Thursday, December 29, 2005

Summer grazing

One of the things I enjoy most about this time of year is the freedom of not living by the clock. While on holiday I take off my watch and meander through the day. My stomach, likewise is fed by it’s own rhythm. The necessity of breakfast, lunch and dinner melts into either a day of continuous grazing, or a brunch and an evening meal…or lucky days like Tuesday which was one slutty crawl beginning with a Big Vegetarian Breakfast, a beer at Southgate after viewing the Archibald, a late lunch upstairs at the Stokehouse and when night fell wound up with delicious cocktails* and finger food (wonton wrapped prawns, vegetable filled rice paper rolls and shoestring fries) at Polly.

While grazing yesterday I concocted a delicious smoked eel salad, a perfect balance between acid and fat, soft and crunch.

Chop up smoked eel fillets (leftover from Xmas)
Dice cucumber and tomato
Thinly slice fennel and spring onion
Combine with the juice of a lemon, a dash of olive oil and some cracked pepper

Lounge on the chaise in the sun and consume.

* Hazelnut Caipiroska: Zubrowka Vodka, Fresh Lime and Frangelico

Red Stiletto: Vodka, Fresh Berries, Boudier Peach Liqueur, Raspberry Puree and a hint of Ginger.


Friday, December 23, 2005


In my haste I only took $100 with me to the Vic Market today, which is almost twice as much as a weekly shop. I knew there would be a few extras, but nothing too extraordinary as I do not have to provide a festive spread. It soon became clear that this would not suffice, after I had bought a few luxuries, especially with the Christmas week price hike.

So in the most expensive week of the year, how much do you get for $100?

Organic produce: Fruit – cherries, a few peaches, apricots, avocados. (There’s usually much more fruit but the cherries blew the budget at $20/kg) Veges – potato, 1 sweet potato, brown onions, a couple of red onions, mixed lettuce leaves. 2 cucumber, squash (labelled zuccini but at this size its pushing it a bit), carrots, tomatoes (Ok technically a fruit), a handful of asparagus, ginger, 2 bulbs of garlic (@$35/kg) and a free chilli!
1 dozen eggs (I don’t care if they are twice the price I just can’t do battery anymore)

Conventional: fresh shitake mushrooms, lemons, 3 small mangoes, a bunch of spring onions. Oats. 1 smoked eel (it’s a kiwi thing).

Extras: chocolate – Lindt ‘intense lemon’, Pink Lady dark coated orange peel, 1/2 dozen of the best dolmades in the world, medium tub of babaganoush,

For the resident carnivore: 1 kg of pet quality diced beef.

Change: $1.10

It doesn’t look a lot but enough to make the weight of my backpack put my neck out. Glad I still have some other veges left in the crisper.

What’s been on your shopping list this week?

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Summer Beans

I need easy Sunday night food. It’s summer but there is a cool breeze. I want beans, I want them hot but I don’t want them winter-chilli style. So with what is on hand I create warm beans with a Mediterranean twist.

Fry some finely chopped onion in olive oil (this was half a huge red onion, because that was all I could find).
When soft, add 3 cloves of garlic, crushed, and an anchovy or 2.
Throw in some fresh herbs of choice (in this case a little rosemary, which smelt superb as the heat released the volatile oils).
Add in another vegetable (this was a zucchini, diced), go wild and add 2 if you want (carrots, celery, capsicum would all work well).
When starting to soften add a can of well rinsed and drained organic kidney beans (of course with forethought some home cooked beans would be excellent).
Next, add some fresh diced tomato or a can of the organic variety.
Simmer away, stir every now and then.
Try to be patient (which can be difficult when it smells so good and you are hungry).
When the waiting is starting to get to you toss in a generous handful of black olives (or green if you would prefer).
Distract yourself by chopping some fresh parsley.
Wait and stir a little longer.
Taste and season accordingly, add the parsley. Stir. Wait another minute.
Serve, at last.


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Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Jewel in the Junkheap

‘Tis the season to cook rarely. Once again, have been supplementing the gluttony, with some delicious home made salads on the rare nights in my kitchen. Or sometimes on the evenings after big lunches – a simple wrap of marinated tofu, tomato chutney, crispy lettuce and anything else that looks edible in the veggie crisper.

Out in the world I have had some good and some so-so curries, more curries, finger food (thank god sushi has knocked party pies off the top of the Christmas gathering snack tree) and one of the best pizzas I have had in years. It was in a tiny, very ordinary Italian joint in downtown Oakleigh – eggplant, artichokes, fetta and fresh tomato (maybe olives too, but I eschewed the usual dollop of stringy cheese that came standard with the order). If it was at some moderne pizzaria, such as Ladro, I would have expected nothing less but from the depth of suburbia it was an unexpected pleasure.

Great food in not so exciting places got me thinking of one of the best dishes I have consumed in my life so far. I was backpacking as you do, a sweet young thing, almost 20 years ago. Sete is a small Mediterraneum port in the south of France. It sounded like an ideal place for a detour and am sure it is worthy of it these days. However back then it was seedy and had a sinister undertow. The first cause for alarm was as we climbed the hill to the hostel, a handwritten sign in English was stuck to the wall of the police station informing us that if you have experienced a crime and cannot communicate in French then don’t bother reporting it. The hostel was not a typical backpackers place, despite it being in the guidebook. It appeared full of itinerant workers and those maybe a notch above totally destitute. The bathroom was unisex with no lock on the door. Some suspicious chinks in the wall suggested that the occupants maybe being secretly viewed. To cap it off there was a strange teenager with a pet mouse on his shoulder who took to shadowing us wherever we went. By this point our minds were made up to spend only one night and head towards Spain the next day.

Another atypical aspect of the hostel was that dinner was included in the price of the bed, so we took our places at the rough picnic table on the porch and accepted the one dish wonder that was put before us.

Bouillabaisse. The saffron tinged stew with seafood fresh off the boats. I would swear that the fish had been swimming only hours before and the mussels had clung onto the rocks thinking they were safe for yet another day. A big rich bowl of the stuff, complete with a large dollop of rouille on top of a slice of toasted baguette. This Provencal delicacy, made by a woman who certainly knew her way around a kitchen, in one of the worst hostels, in one of the most inhospitable towns that my wandering soul had led me too. In that moment the shower peepers, the arrogant police, mouse boy and the bedbugs were forgotten. Even before the first spoonful entered my mouth, I knew I had struck gold.

I have had fish soupy-stews since that have claimed to be Bouillabaisse. All sad imitations, dressed up in pricey restaurants. I accept that where ever I travel I will never experience a dish like it, enhanced as it was by the atmosphere.

Sometimes its worth zigging when you should have zagged. So even dinner in Oakleigh is worth it, once in a while.


Thursday, December 08, 2005

Life is...

Cherries are Christmas to me. As kids we would awake on December 25th to a bowl of cherries and sweets beside our bed. That and the small sack of presents at the base of our bed was meant to be a bribe to keep us quiet so our parents could stay asleep just a little bit longer. Yeah, like that was ever going to happen!

In Melbourne they come in a month earlier, so perhaps don't hit such a luxurious punch to the savvy kid about town. Whether it is because of the Christmas associations or just because they taste so good - cherries have always been special to me.

Other than eating them as quickly as possible the only other thing I have done with cherries is the Famous Cherry Vodka of 2003. In December this fine brew was laid down. Later the next month it was consumed in numerous shots with the neighbouring Tango Evangalists, who spent a whole afternoon teaching us how to dance. A good time was had by all.

Cherry Vodka

Clean and dry a batch of ripe, luscious cherries. Discard any that could be even slightly dodgy looking. One bit of mould will spoil the whole batch.

Prick them gently to allow the juices to mingle.

In a sterile glass jar, place the cherries and a generous handful of sugar, then cover with vodka. I use Stoli or Absolut, because I like it. Make sure the cherries are well covered. Screw on the lid tightly.

Store out of direct sunlight for a minumum of two weeks.

Watch as the liquid turns ruby red.

Adjust sweetness to suit your palate, just add more sugar or sugar syrup* if needed.

Strain and rebottle.

Best drunk accompanied by singing and dancing.

* I'm sure you know how to make sugar syrup. For a heavy syrup use heat 1 part water to 1 part castor sugar, stir until dissolved.

if you really don't like the taste cherries, they make nifty earings as well

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Saturday, December 03, 2005


Chicory is a bitter ‘pot herb’. Unlike its sibling curly endive, this is a leafy green better cooked than eaten raw. At the market this week an incredibly healthy looking, organic bunch of the stuff enticed me into taking it home. A friend had cooked it for me once before and I got him around to give me another demo.

Take a bunch of chicory (organic really does taste better)
Wash thoroughly and remove any leaves that are not up to scratch
Chop into about 6 cm lengths, or whatever takes your fancy
Cover with water
Boil about 20 minutes til tender
Strain water (reserve and keep for a healthy drink)
Add the juice of 1-2 lemons, a dash of olive oil and a little sea salt and cracked pepper.

This was accompanied with (yet another) salad. This time – cannellini beans, rocket, diced daikon and carrot, tomato, parsley, with a garlic and lemon dressing.

A delicious vego delight. An oasis of health in the midst of a crazy season.

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