Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Internet Salmagundi XIV

I haven't done one of these for ages. It's facebook's fault. I keep posting fun and interesting links to facebook and forgetting to do it here. So here's a collection for amusement.

Food Related

I can't believe I only just found epicute this week. Cute food - cakes, bento and lollies, mostly. Kind of opposite to cakewrecks, which I have mentioned before.

Speaking of cakes, here are some very wrong ideas for cakes: the tomato soup cake and the beer cheese cake with bacon icing. Words fail me.

These are supposed to be the best chocolate chip cookies ever. They contain more salt than you would expect.

And I really fancy making Alton Brown's granola. Though it is winter, and I'm more into porridge than cold cereal at this time of year.

Is it worth making your own? Well, maybe, maybe not - this article examines a few cases. It's where I found the link to the granola recipe, which is definitely something to make at home for both the author and me. Jam and marmalade, too, for me. But I'm not sure I eat enough yoghurt to justify making it, and bagels seem too time intensive to be a regular.

And in local news: Stonesoup has a book launch coming up at Gunning this weekend. I'd like to go but may be exhausted by the rounds of other events this week.

Not Food

First, I'm honoured to have been included by the Darling Sisters in their list of bloggy goodness.

This is cool musical toy to play with.

This letter from a former slave to his former master amused me no end.

If you like Buffy and hate Twilight, here is an excellent antidote. Personally I couldn't care less if some vampires sparkle, but the romanticisation of stalking and abuse is just disgusting.

And while we're on the politics of fantasy/SF, here is an thought-provoking critique of the Star Wars series.

And for happy geekery: a collection of periodic tables. Some are works of art, some are simply comedy.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Goodbye, Blue Tiles

It's on. The kitchen facelift began on Thursday, with the demolition of the dreadful booth. This morning the stove and sink have been disconnected, and some new cabinetry has arrived. We're keeping most of the old cupboards, except the most damaged. But that dreadful tile benchtop is to be covered up with shiny new manufactured stone.

Tip for any kitchen renovators: tile benchtops are a really, really bad idea. No matter how cute and funky they look. The surface is uneven. The grout becomes very dirty. They tend to lift in wet areas. Wiping it down is a chore that takes much more attention than a simple flat surface. OK, so some of those problems are from the crappy installation that characterised a lot of this house when we bought it. But the grout cleaning problem is not going to go away even with the best tiling job.

There will be a lapse in cooking for some unspecified time. We do have a toaster, kettle, coffee grinder and microwave set up in the bar, so we won't have to eat out for every meal. We also have fridge or freezer leftovers: pasta and potatoes, sauerkraut, pesto and shredded Carolina turkey. Possibly we could eat out of the microwave for a week. But the washing up would get to be a problem: the bar sink is tiny.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009


Cabbage is such a maligned vegetable, yet it is delicious as long as it is not over-boiled to sulphurous rags. It's the star of coleslaw, plays well in stirfries, and can be preserved into kimchee or sauerkraut. I buy it in those huge 900g Benino brand jars from Poland. It keeps well in the fridge, and it's good just as it comes from the jar, heated up to go with German style sausages or corned beef. But sometimes it's fun to do a more fancy version - something along the lines of an Alsatian choucroute garni.

Recipe: Sauerkraut and smoked pork in wine
1 900g jar of sauerkraut
1 bottle white wine (riesling)
1 large onion
2 large green apples
2 tsp juniper berries
2 bayleaves
1 600g chunk smoked pork loin

Drain sauerkraut and rinse.
Put in a pot, and add the wine, chopped onion, peeled and chopped apple, juniper berries and bayleaves.
Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, then cover and simmer 30 minutes more.
Add the pork, and bury it in the sauerkraut.
Add a little water if it seems to be drying out.
Simmer another 30 minutes.
Slice up pork into steaks.
Serve with boiled new potatoes, or some heavy rye bread. And mustard.

Notes:The wine should be riesling, but it's a waste to use the really good stuff since the sauerkraut and juniper flavours are so strong. Especially if you bite into a juniper berry - they are edible but very strong so you might like to pick them out. A cheap bottle or fancy cask is about right. Or you can use champagne for a French "choucroute royale".

You can add all sorts of meats to this: if they are not pre-cooked, put them in earlier. Sausages, ham, ham hocks, pork chops, and even poultry can be used. Even veggie hot-dogs, I would imagine. You can also cook the potatoes in the same pot for a true one-pot meal, but I prefer them separate.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Well, that was annoying

On Monday I went off to Mitchell to look for river pebbles for the garden, and wardrobe makers' showrooms to fix up our awful hall cupboards. I checked the yellow pages and made a list, but had very little success. One place had no pebbles, another didn't do retail at that site, two of the showrooms were closed... I finally went off to Stonehenge in Pialligo to look for pebbles and found that they also had none. And then I went to Braddon to get a leaking tire fixed - and found out that it was unfixable, we needed a new one for that, plus two more were badly worn. Three tires, $500. Bummer.

So grump, grump, grump, I walked into town and treated myself to a nice lunch. I went to Cream, which I like very much on weekdays when it's not so packed and noisy. The dislike of crowding is my taste, not their problem: they manage very well on the packed and noisy days. I've had some pretty good brunches there - though I think their blintzes are too sweet - and the service has mostly been good despite the crowds.

It's a big open space, high ceilinged and retro-outfitted, with a central coffee and cake service area and a big kitchen up the back. They serve modern Australian cafe food - the usual eclectic mixture of dozens of cultures. Indonesian, Chinese, Italian, French, and English all rub shoulders on the menu.

I had the Barbecued Atlantic Salmon Salad ($19), which is a nicoise-inspired dish
with green beans, potato, egg and olives. The salmon was warm from the grill and cooked nicely moist, the potatoes were kipflers, and the olives were good ones generously ladled out. It was delicious. The coffee was also good - rich, and with just enough bitterness for character. A good brew.

I finished off with an Italian custard doughnut. That was good too - it's nice to have a doughnut with a good solid yeasty chew, instead of over-sweetened insipid fluff. I think the patisserie is bought in, not house made, but it's well chosen. A good lunch, a good book (Iain M Banks), a good coffee - that definitely made the day better.

Also, while I was faffing around Mitchell not finding things, I stopped into Jindebah coffee and stocked up, so even that wasn't a dead loss.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Stone Cooking

On Friday I had both lunch and dinner served with hot stone. The Bloke & I had errands in Civic and decided to lunch at a favourite place of mine: Godori. There is not much better for lunch on a cold day than a hot stone bowl of BiBimBab. You can warm your hands by it (don't touch!) and your lunch stays nice and hot all the way through your meal. A cup of lemon and ginger tea was also very welcome - their variety includes some honey-preserved lemon, kind of like marmalade. You get a little sweet nibble at the bottom of the cup.

Dinner was a friend's birthday do at Maddison's way down south in the Tuggeranong Vikings club. This is a big club restaurant, and a big club, too. The club seems like a pretty good thing for people down south: they have a lot of different sporting groups affiliated with them. it's not just football or bowls. We even bumped into another inner-northie friend who was there selling tickets for a bicycle club fundraising raffle.

So, Maddisons - it's big, it's the usual clubby thing. You have to be a member or a guest, but as with most clubs that's easy. There's a big batch of pokies to the left of the entry way, but you can ignore them in the main body. The club has a Zierholtz beer on tap. I'm told there's a nice view of the Brindabellas, but it was dark.

You line up cafeteria style to make your order, but they serve your meals to you at your table. There is a self-serve salad bar stocked with a decent array of fresh salads. The lettuce is iceberg and there's tinned beetroot, but there's also some more modern styled options. I tried some of the chickpea salad, celery salad, and a very good potato salad with skin-on new potatoes.

I had a prawn cocktail ($10.30), which was an off-menu special. A totally retro construction of prawns, iceberg and pink sauce, it was a good one. The prawns were large, fresh and sweet. I had their "hot stone" specialty for a main course. This is a gimmick: you get a hot rock with a slab of raw meat on it - in my case a thick sirloin. A tiny space at the side of the stone houses a small potato and a bowl of gluey cheap pepper sauce. The idea is that you cook the meal to your own satisfaction - and it works more or less. It was also quite handy for reheating the Bloke's cold chips. The main difficulty is that the non-stone space is very small, so getting your steak off when it's done enough is a little tricky.

They do steaks, chicken, kangaroo and seafood options in this hot rock style, as well as other more standard meals. My steak would have been $19.50, but we got a meal deal: for $30 you get a stone grill, coffee or tea and dessert, and a Hoyts movie ticket. You don't have to have the coffee & cake option at the same time as the main, though I did since I'm not planning on returning any time soon. This is not bad value at all. Now we have to pick a movie.

Dessert was a "Murray Mudcake". This was described to me as their gluten-free option - I'm not 100% sure that's true, not that it's relevant to me. It's a chocolate cake base with a chocolate mousse filling and chocolate ganache topping. Not the greatest by any means, it was too sweet and not chocolatey enough for me, and the mousse seemed rubbery with too much gelatine. I googled it and find that it was bought in from Albury-Wondonga, probably frozen. They didn't stock any herbal teas, but there was a jasmine green tea, so I had that. It was a Lipton's teabag in a cup of off-boiling water.

So, not a gourmet destination, but it was cheap and cheerful and easy for a large group including kids. We had a good time, and my steak was cooked just right :)

Oh, if you've been wondering what else I've been doing in the last week, the answer is not much. Continuing my slow recovery from the flu, I made up some simple basic meals: a spaghetti bolognese and a keema. I cheated a bit using pre-sliced mushrooms for the spag, and a curry powder for the keema.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Pesto in Winter

The bloke requested a pasta, and I thought of doing a pesto pasta with green olives and chunks of smoked chicken. And I thought - now, if only I could get some nice pesto, that would be great. Supermarket brands tend not to use the premium ingredients that make for a really good pesto. Cheap oils, and no pinenuts: it's not right. And I haven't got to the market in a while. Damn. But hang on - I could make some, couldn't I? It's not exactly hard.

I have done this before, but not in ages, so I went to look for a recipe. And the horse's mouth is surely Il Cucchiaio Argento. So I checked there and got the proportions - cutely, the recipe asks for 25 basil leaves. I weighed my 25 basil leaves and decided I needed to triple everything for the amount of basil I had on hand. I was actually a little short on a couple of things, but decided that it wouldn't matter. Here's how I made mine.

Recipe: Classic Basil Pesto
75 g basil leaves
100g pine nuts
150g parmesan
3 cloves (30g) purple garlic
200ml olive oil

Chop garlic and cheese roughly. Pulse in food processor to crumb.
Add pine nuts and basil, pulse further.
Add oil in a thin stream while motor is running, and continue until it all comes together in a rough paste.
Store in the fridge with a layer of extra oil on top to keep airtight.

Notes: Makes about 3 cups. Perfect Italiano parmesan was the cheese here again. And the basil was two supermarket bunches, the oil from Lowanna Paddock, and the topping oil for the stored batch was sunflower because the pesto used the last of the olive oil.

It's come out a lot lighter green than the ones I mostly buy, and I do prefer the more herby version to this one. When I do another batch, I will not use this recipe but experiment to find my own taste. That will mean less cheese and more basil. But it's not bad at all.

It's been very cold today, and I got rained on when I was unpacking the shopping from the car. All the food magazines are full of slow cooked casseroles and hot puddings now. Pesto, like basil, is usually a summer ingredient. But the basil was grown in Australia, so it's not like I bought Chilean asparagus or US cherries.

This got me thinking on the question of local eating. Obviously it's a good thing ecologically, because it saves on transport expenses - all those greenhouse gasses. I try to buy local, or at least Australian, for most things. But although I believe that our habits are important, I have exceptions. And when I eat in restaurants, I don't ask. I am no purist, and I haven't really got this thought through and planned out fully.

The only non-Australian ingredient in the pesto is the pine nuts, which was a mix of two packets. One said that the nuts were from China, the other that they were packed in Australia from non-specific imported ingredients. I'm fairly sure they were Chinese, too. European pine nuts are longer and thinner. And I don't think we grow any commercially in Australia. One could try bunya nuts, perhaps - Ironbark in Manuka does a bunya nut pesto sometimes.

Chocolate is clearly one of my exceptions - I don't think we even grow cacao here. And spices are an honourable exception, I think. Historically the spice trade has always been important. Like tea, coffee and cocoa, spices are small, high value goods. I do like to use some local spices, but I am never going to feel bad about a few sticks of Sri Lankan cinnamon or Tahitian vanilla.

For coffee, I strongly prefer to buy either Australian or fair trade. I've only recently started paying attention to tea and chocolate. I've been drinking Twinings for years without thought, and buying the best Dutch-processed cocoa. Is it fair trade? Almost certainly not.

Recently I've cooked frozen cranberries, which are all imported from the US. I don't know if anyone grows them here - they are a cool climate wetland crop, and I imagine such conditions would not be too easy to find here. Cool we can do. Wet, not so much. Cranberry sauces and drinks and dried cranberries are all imported, as far as I have seen.

I usually don't buy non-Australian fresh produce any more. I'm glad things are now labelled at the supermarket, so I can avoid accidentally buying end-season US grapes at the beginning of our season. I'm not always 100% sure of the origins - I must remember to ask at Saigon grocery when I next see a pomelo.

I do buy the occasional premium charcuterie or dairy product - I had some French truffled brie for my birthday one year. But we do make excellent cheeses and preserved meats in Australia, so I keep the imports for exceptions.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Old Standards

I have not much to report, since I've been sick again. I sometimes think I should just hibernate until spring. Towards the end of the week I picked up, and I have done a little cooking of the easy kind. I made a chicken curry from paste, and a 3-tins dahl - though it was only one tin this time, as I had kidney beans and home roasted tomatoes and red capsicum in the freezer.

I also made some more muffins this morning - these ones are blackberry and lillipilli. I used the same recipe as for last week's cranberry and orange, except with blackberries swapped for cranberries, and a half jar of lillipilli jelly for the marmalade. And no orange flower water and sugar - the jelly is sweet enough for me. Though I did add sprinkle of cassia & sugar on top. Also, I left the oven on a sensible temperature, and they were nicely done in 20 minutes.

This dahl and the generic muffins are old standards that take very little thinking. The other old standard was the takeaway the bloke bought from the our favourite pide house, TurkOz in Dickson. Spinach and cheese, and lamb, tomato and capsicum pide, and also some bread and hummous. I used some of the bread to make cheese, chutney and parsley toasties. Lots of parsley. Parsley is high in vitamin C and iron, and it is too a salad vegetable!