Tuesday, November 28, 2006

all that remains

A baked vegetable salad is one of the simplest of things a jaded soul can make. The time they take to roast, being the perfect timing for a soak in the bath after a long day at work.

While the oven heats and a few vegetables are scrubbed, the precious water can run. Well that was the plan but en route urgent emails and demanding cats got the better of me, so it was the salad sans the soak. The result was still relaxing.

Simple baked vegetable and chickpea salad

Heat the oven to about 200 c.

Scrub some root vegetables – in this case baby beetroot, sweet potato and potato. Cut into pieces if necessary.

In a bowl mix a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss through the veges, then lay in a roasting pan.

Cook for about 30-40 minutes.

In the meantime slice some red onion and rinse and drain a can of chickpeas.

The dressing: just a standard vinaigrette but with a dash of pomegranate molasses to give it a little extra zing.

Combine ingredients and eat.

all that remains

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

tipping my hat to the Earl

I’m a bit of a latecomer to the joy of the sandwich. It’s never really been my thing and even now bread is not the first food I turn to for sustenance.

But today I could not resist a loaf of seed bread, still warm from the oven. This is real bread – made from organic unbleached flour, leavened naturally and with just the right amount of seeds through it. The crust is dense, rather than flaky and the bread itself is soft but chewy. No bread improvers and other dubious chemicals, just sourdough at its best.

To honour this delightful loaf, there was a dainty spread fresh from the market. The bottom layer a generous serve of smoky babaganoush made with eggplant and tahini. Next some organic produce – hass avocado, tomato and lastly topped with wild rocket.

Everything was at its best – the avocado, perfectly ripe. Likewise the tomato. The rocket was as green and vibrant as the avocado and had a nice, peppery punch. And the bread – it was sublime and with still a hint of warmth.

What’s your favourite sandwich?

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Honourable mentions from the Bellarine Peninsula and the Surf Coast

Last week I had 5 days of decompression at the beach. The plan had been to have lazy barbecues after surf lessons, but instead it was inside time with unseasonal hail pelting the tin roof (a few days later, I was back in Melbourne with mild heat exhaustion!). The Significant Eater was on a budget, so we packed a sharp knife, some good olive oil, smoked trout, rice and other essentials to do some leisurely cooking at the beach house we had rented. The weather dictated soup, curry and hearty grains.

There was no grand dining but I had 2 of the best takeaways in a long time that deserve special mention.

Queenscliff Fish and Chips, in the main street of Queenscliff was the best fish and battered prawns I’ve had in years. The King George whiting was available in different sizes (pricey but worth it) which was rolled in a light coating then grilled (for a few cents extra - its interesting the effort involved in flipping a piece of fish over rather than dunking it in the deep fryer universally attracts a surcharge in this country). The batter tasted like a light, savoury pancake and complemented the tender flesh. Instead of chips we went for calamari rings and battered prawns. Both great, but the prawns were a stand out. The lunch was eaten overlooking the wild sea on a grey day, out of the paper in a steamy car. Perfect!

Seaweed Sushi, 22 Pearl St, Torquay. This little Japanese eatery is hidden away, around the corner from the main shopping strip. They get special commendation due to the fact that brown rice is an option in some of their cooked meals and in some of the Tokyo Rolls and squares. Also some inventive vegetarian sushi – sweet beancurd skin and mushroom being especially delicious.

Moby (Torquay) and Barwon Orange were also up to standard. Moby got extra brownie points on their great customer service when they had messed up an order. Sadly the local pub at Barwon Heads hadn’t improved in the interim. You know that food will be average at best when you see a menu with some curious cross-cultural food pairings, like a Thai green curry with Indian condiments.

I’m still hankering to crack open the picnic rug and load up the basket. Maybe next week!


Sunday, November 19, 2006

musings from the beach

A few days away and I was itching to get at the keyboard. I had blog withdrawals. But by Friday the edginess had faded and on return a computer was the last place I wanted to park myself.

I did however have some time out to think about food blogging and get clearer about what I want from this.

Things that the food I make is not:

Just like in a restaurant
What I make is home food. It’s not finished with sauces laden with butter to make them glossy. Salt is used with restraint. Often vegetables are left undressed (gasp!). Meals have been known to be served on unmatched plates and bowls with not a garnish in sight...and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Full of food styled pictures
After a while I started to covert those arty, beautifully styled photos that appear in many high traffic blogs. But the trade off is – do I want to eat this food now, while it’s hot and I am eagerly anticipating the taste, or do I want to fiddle around with the lighting and the camera until it’s cold on the plate? For me the answer is rather obviously – eat it now! Sometimes the break in continuity, the disruption of the flow in conversation or even the Zen-like process of solo eating can’t be broken for the quickest of snaps, let alone the time it takes to fashion a great looking shot.

What it is about is the food, the process, the joy of putting a meal together at home - which doesn’t necessarily have to look like something out of a glossy magazine but is about combining flavour and textures, trying new things, eating food that makes your body sing rather than sink.

So, I’m more comfortable with being a bit rough around the edges. I am sharing the journey. One that I hope inspires you to try something different (some yuba or eel perhaps, those soaked oats for breakfast rather than the sugared, packaged cereal, some crispy tempeh on a spring salad). The recipes are a blue print, not set in concrete. The way you make it will be better.

My favourite cookbooks have always been ones that inspire and give confidence in the kitchen, rather than make you slavishly follow a recipe. Stephanie Alexander’s “Cook’s Companion” is a classic, not just because its packed full of hundreds of food ideas, but rather you can see she wants you to also have the gift of playing with flavours, to make your own connections about how to put ingredients together.

But perhaps the main reason that this site has evolved is purely selfish. I make a meal, enjoy it and want to be able to make it again. I might make gyozas for months, then not think of them for a year. Then I’m scratching my head going – what was in that dipping sauce? In the end, this is just my online cookbook full of my doodles and musings. But even better, it’s interactive so when you try it I can hear about the twists and turns from your kitchen.

Happy cooking.


Sunday, November 12, 2006


I just ate a green sandwich. Rye bread, avocado, green olives, rocket. Open and inviting.

It is spring, the season of all things green. Here are a few of my favourite things:

Grapes: popped into my mouth by a willing slave
Salsa verde: a big dollop on grilled fish
Peppermint: brewed as a refreshing tea
Dolmades: with tomato and pinenuts and lots of garlic
Avocado: on crunchy toast with lemon juice and black pepper
Coriander: in an Asian soup or stir fry
Asparagus: blanched with wasabi mayo
Pak choy: stir fried with fish sauce
Rocket: with fresh tomato and balsamic vinegar
Parsley: blended with pistachios and garlic
Beans: blanched and crisp in a Nicoise salad
Gooseberries (it is years since I ate them!): an explosion of taste
Sauvignon blanc: the aroma of cut grass

What's your favourite green flavours?

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Journeying around the web for breakfast

I am a great lover of breakfast. Weekdays require a certain amount of ballast to get me through 6 hours til the next meal. Oats are the queen of sustenance, if you treat them right. Weekends and days off mean fruit if I want to graze, eggs for slow leisurely breakfasting, miso if I need something light but healing.

For something different it may be savoury toppings on sourdough bread – tahini, avocado and lemon juice is nostalgic. For the hippy-deluxe version I add finely sliced radish, chunks of black olives and a sprinkling of alfalfa sprouts to crown the avocado. Sometimes when the sun has ripened them I like tomatoes, sliced and popped back under the griller with lashings of freshly ground black pepper or slowly stewed with garlic and onions. Mushrooms sautéed til the juices run, with a little pepper, parsley and lemon juice. Boiled eggs, chopped with sun dried tomato, spring onions and good quality mayonnaise. Life is too short for a dab of something out of a jar from the supermarket!

Today, being a leisurely holiday in these parts (in a nation obsessed with sport, a city is given a day off for a horse race), I am up for anything. Cruising by Morsels and Musings Anna has paid homage to the joys of breakfast. I am not a huge fan of sweetness for my first meal unless its luscious fruit, but a warm bowl of goodness catches my eye. At 28 cooks breakfast couscous seems just the treat for an inclement holiday.

Follow their recipe – or as I did use the template to create your own version.

Breakfast Couscous Basics
Ratio of grain to liquid =1 3/4 cups fluid: 1/2 cup couscous
handful of dried fruit(s)

Bring to a boil. Turn off heat. Sit for 10 minutes

Breakfast Couscous Food Nazi Style
1/2 soy milk:1/2 water
dried cranberries
cinnamon and nutmeg finely grated
rice malt syrup (just a little)

Bring the couscous to a boil in the above concoction.
Turn the heat off, place the lid and go and have a shower.
Top with slices of fresh mango.
Dress optional, but this is a dish that can be eaten easily in bed, the grains deliciously plumped, moist and clinging to the spoon!

Hope your horse is a winner. Even better, forget the flutter and donate to your favourite charity instead.

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

when your soul needs saving

Level 3
Melbourne Central
211 La Trobe Street
Ph: 03) 9654 0808

I’d heard that SOS, in the revamped Melbourne Central, was hard to find. Actually, it was very easy just jump on the escalators from the corner of Swanston and Latrobe Streets, get off at the top and turn left. The next bit involves a bit of faith. Stand outside the blank, rather impenetrable, black door underneath the sign, take a breath and will it to open. It does.

SOS is big on the theatrical entrance. Once through the door, which swiftly closes behind you, a slightly abstracted, dimly lit forest awaits. Ignore the black curtained entrances off to either side and go directly forward into the light. You have arrived.

And arrived we did, enjoying a quick dinner on a bright, recently daylight saved Melbourne evening. We were early enough to have a plum table for two on the wide balcony, the seating comfortable and arranged to sit side by side and admire the view. Before us skateboarders did their thing, trams rattled and couples canoodled in the grounds of the State Library.

In the same stable as Chocolate Buddha and Soul Mama, I was a little hesitant to try SOS. It sounded right up my alley being dedicated to those who eschew meat but eat seafood – I call it piscaterean. While the former two endeavours, the first a Wagamama rip off and the second an upmarket vegetarian cafeteria are good, maybe better than average but I’ve always found the food fails the deliver the “Wow!” factor.

I was spoiled for choice with the menu, though the offerings were not that huge if you are strictly vegetarian. If you are vegan, forget it. The paltry couple of entrees and one main all contained dairy. Even the side of broccolini is tainted with anchovies.

I chose a couple of entrees wanting variety of taste more than a large amount of food. Being ‘modern Italian’ pasta of various hues was abundant. The SOS website boasts the presence of a wood fired oven, supposedly to offer ‘artisanal pizzas “unlike any you have seen in Melbourne”, but none were on the menu.

While we admired the view, caught up on the events of the week, looked at the extensive wine list and made our choices, the very competent staff regularly checked in to offer us bread (a choice of three), water (bottled or tap), answered a question about some unfamiliar wines and translated the menu. I thought I was pretty good at ‘menu speak’ and the Significant Eater is half Italian, but we still needed a little help, which made me think it was just a tad pretentious. A bit dazed and confused we finally made our selections and within moments a little amuse bouche was placed before us. Nice touch. This was a small cube of marinated kingfish and a few other tastes including grapefruit, which was rather pleasing.

The Significant Eater finds it hard to pass up fresh oysters, though he prefers them just naked and unadorned in their shells. These came with what balsamic and crushed ruby grapefruit and were so nice I had to try one.

Having waxed lyrical before on my love of smoked eel I feel compelled to order it in order to keep it on the menu for others to experience this fishy delicacy. SOS’s offering was described as a “smoked eel fillet served with egg mimosa , kipfler potato, poppy seed onion ring and baby parsley salad”. Only a photo does the prettiness of this dish justice. It was a standout for me, with the exception of the top of the fillet being unnecessarily dry, suggesting the protective fatty layer had been removed too long before serving.

The Significant Eaters, otherwise delicious snapper also was a little desiccated on top, but the tang on the wasabi fish roe on top earned the dish a “Wow!” factor award.

Sadly though the pasta dish I tried, was a bit average. It featured clams, prawn and whitebait, but tasted strongly of fishy brine. There was a liberal amount of the mildest chili imaginable, which added no flavour to the dish.

SOS is a seafood haven. Do not even think of taking your vegan sister or meat eating uncle here. It does what it chooses to do very well. Prices are in the fine dinning category (or what you’d pay in an average Sydney restaurant) with entrees starting at $17 and mains in the $30’s. To get some vegetable balance, sides are around $8. Desserts are priced similarly as entrees.

Conclusion: Great service, wonderful view, better than average food and more value for money than Fifteen.

UPDATE:(Feb 2007) According to Epicure today, the SOS experiment has failed to be financially viable. The wine menu is to be stripped back and the menu tweaked. The chef is leaving and the fabled pizzas I mentioned on the site's menu are about to make an appearances. It all speaks of dumbing down. Maybe a little less pretention is not a bad thing. Becoming more "accessible" fortunately doesn't mean meat will be on the menu, but I would be happy to trade less fussiness for a little drop in the prices.

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