has stood in my front garden to produce lots of fruit. The tree is tall and wide and the fruit is damnably thronged at the very crown. It having been and  continuing to be quite dry here in Sydney this summer I figured it likely the fruit would fall before they ripened and have been keeping a watch out daily for them to get to a size that was     suitable for green mango pickling - fat enough to have a good amount of flesh, but still have the soft white early seed and be green enough for the sharpness the pickle needs.

I was planning  on going harvesting with the extended clan, well, the tall ones among them anyway, post Christmas lunch. Of course, it rained and blew a gale all Christmas day so that put paid to that. However, being a determined urban hunter gatherer I went out next day and as I had hoped there had been some windfall which I gathered and put up  - a small quantity.

I have been checking everyday now for more windfall, grateful for not having to climb into the tree or up a step ladder of dubious stability to pick the rest. I have no hope that any will stay atop the tree long enough to ripen before the local bird population, already somewhat alerted, descends in its usual screeching flocks bent on their own foraging.

I now have enough for a small amount of pickle. Here's what I will do with them.

I will dice them up, skin and all, removing the white flesh of the seed which at this stage will easily slip out of it's fleshy cup. I will then liberally sprinkle the cut pieces with rock or sea salt and leave them to desiccate for a few days, draining of the water and re-salting each day.

Then I will take the fruit and wash them, mix it up with some chili powder, a little sugar, a coating of sesame (gingelly) oil, and pack them into jars. I will then top up the jars with vinegar and let the pickle pickle for three or four months away from direct sunlight. At that time I will test the pickle for softness of the skin and intensity of the flavour of the flesh.

When done, it will be consumed avidly either as an accompaniment with a rice and curry meal, or as a snack on bread or dry biscuits.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

50 years of van Reyk dining and drinking in Australia

50 years ago, on November 10th 1962, my parents, Gerry and Celia, brought their three children, Chris, Geoff and Paul, to Australia. To commemorate the event, we turned our annual Christmas get together into a celebration of 50 years of family and friends dining and drinking (we held it earlier than usual hence this early posting).

The brief was for all those contributing to bring a dish and or beverage that signified a decade in that 50 year period. It was excessive, but then that's us. Here's the menu for the curious.


The Great Big van Reyk Extended Family 2012 Boxing Day Do
Celebrating 50 Years of van Reyk Drinking and Dining in Oz



Christmas Trees - Jatz, Cheese, Cocktail Onions
Corn Chips, Salsa and Guacamole
Prawn Cocktails


Beetroot Salad
Goats Cheese, Beetroot and Caramelised Onion Tart
Ice Berg Lettuce and Cucumber Salad
Tabbouleh
The Mothership Somato Salad
Tomato and Mustard Tart
Sweet Potatoes with Cumin, Lime and Chilli
Wasabi Potato Salad

  
Coconut Prawns
Curried Sausages
Lucknow Leg of Lamb
Spam Sushi Hawaiian
Tandoori Chicken & Pita
Thai Beef Salad
Sri Lankan Festive Rice


Cherries
Christmas Pudding
Coconut Ice
Salted Caramel Fudge
Shortbread Christmas Tree
Sri Lankan Christmas Cake
Watermelon

  
Beer
Coca Cola, Fanta, Sprite
Espresso Coffee Martinis
Hibiscus Tea
Lemon Cordial
Mateus Rose
Mineral Water
Passion Pop
Wines

Friday, November 16, 2012

Jimmy and the Giant Supermarket - Ep 3

In this final episode Jimmy takes on making a chicken kiev to compete with Tesco's current product. His solution is to use meat from free range hens that are past their laying time. This meat is usually sold overseas and not within Britain. Again I won't be a spoiler and ask you to look at the episode for yourself.

http://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/video/2299487437/Jimmy-And-The-Giant-Supermarket-S1-Ep3---Chicken-Kiev

He also goes back into bat for his rose veal from the first episode and while the program ends before the outcome of his discussions, it ends on a promising note.

What's fantastic about this series is that is takes on the arguments the big companies like the Tesco's of the world put against using free range meats in their products and confounds them all. The dedication Jimmy Doherty brings to pursuing options to achieve this is inspiring.

And to be fair, Tescos ought to be congratulated for taking on his challenge and working with him within their commercial framework with what comes across as genuine willingness. Their enthusiasm for what Jimmy achieves is of course because of the profitability of what he brings to their table but I am not going to bag them for that.

The other fascinating aspect of the program is how clearly it shows that when given a choice that does not affect their pocket consumers will buy free range, and if that is the only message from the program (and it is not as each episode looks at wider economic and animal welfare issues) then it is worth showing this to meat product producers here in Australia, too. It certainly makes me want to head off to Woolworths and Coles and check out what's happening on their meat shelves and ask questions about what I find.

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Caveat Emptor

Here's a conversation I had with an outlet for one of the celebrity artisan bakeries in Sydney:


Me: What do you have that’s vegan friendly?

Staff: Nothing. Oh, we have a sandwich but it’s not here yet. (This was at 9.30 on a weekday morning)

Me (sighting a slice of pizza that had tomato and pesto on it): What about pizza?

Staff: No, it’s got milk in the pastry. What about some toast and jam?

Me (as I leave, quite flummoxed and without purchasing anything): Thanks.

Now, several things about this disturbed me:
(a) What on earth is milk doing in pizza dough.
(b) Why is the only vegan friendly food on offer a sandwich - this is a shop that has all manner of pastries, sweet and savoury, as well as the curious pizza and sandwiches.
(c) What on earth makes a person think that toast and jam is an adequate offer of food for a vegan?

Okay, so I am not vegan but my niece is. I've been able to put food on the table for her involving doughs and pastries both sweet and savoury for the three years she has lived with me. All I was looking for was something for our morning tea that she could share in. 

Anyway I sent off an email to the bakery and this was their response:

The only product we sell that is truly vegan is our sourdough bread. It is made with organic flour, a natural starter, water and salt. We make our own jam, this also is free of animal product. Our olive oil loaves and the pizza bases contain milk as this results in a finer crumb and softer crust.  Both of our pizzas both have cheese as part of the topping. All of our pastry products contain butter as we find this gives the best taste and mouth feel possible.

Our sandwiches are in all the bakeries by 10.30am every day. The bread comes out of the oven early in the morning and by the time it has been cooled, the sandwich fillings put together and then packaged this is the earliest that we can get them in store.

As bakery purists, we like to work with classic recipes that we tweak for the best possible quality and taste. Frequently this means that we choose to use dairy products in our recipes. We are looking into vegan products to see if there is a way we can offer this choice without compromising our product.

The response raises issues of customer care for me. There is no sign in the bakery indicating that it uses milk in its olive loaves or pizza base; I can only hope that someone with a severe lactose intolerance doesn't get extremely sick from eating these products for lack of knowledge about the presence of milk in them. My niece, needless to say, was horrified to know that the olive bread she has delighted in eating had milk in it. The descriptions of the two pizzas on offer day nothing about cheese toppings let alone that milk is used in the dough.

Where does the responsibility lie here. Should the lactose intolerant and the vegan have to ask questions about the presence or absence of milk or should the bakery put up helpful signage? My view is the latter. Food packaging these days and menus in many cafes and restaurants these days do provide information about the presence of nuts, for example. Some cafes and restaurants are courteous and customer caring enough to identify which of their offerings are vegan and vegetarian friendly. It's not 'nannystatism', it's a reasonable response that's not hard to do and saves frustration on both sides.

And as for the last sentence in the bakery's response - 'We are looking into vegan products to see if there is a way we can offer this choice without compromising our product' - I will have more to say about the lameness of this excuse in a further blog.



Thursday, November 8, 2012

Jimmy and The Giant Supermarket

Episode 2 of this program lives up to ep 1. This time Jimmy goes head to head with a free range pig sausage of his made from heart, cheek, tongue and some pork belly and Tesco's own brand which uses no offal. I won't tell you the outcome except to say watch right to the end to see how people off-put by offal respond to seeing pigs raised in different situations from free range to sows in breeding traps and how it can influence the choices people make. Watch it also to see how anxious Tesco's is about Jimmy filming inside a sausage factory and get an appreciation for what using the term to describe schooling implies.

http://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/video/2296722221/Jimmy-And-The-Giant-Supermarket-S1-Ep2-Sausages?utm_source=Lead-Marquee

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Magnificent Michael Mobbs

Michael is an Australian living legend in sustainability who gets out there and does things about the issues he uncovers about food production in Australia developing options for personal actions that are not hard. This is one of his characteristically inspiring talks about what he has done, a terrific willingness to talk about his childhood and early adult life, reflections of the role of governments in sustainability and waste, touches on food security and heaps of other discursions (I like that better than digressions which always carries that sense of irrelevance or wastefulness whereas Michael's wanderings are anything but).

I've been to his house on several occasions, one of over 19,000 internationally who have.Thankfully I went as a friend and not an eco-tourist, not that there is anything necessarily wrong about that). He is very clear about the limits of what a person can do, but also suggests how what you do when you start talking to neighbours, passers-by and your community.

It was he who inspired me to get the Council not to plant turf on the footpath outside our house when they lifted the concrete, but rather to let us plant flowering and food plants, the latter I admit limited to parsley that now self seeds majestically for salads and tabbouleh, a lemon balm that self seeded after escaping over my backyard fence where its original is, a lemon tree that hopefully will give me its first fruit this year, a passionfruit that for the past two years has just given and given and given, an incipient avocado tree, chickweed and dandelions (I still can't quite come at eating the milk-thistles) which I love adding to salads or vegetable pies, marigolds from which I can pick the flowers, marjoram that's having a nice time spreading.

Michael talks a lot about water wastage and how to cut down on it. I treasure the moat that our architect Misho built for us as part of our renos that has only ever been dry once in its 8 or more years history, being filled by the smallest shower onto the vast expanse of corrugated tin roof on the kitchen/dining space, which also now sports a significant bank of solar panels  - which Misho rightly says are not pretty, but do look somewhat interestingly scientifico-architectural  in our case as they have to be raised and angled and there are so many of them. The moat is the prime source of watering for the whole of the back garden. The plants on the footpath and in the front garden, which include olive, mango, guava tree and something that I had always thought was a NZ plant but someone the other day reckoned was a feijoa and to tell the truth the fruit look like it but I have not put mouth to them as yet - may well do this season while holding the mobile set to 000).


http://mpegmedia.abc.net.au/classic/midday/201211/miv-2012-11-05.mp3

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Passion for Pork

My love affair with pork began with my first Sri Lankan pork curry - the unctuousness of the pork fat, the sweetness of the meat, the gelatinous skin, the sharpness of  vinegar, or even better that of goroka (aka gamboge), combined with a mix of roasted ground cumin, fennel seed, coriander, dried red chillies, fresh curry leaves, chopped ginger and garlic, shredded (sera) lemon grass, a fold of rampa (pandanus) a stick of cinnamon, all cooked up in coconut milk.

It's a classic Burgher dish that rarely appears on the menus of Sri Lankan restaurants in Australia, or if it does it is so dumbed down that it could be any meat swimming  in a brown gravy. Can't risk having putting in goroka, looking for all the world like black slugs sitting among the meat and tasting like crap should you chew it. It's actually the dried segments of the fruit Garcinia gummi-gutta and you are not supposed to eat them . They are there to give their characteristic highly sour flavour that cuts through the sweetness of the pork brilliantly. Can't have chunks of fatty pork for fear of scaring the health conscious. Ditto coconut milk which gets such a bad rap these days. And when I ate it in Sri Lanka you would occasionally still find the stub of a hair sticking blackly out of the skin.  Prepared as it should be it is an unashamedly jungly dish.

Pickled pork was another early favourite. My dad made it a couple of times, and I have also. It's based on the meat from the head of a pig boiled and then bottled up with mustard seed, dry red chillies, ginger, garlic, green chillies, turmeric, salt and vinegar. It's ready 24 hours after bottling. You can then eat it straight out of the bottle say as a side dish with other curries, or you can fry it up with a little of its pickling liquid in some ghee or vegetable oil and again have it as a side dish. Makes a great sandwich, too.

Sticking with the Burgher ways with pork, you can also make it as a smoore, a whole piece slow pot roasted  in coconut milk and roasted spices sharpened in this case with lime pickle, the piece taken out and browned in ghee or oil, and served sliced soused with the gravy.

I don't recall having pork roast in Sri Lanka. We didn't have an oven and any roasting or baking  had to be done at my uncles house across the road, and I don't recall eating it when I went visiting at all. So it must have been early days of mum dipping into the Women's Weekly that put the first leg of pork with crackling onto the table. Trotters I think I had curried in Sri Lanka, and then met again as cold vinegared collagen full Chinese yum cha favourites. It was courtesy of a bowl of congee lunching in Chinatown that I first delighted in rousong aka pork floss, dried shredded pork meat sprinkled on top of said congee. And of course I could happily spend my life eating nothing but char siu/siew, a bowl of rice, and some wilted Chinese greens, the marinade so rich in the flavours of regional.national combinations of soy, Chinese wines, maltose, five spice, hoi sin and, from the range of recipes you can Google, pretty much anything that will serve to give that characteristic sweet roasted stickiness.

This post was stimulated by three encounters during this week with pork in three forms. The first was frankly disappointing. It was touted as pork with lentils and greens and certainly those elements were there, but the pork was absurdly tough, the skin difficult to cut let alone chew, the lentils in too much broth. All of this at a dinner during Crave Sydney International Food Festival.

The second was an altogether more satisfying experience, an excellent pork, pickled cabbage and apple sauce roll from Runcible Spoon, a small cafe in Camperdown. The pork was if not pulled certainly pullable ('pulled' pork being everywhere in Sydney at the moment, taking over from belly pork of a few months ago), the cabbage firm and lightly vinegary in generous ribbons the apple sauce not overly sweet, and the roll airy and just toasted. Here is a picture of the roll. (I fear I shall have to go correct the logo of the cafe however as per this delightful discussions of what exactly is a runcible spoon).



My third encounter was today, courtesy of a birthday lunch for son Raj, which we had at the Concordia Club, Tempe, host to the Oktoberfest (happily over by the time of our lunch) and renowned for its pork knuckle which was massive, no other word for it, perfectly tender, with a lightly crisp crackling with a nice layer of fat under it still soft,  and simply served with mashed potato, a green bean salad, and sauerkraut. Again here is the meal.



Love the serving touch of the knife stuck in the knuckle. It was the serrated edge knife that was ideal for parting the flesh. The beer was a schooner of Spaten. Now, I don't usually drink beer but I certainly think it was the perfect go with here, cutting the grease and that yeastiness again working against the sweetness of the pork. The setting added much to the enjoyment of this meal. The building is a renovated bowling club (the lawns are still but croquet is now the game of choice) and we sat in the vast carpeted dining hall, all long tables fully occupied with middle and eastern European groups chowing down on the knuckle and/or schnitzel. There was a band playing hits from no later than the 60's, some generic Latin American (sambas, bossa novas) and the occasional polka, but strictly intended and enjoyed as a dance band for a floorful of couples of a certain age having a fabulous time waltzing (yes they played a Strauss or two), quick-stepping, jiving, cha-cha-ing and doing those ball room dance steps with supreme nonchalance. There was a cake counter with what looked like the entire repertoire of German/Austrian cakes, and in a side room a mini supermarket of all things middle European.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Greek Milk Bars in Australia

A lovely short piece about the restoration of the Roxy Theatre and Cafe in Bingara, Northern NSW. There's a story waiting to be written about the Greek cafes and their place in Australia culinary history, as there is about the Chinese restaurants, two institutions that provided alternatives to the pub as a social space in country towns in Australia.

http://www.smh.com.au/travel/big-screen-big-dreams-for-a-night-at-the-roxy-20121102-28pga.html

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Jimmy and the Giant Supermarket

Just had a look at the first ep of Jimmy and the Giant Supermarket – Jimmy Doherty, a free range pig farmer in UK trying to develop ‘high welfare’ alternatives for three of the biggest selling meat products of Tesco’s.


Terrific for exploring the decision making process of Tesco’s about getting a product onto the market and how hard it is to bring a high welfare product within the affordability Tesco’s wants to meet (oops!) for its market.

But for me its even more interesting for where the program goes in identifying a practice that wastes meat and how Doherty then passionately works to address the waste and create a 'high welfare' alternative practice. It's not giving too much away to say it's about the Tesco shoppers' aversion to eating veal because of concerns for what they understand as the way calves are raised for veal  and what happens to male jersey calves that are surplus to dairy farmers' needs. 

I almost want to go on line and see whether what he comes up with worked or not, but I will buy into the suspense narrative and hope for a big pay-off.

Warning - not for the faint hearted; there is a scene around 20 minutes into the ep that is confronting.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Agribots

How could I not share this - the bringing together of two of my great loves, food and sci-fi. It's all in an article titled Down on the robofarm, by James Mitchell Crowe in New Scientist, No 2888, 27 October 2012. The article is a short review of developments in agribots, farm machinery with robotics that are already  doing some extraordinary things - farm machines that talk to each other, like a John Deese system that lets one farm machine, like a harvester, call another to help with the next stage of the process, like unloading the grain. Then there's the German firm Frendt that has developed a system of paired tractors where one is manually driven and the other goes along next to it doing the same things that the first one is doing.

They are looking at developing machines that can track along a crop row, identify a single weed and hit it with a micro-dot of pesticide or ones that can do regular checks on each plant and give it just the right dose of fertiliser to spurt its growth. The long term projection is developing farms designed specifically for agribot farming - smaller fields, crops planted in grids instead of rows.

But what about the social costs - the labourers thrown of the land, the growth of agribusinesses who will be the only ones that can afford to own and operate the agribots! Aren't I one of those who goes gooey eyed at organic, small holding, ma and pa produced crops!

Guilty as charged. But these are the futures I've read about all my life and I have a childlike glee in hearing they are being realised.




Monday, July 23, 2012

Mango Pickle

Vinayak in King Street Newtown is my local South Asian spice shop. There's always a selection of home made pickles, upma, dhokla, home grown chillies, karela (karawilla in Sri Lanka), okra (commonly called ladies fingers in Sri Lanka) brinjal (eggplant), the occasional gourd. The owner is always pressing product onto me as he knows I write about food and suppliers and I am not one to refuse.

The other day he had just got in some fresh mango pickle which is wife said people from all over Sydney had been coming in to get (a tad exaggerated I thought given it was only supposed to have come in that morning and it was barely mid-day, even given the speed of the South Indian mobile phone tree). It looked fantastic as you can see below, the dark green of the skin, the sunny yellow of the flesh, the orange of the exuberance of oil and the dark brown of the spicing.

Happily the taste lived up to it also. Fiery, oily (what, you don't like oil - then pass on South Asian pickles, we like them greasy to get the rice slippery for its ride down the gullet), the roasted spices robust and the salt excessive. It had the strength to stand up to being dolloped onto a nice bit of sourdough and savoured for lunch (okay, I lied about the savouring part which suggests I took it slow - no way, Jose! The second something this good hits my palate I time travel back to my oral phase (you know your Freud, right, we're talking babydom here) and the imperative to get it all in now in case there never ever is anymore kicks in bigtime).

Mango pickle in its many forms has been a constant craving for me since said babydom days. The accharu woman outside the school grounds was the favourite going home snack stop, her chatty of fresh sliced mango marinating away vinegar, salt, chili, lime, diced red onions and sugar, spoonfuls of it ladled then into a newspaper packet, to be pecked at by fingers on the bus trip home. The Vinayak version was more the keeping kind of pickle hence the oil and the more complex spicing. It's easy to make and keeps for a good while, that is unless you have this fixation on it like I do. The recipe below is adapted from a recipe of mine for green mango temperado pickle.


MANGO  PICKLE


Ingredients:
1.5 kg just ripe mangoes100 gms black mustard seed20 dry red chillies100 gms coriander seed25 gms fennel seed50 gms cumin2 tbsp turmeric2 tbsp cinnamonvinegar

salt
good quality vegetable oil
sesame oil


Method:Cut the mangoes into fingers as per the picture below.

Roast the dry spices and the dry chili together till they are aromatic and a deep brown colour. Grind them fine.



Mix the mangoes and the ground spice mix together.

Slosh in a little vinegar, just enough to wet the pickling mix.

Add a little salt, taste, and if you want to add a little more until it is salty enough to heighten the mango flavour but not drown it entirely.

Now add a teaspoon or two of sesame oil and mix it all again.

Finally add the vegetable oil a little at a time mixing as you do till the mangoes are thoroughly oily and slippery.







Thursday, June 21, 2012

Concerning Citrus

Growing up in Sri Lanka I didn't have much truck with citrus fruit other than limes - lime pickle an invariable part of a Sri Lankan's upbringing, lime juice squeezed onto papaw, lime sodas, lime as an essential component of sambols (pol sambol and katta sambol being favourites), lime sharpening prawn curries, and candied lime (and orange) peel in the Sri Lankan Christmas cake. With the variety of tropical fruit in our garden, the neighbours' gardens and the streets I lived and played in, oranges and mandarins didn't measure up, not even as something exotic.

When we came to Australia in the 1960's that fruit profile changed. My first few months were a summer spent on an orchard in Arcadia at that time on the outskirts of Sydney (how apposite that name was I didn't realise until encountering it in books of Greek myths and legends). There was a plenitude of apples and oranges and my brothers and I were allowed to pick what we liked from the home paddock and provident overhangs thereinto. But even here it was to under-ripe apples I was draw more, continuing my craving for the sourer end of the fruit spectrum. Orange juice would appear unsought and under appreciated at the breakfast table and a mandarin or two would be tucked into my lunch box. Sunnyboys, on the other hand, the pyramidal packaged frozen orange tuck shop treats, were irresistible, and orange fizzy drinks, but then neither of these had any but a passing acquaintance with orange juice.

So it continued into my adult years. I don't recall the last time I actually bought oranges. I don't drink orange juice unless someone else has bought it and it happens to be staring at me when I open the fridge door. I buy blood oranges in season because one should more than because I want them. Lemons and limes on the other hand have always had their place in my cooking.

But the citrus cohort wasn't finished tyring to lure me in. When I moved into my present house there already were a mandarin and a lime tree, neither of which had been doing much for want of any attention. I was excited by the prospect of harvesting my own limes, and taken with the idea of re-invigorating the mandarin, not being one to have a fruit tree in the yard and get no benefit from it (though I have yet to encourage a very old established mango in the front to do anything). I took to caring for them as per information available on line, for example that from Gardening Australia which I always find helpful at just my level of need-to-know, and they have rewarded me for several seasons now, each time with just that much more, larger and juicier fruit.

For my 50th birthday I asked those gift-giving inclined to give me fruit trees and thereby acquired a kumquat and a lemonade tree. These too have taken a liking to the garden and me and produce in abundance in season. Being no resigned to having citrus in my live,when we came to plant out our nature strip rather than succumb to the Council's plan to replace the cracked concrete of the street's footpath with buffalo grass, I planted two lemon trees which are yet in their infancy and have tentatively flowered but gone no further.

All of this of course means that suddenly I have more citrus than I have ever wanted or can consume while they are in season. This has set me on the path of finding ways to conserve what I don't consume, and that extends to the peels.

The first step was simple. I recalled my father feeding the skins of lemons he had juiced to the family lime pickle jar, which by this stage was more a lemon pickle as a consequence. Having inherited said jar is seemed only sensible to keep up the practice. When there was no room left in the heirloom I struck out on my own.

Simple Lime Pickle Base
Take some fresh limes and quarter them. Rub salt into them and leave them to dry out in the sun until the skin goes a yellow to dark tan. The salt draws the moisture out of the limes and wrinkles them up. Bottle these up with enough vinegar  to cover them, you can add some fresh or dried red chillies too. Leave for a couple of months, till the limes get soft again and have absorbed some of the vinegar. Now they are ready to use.

This is also a great way to recycle lemon and lime peels post squeezing. Save them up in a bag or other container in the freezer until you have a heap of them and then proceed as above.

The kumquat tree was the next to demand attention. I go two ways on these. My sister-in-law introduced me to eating them whole raw, skin and all. But I still  get way more than I could snack on. an snack on so I've turned to pickling them. Once ready I serve them as a relish with roasted and barbecued meats, and indulge myself with a bowl of vanilla ice cream topped with a generous spoonful of the pickled fruit.

Kumquat Pickle
Ingredients675 g kumquats
4
50 g preserving sugar 175 ml white wine vinegar 2 x cinnamon sticks, each about 5cm long.6 whole cloves 
 
MethodPut the cumquats in a saucepan over a low heat. Cover with water, add the sugar and simmer for 20 minutes.

Remove the cumquats and divide them equally between sterile preserving jars.

Add the white wine vinegar, cinnamon sticks and cloves to the sugar syrup, turn the heat up to high and boil for 20 minutes. Skim off any scum that appears on the surface.

Strain the syrup into the preserving jars (use a funnel if you have one). Screw the lids on tightly. Store the pickle for one month before eating.

The huge globes of the lemonade tree presented one obvious solution - lemonade, or at least lemon cordial that could be mixed with either still or sparkling water. This recipe from Matthew Evans has never failed in preparation or enjoyment.

Lemon Syrup
Ingredients

2 lemons well-scrubbed
350gs caster sugar
2 cups boiling water
25g tartaric acid

Method
Finely grate the lemon rind. Juice the lemons, keeping the squeezed halves.

Put the rind, the juice, the squeezed halves and the caster sugar into a bowl.Pour over the boiling water and stir well to dissolve the sugar. Leave it to cool overnight, in the fridge if it's a warm night.

The next day, take out the squeezed lemon halves, stir in the tartaric acid and pour into sterilized bottles.

Keep stored in the fridge till you want to use it. Shake it well before mixing with still or sparkling water.


Finally, this year, even the lemonade tree has produced more than I can make syrup from. In desperation I turned my thoughts to other big citrus fruits and their possibilities. This led me back to candying citrus, and I am looking forward this year to using my own candied peel in my Christmas Cake - that is if it avoids being tossed into cookies and muffins my niece Casey bakes on a regular basis.

 Candied Peel



Ingredients

450g peels  all pulp removed
Pinch of salt
700g sugar
1.5lt (6 cups) water

Method
Wash the peels.  Put them in a pot with plenty of water and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil and simmer till the peels are translucent (about 1 hours should do it). Drain and rinse them.

Heat the sugar and the 1.5 litres of water till it boils, put in the peels, turn the heat to a simmer and let cook for 20 minutes. Turn the heat off and let the peel stand in the sugar syrup.

Next day, bring the peels and sugar syrup to the boil and again simmer for 20 minutes. Repeat this on four more days.

On the next day, remove the peels from the syrup and drain them on a wire rack for 8 hours. Store them in a jar or takeaway food container in the fridge and use as you like. 

You can use the syrup as a dressing on a fresh fruit salad or pour it over ice cream or jelly.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Bread pudding

Sitting down at morning tea today to tuck into bread pudding from Black Star Pastry in Newtown, Sydney, (see image below) I thought a short note to celebrate this simple but satisfying pud was due in on this blog.

Here's bits of the delightful entry on bread puddings from The Oxford Companion to Food (edited by the much missed Alan Davidson):

Bread puddings an important category...It is safe to assume that from the very distant past cooks have sometimes turned stale bread into a sweet pudding, if only by soaking it in milk, sweetening it by one means or another, and baking the result. The addition of some fat, preferably in the form of butter, and something like currants is all that is needed to move this frugal dish into the category of treats, and this is what has ensured its survival in the repertoire, even of cooks who never have stale bread on their hands...this same dish can also be made with something more exotic than plain bread, for example, brioche, pannetone, slices of plain cake etc., and can be enlivened by judicious spicing or by reinforcing the currants with plumper sultanas and mixed peel. But such elaborations must be kept under strict control, so that what is essentially a simple pudding does not lost its character under the weight of sophisticated additions.

I love his insistence on not elaborating the dish so much as to lose its simplicity. Certainly my mother, whose cooking skills focused on desserts and casseroles (one day I shall do a blog on macaroni and tuna casserole), kept hers simple, drawing no doubt on those of her youth produced by her mother and her mother's mother in the tradition of Sri Lankan Burgher women and as codified in Hilda Deutrom's Ceylon Daily News Cookery Book, first published in 1929 and never out of print since. Here is Hilda's recipe:

Bread and butter pudding
slices of bread and butter
sugar to taste
2 oz sultanas
1 pint milk
2 03 3 eggs
vanilla or almond flavouring


Butter a pie-dish, put in a layer of thin bread and butter, sprinkle sugar and sultanas, then another layer of bread and butter, sugar and sultanas, and so on until the dish is about half full. Beat up the eggs, add the milk, a little sugar or flavouring, mix well together and pour over the bread in the pie-dish. Allow the pudding to stand for about one hour until the bread is thoroughly soaked, press down the top slices so that they may get soaked too. Put into a moderate oven and bake for about 40 minutes or until nicely browned.


Mum used to use sliced white bread, crusts and all, and sultanas with a little vanilla for flavouring. She baked it in a deep, oblong, clear sided pyrex dish and I was always fascinated by the view of the brown crusted sides studded here and there with dark brown/black sultanas. We would have it hot when it was first made but there was always enough left over for a cold slice the following days. It was usually dressed with golden syrup, an elaboration that I am sure Davidson would not object to. When I make it these days I dress it with kitul, a palm sugar syrup that is a staple in a Sri Lankan cupboard.

My friend Margaret makes her bread pudding with brioche and cream. Black Star's bread base is a secret - well I could ask Chris but it's better to have some mystery to it (I suspect it is brioche). It's baked in small square cups (sort of like very mini popcorn containers) and comes with a serve of pouring cream flavoured with vanilla seeds. Again, I think these stay nicely within Davidson's prescription for simplicity.







Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Banh mi thit

I write today in praise of the banh mi thit, the Vietnamese pork roll, and particularly that from the Marrickville Pork Roll shop on the corner of Illawarra Rd and Marrickville Road, Marrickville, NSW Australia. I had driven past it several times of late, or at least I had driven past what I had supposed from the long line that leaked from it each time I passed was an ATM until I looked up and noticed the bright red sign advertising it as a purveyor of said rolls. I had been missing them since the shop that sold excellent rolls outside of Newtown Station had closed to make way for refurbishment of said station. So I was excited to think that the rolls from this hole-in-the-wall take out joint - no really, it is as hole in the wall as maybe two ATMs - were so prized that no matter what time of day or what day of the week I passed there was always a line up.

But perhaps you know not of what I speak. Here from Wikipedia is as clear a description as any:


Bánh mì or bánh mỳ (English pronunciation: /ˈbʌn ˌmiː/Vietnamese pronunciation: [ɓǎɲ mî]) is a Vietnamese term for all kinds of bread. Bread, or more specifically the baguette, was introduced by the French during its colonial period. The bread most commonly found in Vietnam is single serve and resembles a torpedo, therefore the term bánh mì is synonymous with this type of bread. The bánh mì is usually more airy than its western counterpart, so as a result, has a thinner crust.
The sandwich made from bánh mì include meat and soy fillings such as steamed, pan-roasted or oven-roasted seasoned pork belly, Vietnamese sausage, grilled pork, grilled pork patties, spreadable pork liver pâté, pork floss, grilled chicken, chicken floss, canned sardines in tomato sauce, soft pork meatballs in tomato sauce, head cheese, fried eggs, and tofu. Accompanying vegetables include fresh cucumber slices, cilantro and pickled carrots and daikon in shredded form. Spicy chili sauce is normally found in bánh mì sold by vendors in Vietnam. In western countries, especially the U.S., the chili sauce has been replaced with sliced jalapeños, a type of chili pepper that is not grown and consumed in Vietnam. In southern Vietnam, homemade mayonnaise is commonly added to the sandwich. Laughing Cow cheese is also a popular filling in Vietnam.

The Marrickville shop offers four varieties of pork roll - the basic roll with pate, three varieties of sliced pressed pork and strips of barbecue pork, with grated carrot, slices of onion, thin lengths of cucumber, a mess of coriander, Vietnamese mint, tomato slices, slices of fresh ripe red chili, a thickish fish sauce, all in exploding out of a crunchy crusted torpedo bun; a version which promises pork skin, another that prioritises barbecue pork, and one with pork meatballs - of a size here that is confronting but alluring. I had the basic and it fully met my expectations. The delight of eating these rolls is both the complex mix of textures/mouth feel and flavours you get with each munch and the mess the practised and unwary alike make as flakes of crust shower bodices. laps and any eating surface while pate oozes out the ends and juices/sauces dribble down chins and fingers. It's one of those foods you have to eat leaning over and back somewhat - there's no way you and the roll can remain upright and remain clean. I ate mine in my car, sitting in the driver's seat, the plastic bag and paper bag it came in spread on the passenger seat to catch the drips and splodge. It was a rainy day so the car steamed up and I felt a kind of guilt as I hunched over shielded by the misted windows.



Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Rough Guide to Easy Excellent Food Part 12

My good mates Ross and Maria Kelly brought down from Mount Wilson their first crop of jerusalem artichokes for this year. These aren't really artichokes, but the tubers of a variety of sunflower (Helianthus tuberosus) which while delicious have a tendency to be a windy veg when eaten. Still  they are well worth the investigating and when you do you might like to do so via the following soup.

You will need:
jerusalem artichokes
leek
lemon verbena or lemon thyme
vegetable stock
salt
pepper
saffron
ginger
bread
garlic

Take a goodly lot of the tubers. If they are clean and creamy yellow of skin, don't worry about peeling  them. If the skin is a firmer brown scrub it off. Slice the artichokes thinly.

Set a handful of thinly sliced leek to saute in a pan with a slosh of olive oil. When slicing the leek reserve some for garnishing.

Shred some sprigs of lemon verbena/lemon thyme, add to the pan and saute a little longer.

Add artichokes and saute a few minutes more.

Pour in enough stock to cover the artichokes plus a couple of cms more. Sprinkle in some salt, pepper and a pinch of saffron threads.

Cook on a gentle boil till the artichokes are quite soft, say 20 minutes.

Puree the contents of the pan.

Slice some garlic into matchsticks.

Slice the bread and lightly toast it. Rub each slice of toast with garlic.

Pour the soup into individual serving bowls, garnish with the reserved leek and the ginger and serve with the toasted bread on the side.

A dollop of yoghurt is superfluous but adds tang.




Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Gut Germs: The story continues

Two pieces in New Scientist No 2862, 28 April 2012 add to my fascination with the hidden world of my gut flora and its impact on what I eat and what happens to what I eat and what happens to me when I eat it.

We've known since 2006 that the types of gut bacteria in obese rats differed from those in non-obese rats. Now a group of whitecoats at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research  have swapped gut flora between obesity prone and non obesity resistant rats and found that the obesity resistant rats now ate more and  'put on the pounds.

Across the grey pond (a.k.a. Atlantic Ocean) whitecoats at the University of Toronto in Canada have found that the gut flora in the faces from 20 month old babies overlaps with the bacterial make-up of dust samples found in the particular baby's home. They conclude that babies and their domestic dust are are sharing a common bacterial pool (oops - almost childish pun). The extension of this is that maybe other people in the house will also share whatever health and behavioural influences these bacteria produce when in the gut.

Putting these two together, I give full warning that I will carry around those white point nose covers that are supposed to keep out things like avian flu germs and have no hesitation in putting them on should I find an obese baby in a home or restaurant I enter, particularly if someone happens to be changing the kid's nappy while I am there, or I suspect they have returned from doing so without washing their hands and are about to hand me a slice of pizza or I gloved finger wiped across their mantel shelf goes any shade less than white.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Mushroom and almond soup

Casey, my niece, went mushrooming for the first time this week in the Penrose State Forest south of Sydney. She and her fellow foragers were after saffron milk caps/pine mushrooms  - Lactarius deliciosus. a native of the Southern Pyrenees now long established in pine forests in Australia. They found plenty, it having rained recently and the weather firmly now in autumn mode (let's not get into the issues of seasonal naming in Australia). Her companions were reluctant to collect ones they thought a bit overblown; some bruising on the gills, a little ragged at the edges. But Casey was sure I would say they were perfectly all right, which of course they are, and so brought home a vast quantity.

We had them on the day of picking lightly sauteed and served with wilted spinach and a saffron risotto that Marilyn made in her zoosh new Thermomix. That still left quite a quantity. As I have been reading Sue Shephard's informative and entertaining Pickled, Potted and Canned. The Story of Food Preserving (Headline 2000) (which interestingly when I looked for a link to it I find is now listed as Pickled, Potted and Canned. How the Art and Science of Food Preserving Changed the World - have I got some weird rare copy (in my dreams!)) I immediately thought of drying them. Not being confident of doing this by the method of stringing them up and in the absence of a fireplace or dry weather to do it I turned to the oven.

Alas, I have to report failure here. The notes I hastily found online didn't lead to the hoped for result - took way too long and didn't end up dry as I had hoped even then and certainly not as pretty as the store-bought dried European mix I have on hand. Another time perhaps.

My other thought was mushroom soup. Casey being a vegan, I looked for recipes that didn't require using butter or lard as for sauteing the mushrooms or adding any dairy as a thickener. The first criteria was easy enough with olive oil being substituted, and for the second I found suggestions for using  ground almonds, a practice that has a long history but seems to have gone out of favour.

Here's what I did - imprecisely as I didn't measure things as I went, not having planned ahead to write this blog - well, who knew if it was going to be successful anyway.

I wiped the mushrooms with kitchen paper to remove pine needle and other bits of plant matter and soil that had attached itself to the caps.  I don't know where I read never to wash mushrooms but I follow that practice. I took about a dozen largish mushrooms and sliced them across the vertical (oh, say, 4 -5 mm thick) and then , as some of them were quite large, into bite size pieces. I diced half an onion quite fine (I was going to use a leek but there was half an onion left in the fridge and I am on a reduce waste kick). I put a good slosh or three of olive oil into a saucepan and when the oil was hot I tossed in the onion to soften. I threw in some Greek dried oregano (I get it in a packet still on the stem and crush it as I need) and poked it and the onions around a bit. To this I added the chopped mushrooms and gave it all a bit more of a paddle to lightly saute the mushrooms.

While this sauteing was going on I made up some vegetable stock (of course I used a cube- as I said, I have been reading Sue Shepard's book and am no longer ashamed of using cubes but see myself as part of the great tradition of preserving by concentration). I poured in enough to set the mushrooms a-swim comfortably in the stock. Casey brought back some herbed salt from her trip to Spain last year and I put in a good couple of pinches of that. Finally I added a good grind or two of pepper. I set all of this to simmer.

Now I took a good handful of almonds and ground them to a paste in my spice grinder. I added a little of the hot stock from time to time to assist the grinder.

I tipped all of this paste into the saucepan and let it cook down for 15 minutes or so. The mushrooms were fresh and thickly enough cut to remain good and firm in the broth, which was now a lovely pale orange from the mushroom juices.

Casey pronounced it delicious and I concur. There was enough to keep in the fridge for tonight as well, and I added a finely diced fresh green chili to mine as a superfluous but satisfying garnish.

Monday, April 23, 2012

D-oh

Okay, it is just possible I cannot make dough. Pie dough, that is (well bread dough to if it comes to that). I think it is because I have absolutely no understanding of what it is. I understand rice, have all my life. I understand hoppers - those yeasted batter bowl shaped pancakes (for want of a common description) and can turn them out, albeit I have to use a non-stick hopper pan so the sides aren't as frilly as they could be, but I also don't understand tempering of a pan so am unlikely to make great advances in using a trad hopper pan. I understand string hoppers, which are from a kind of dough, a rice flour paste really that has to be just the right consistency not to totally set off my arthritis as I squeeze out the noodles (some describe them as vermicelli) onto the bamboo mats for steaming, and I make them darn well. I understand pittu, that mix of rice flour and grated coconut steamed in a columnar thingy. I can turn out a damn fine coconut roti and have been known to assay a decent godamba roti (a wheat based roti on the Malaysian side of rotis). But Euro dough is another country to me. I shall persist, however, as I am determined to make a curried beef (or for my vegan and vegetarian housemates curried vegetable) pie.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Learning the game

I think I have talked before about how comfortable I mostly feel now in putting together a dish from scratch based on the years I've spent cooking and coming to understand flavours and techniques that while they may not produce cutting edge cuisine will get me through most meals whether for myself or for a hastily gathered group.

I'm not claiming for myself anything other than practice, but it feels great to take a basic bechamel and add a splash of tomato sugo, a generous pinch of herbed sea salt and an equally generous pinch of smoked paprika (one of my favourite flavourings), reduce it down to a stage where I can add a panful of lightly sauteed mixed mushrooms and simmer this down quickly to a creamy mixture that I can pour over a layer of slices of just cooked potato lining the bottom of a grapeseed oiled dish, top with another layer of potatoes sprinkled with grated parmesan, grill, and have a most satisfying wet autumn night's dinner. But to also recognise as I hoe into it that the next time presenting the dish with a side of chopped fresh herbs (parsley, thyme, marjoram and perhaps sage either solo or in combo) would take the dish just that step further. Would I go the extent of sliced kalamata olives along with the parmesan on top, absolutely, and I may even go so far as to slice up my home salted dried kalimata that have been marinating in olive oil and dried chili for a couple of years. But no more, I think. There's a fine balance to be found between the additions that enhance the basic dish and those that overwhelm its basics, in this case that combination of potatoes and mushrooms, and I think it's that balance that I get right more often than not these days (there still are disasters that are best composted).

As I think I have in my barbecued whole fish (snapper works well as does redfish). In the absence of lemon or dill one day I looked to the herbs in the garden for a tad of inspiration. What I came up with was first oiling, pepper and salting a sheet of aluminium foil, then laying on top of it a generous bunch of lemon verbena and sprigs of bay, putting the same mix inside the gutted belly of the fish, deep scoring the flesh of the fish three times, laying the fish on its side on the prepared sheet of aluminium foil, then covering the exposed side of the fish with more lemon verbena, bay, pepper, salt and oil, covering that with another sheet of foil, sealing the packet and barbecuing it at a high heat for around 10 to 15 minutes each side.

Monday, March 26, 2012

I have New Scientist No 2857, March 24, 2012 to thank, I guess, for bringing to my attention LFTB, that's lean finely textured beef. This matter, apparently delightfully and it would appear accurately called 'pink slime' is an additive to a range of meat products, and consists of 'slaughterhouse trimmings separated from fat and sterilised using ammonia'.

NS reports that the US Department of Agriculture has agreed to 'offer schools food without LFTB' post a 235,970 signature petition over March 2012.

What fascinates me about the story is that the petition was apparently based on 'microbiologists' concerns, and incidents of Escheria coli and Salmonella contamination - all of which were intercepted before reaching customers'. Why does this fascinate? Because I would have hoped that those 235,970 petitioners had petitioned for the removal of this muck from school canteens on the basis that it was repulsive crap to be feeding kids despite the manufacturer apparently claiming that LFTB is '94 to 97 per cent lean beef, with similar nutritional value to 90 per cent lean ground beef''.

I am all for eating offal not awful.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Figs

My first sight of a fresh fig was in the infamous scene in Ken Russell's film of DH Lawrence's Women in Love when Rupert Birkin demonstrates how to break into one with your thumbs, pull the cheeks created apart and then suck the flesh out with you lips alluding in that Lawrencian way to the sexual imagery of the fig as vagina. For an 17 year old who had skipped school to see the film, that scene was as erotic as it was intended to be, never mind that this particular 17 year old was (undeclared to himself) homosexual.

It wasn't until years later that I came across my first fruiting fig tree in the backyard of one of the share houses of my university days. The tree produced a lot of green figs which birds had a great time pecking into and so few got anywhere near ripe and those that did were underwhelming.

Since then I've had many a fresh fig via Italian fruit shops first and then more widely as they were popularised. Charlie, my Calabrian neighbour across the road, often brings some across in season from the tree in his front yard. I went fig and chestnut picking on one of the bus trips he organises annually for the Italian and Portuguese communities in Leichhardt and Petersham. You can read about that trip at Not That Old Chestnut (not my choice of title, it was Andrew Wood's, editor of the much missed Divine magazine in which the article was printed).

All this by way of saying that it's fig season again, and I have had my first by way of a delectable fig and ricotta brioche from Black Star Pastry at the Newtown end of Australia Street. The sugary sweetness of the fig and brioche are nicely balanced by the milky sweetness of the ricotta and cut into by the sesame and poppy seeds on the brioche. The mouth feel is unctuous, the ripeness of the fig, the creaminess of the ricotta and the light almost sponge-ness of the brioche combining smoothly on the palate. Visually it seduces, the golds of the brioche echoing the khaki/bronze of the skin and core of the fig, the flecks of sesame and poppy like fig seeds grown fat and burst from their pink fleshy bed, the white of the ricotta seeming to have leached out of the band of white inner flesh of the fig. It's disingenuously simple in its ingredients and its execution.


Monday, February 6, 2012

Hot Mumma

The title of this blog I owe to my sis-in-law and comes from gin being called 'mother's milk' in the Hogarthian days. The 'hot' part needs a little more explaining.
When traveling through India some years ago, Marg, Marilyn and I were in a dive of a hotel in Aurangabad pre-excursioning to the cave temples of Ajunta. Attracted by its name which involved the word Garden and what seemed a reasonable description of a cheapish place in the Lonely Planet at the time, we booked in not knowing it was the kind of hotel that Indian commercial travellers frequented, a fact not recorded in said guidebook, but clearly the reason for the aghast looks of the reception staff when we arrived late at night and cheerfully proceeded to book in. We lasted on night, I think, post which we hastened to the Taj hotel there, much to the relief, I must say, of our chaffeur who clearly was not happy with his accommodation that night either and was definitely up about spending the next few nights with his mates at the Taj digs.
To celebrate our good fortune in finding and still perturbed by the former nights experience, though somewhat blissed out post the caves, when settled into the splendid new surrounds we decided to go wild and put a split green chili into each glass of our regular gin (drink of choice at the time). We let it steep for or a minute or two and then had what I still recall as the best neat gin I have ever had  - no jokes about the effect of several gins on recollection of anything, though I confess Marg and Marilyn had an extended fest of giggles in the restaurant later.

Having remembered to by my two bottles of duty free Bombay Sapphire recently, I couldn't resist having a welcome-home-glass (all right, it was three, and your point is?) and having been chili starved most of the time in PNG from whence I as returning (bar a brilliant biriyani at the Lamana Hotel in Port Morseby over which I sprinkled a tingling hot sliced green chili courtesy of the kitchen) I recalled I had some fresh green chilis in the fridge and had a highly satisfying sozzle.
I was intrigued to see if others had also self-discovered the delights of gin and chili, never one to think I could be particularly original in cocktail combos. There's quite a nice recipe for Chili Lime and Gin Marinated Oysters which I am very much going to try; ditto the Gin and Chili Infused Grapefruit Drink which is apparently a 'spiced up version of a greyhound cocktail' which usually is just gin and grapefruit juice and the Gin and Chili Pepper Martini and the Hair of the Dog Cocktail that is the gin alternative to a Bloody Mary.
I intend now to go the next step and put a couple of chillies into a whole bottle of gin - sooooo time-saving!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Disgorged wine

Friends Carol and Julie gave us a prezzie of a wine for lending the ute to them for moving prior to having major renos done on their house. It was a Tamburlaine 2001 Late Disgorged Cabernet Sauvignon, which, apart from tasting damn fine, got me totally intrigued by what on earth anyone was doing disgorging a wine and then bottling it and having the guts to then sell it. I mean, the last disgorgement of wine I did was after a particularly careless session a couple of weeks ago when too much of a good time with old mates led to a failure to drink enough hibiscus tea to counter the effects of the several bottles of red gorged during the evening.

Happily, I found that disgorging wine in the vigneron world is a much less disturbing process. The term 'late-disgorged' is English for récemment dégorgé, indicating a wine that has been kept on its lees for much longer than usual (up to as much as ten years) between bottling and disgorging. The wine feeds off its lees throughout this time, acquiring great complexity, depth and richness. The sharp intake of oxygen when the wine is finally disgorged (ie the temporary 'bottling cork' is pulled and replaced with a permanent Champagne cork, ready for shipping) adds a welcome note of freshness that highlights the wine's complexity.'

Which still leaves me a tad puzzled as my pocket Oxford French dictionary gives récemment as meaning recently which is not what the wine is, disgorged recently, that is. Ah well, another of those little linguistic licenses one lives with I suppose.

Flat earthers

Okay, not really, but gee, who knew about flat peaches. Well apparently the Chinese have for centuries, as I guess they would as China is the original home of peaches. The rest of the world has known about them for yonks on the evidence of Google searches (they were the 2009 London Summer 'most fashionable culinary accessory' apparently and have been grown in the US since 1869 or earlier depending on who is spruiking them). I totally missed their first appearance in Oz  but they are certainly making the running this Summer with a write up in The Land and a dessert  recipe in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Living section on 12th January (sorry vegans, it uses eggs).

Colleen, who brought them to my attention, called them squashed peaches and I have to say I quite like that in preference to 'flat' or 'doughnut', especially as they are being touted as great to fit into kid's lunchboxes and I love the vision of them being created by some frustrated Chinese mum who one day lucked on a big old round peach that didn't go kerblewy when she pushed the lid down on it to get it to fit into said item of schoolkids accessories.

I can attest post test that they are indeed sweeter and less fuzzy than your general run of peach, and the cuteness factor is high. That doesn't excuse the Oz company behind their Summer push marketing them as Taste Buddies. Boy did they miss the opportunity to be Oz AND to rhyme!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Brooder and its bretheren

No Christmas morning at the van Reyk family table in Sri Lanka was complete without the cutting, buttering and consuming of brooder. This, like frikadells, seems to be a left over from the early days of the Dutch in Sri Lanka. The name is variously spelt broeder (in Hilda Deutrom's Ceylon Daily News Cookery Book), breuder (in my grandmother Ada de la Harpe's cookery book), and brooder (in Chandra Dissanayke's Ceylon Cookery). I have opted for Dissanayake's as it's the closest to the Dutch word brood, meaning bread, which is what this dish is - well, cakey bread, based on a yeasted dough but with the sweetness of a sponge cake.

In our family it was always eaten with Edam cheese – and still is despite the sneers I get from the non-Burgher elements of the extended family when I put the Edam on the table.

In both Deutrom and Dissanayake the recipe for brooder is in the section on Dutch and Portuguese specialties, with Deutrom firmly declaring it for the Dutch. Now, the fascinating thing about this is that when I asked my Dutch friends whether this bread/cake is also made and eaten in the Netherlands at Christmas, they looked at me quite blankly. Neither of them knows of anything like this in the Dutch repertoire of breads/cakes. There is a Dutch Christmas relative called kerststol, though it shaped into a low round loaf, and there is also  let alone Christmas bread/cake. There is also the  tulband, so named for the fluted 'turban' shaped mould used to make it, which- yep, you guessed it – is the mould we use for brooder in Sri Lanka. But tulband is not reserved for festive occasions and I can't find any suggestion that it should be eaten with Edam. So naturally I wondered about other European cuisines that have something similar and of course recalled German stollen, which ticks most of the boxes except the turban shaped mould. There is also the Veronese pandoro though it is made in a star-shaped mould, doesn't use dried fruits and is dusted with icing sugar, and the Milanese panettone, which has the dried fruit but usually comes in a cupola shaped loaf and is sometimes eaten with mascarpone. Then you have the Polish babka (grandmother) which is the same basic dough baked in a turban mould with no dried fruits but in this case eaten at Easter where it's use of eggs allegedly celebrates the return to the usual diet after Lenten fasting. And finally there is the brioche, sort of a mini version of this form of cake/bread again without the dried fruit and eaten daily if not more often and which it would be mortal sin to accompany with anything more than a cup of strong black coffee or thick chocolate.

Brooder now takes its place as an evident fusion of these many styles of a basic idea. The recipe I use is adapted from my gran's cookery book.I have made it quite successfully with spelt flour, wholemeal and good old white wheat flour. The texture and taste vary; all yummy, though.

Ingredients
500gms plain flour
50 gms butter
baker's yeast
1 tsp sugar
water
6 egg yolks
250 gms caster sugar
125 gms currants or sultanas or raisins or a mixture of them

Method
Make the dough the night before. Then take as much yeast as is recommended for your particular yeast for making bread with 500 gms of flour (it can vary so read the packet or ask when you buy it), add the yeast and the sugar to a little hot water to get the yeast started. It will froth slightly. When it's bubbling happily, add this to the flour and mix in well. Now slowly add water and keep mixing until you have a lump of dough that lifts easily out of the bowl or off the board. Knead it for 15 minutes or so. Put it in a bowl, cover the bowl with a damp tea-towel and leave it in a warm place to rise overnight.

The next day, take the dough and add to it the butter, egg yolks and sugar. Add the first three yolks separately and mix in well each time. Then add the others also one at a time alternating with dollops of the caster sugar till it is all used up. What you will have now is a very thick wet doughy batter.

Butter a turban mould. Put a good sprinkle of whatever dried fruit you are using on the bottom. Squish some dried fruit against the sides of the mould, too. Pour in the batter. Sprinkle more of the dried fruit on top of the batter. If you like, and I do, you can mix some dried fruits into the batter, too.

Leave this in a warm place, the mould covered with a damp cloth, for 1 or 2 hours until it rises again (it won't rise as much as the dough did overnight).

Meanwhile, pre-heat your oven to very hot – around 220C.

When the dough has risen the second time, put the mould in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Check at that stage that the brooder is cooked by poking a bamboo skewer or similar into the dough. If it comes out clean, your brooder is ready. If it doesn't, give the brooder 10 – 15 minutes more. Putting some baking/greaseproof/brown paper on the top will reduce the likelihood of the dried fruit burning.

When it's cooked, take it out of the oven and leave it to cool in the mould. You should then be able to give the mould a good thump and have the brooder come cleanly out of it.

Resist all temptation to ice or otherwise muck around with the brooder! Just slice it up and have some butter and Edam or cheddar cheese to have it with. But you are allowed to make summer pudding with the left over brooder if you like, or indeed any of those bread pudding dishes.