Sunday, October 28, 2007

...and one more thing I've been doing

A neighbourhood bottle store often has tastings of delicious wines and sherries. When the regular e-newsletter came out during the week I earmarked a small portion of my Saturday afternoon to spend in the back of their shop.

I’d only had Billecart-Salmon once before. Despite it being a fine maker of champagne the situation left a bad taste in my mouth. In a now defunct city restaurant named after a common vegetable, when I ordered some innocuous rose, the sommelier gave me the B-S rose champagne instead. Seeing the fine beading in what should have been a still wine, as well as the glass it was served in, I asked him to double check my order before tasting it. He came back with the assertion it was the rose I ordered and when I was about a third of the way through this delightful sparkling but obviously not the wine I had requested - I asked again and this time the maitre-d, a woman trumped up with her own self importance, came to the table explaining the mistake and suggested I continue drinking it but they would charge me the actual price, being 3 x that of the drink I had ordered. I found this outrageous, told her so very nicely and she whisked the glass off me and replaced it with the one I had asked for in the first place. It would be a fair guess to say I never ate there again, despite the organic food being pleasant enough.

In the unpretentious surrounds of my local, it was time to make friends with this champagne and loose the bad memory that had been lingering. There were 4 non-vintage varieties on offer, all hovering just above or below the $100 a bottle mark. With the exception of the aforementioned rose, the nose smelt strongly of strawberries and cream.

First off the rank was the Brut Reserve. Finely beaded, with a slight sweetness it was creamy in the mouth. A drop you could imagine swanning around with in your hand at some reception, while nibbling on canapés. The Significant Eater, who isn’t the most discerning drinker, gave the first mouthful a “wow, I can taste the difference” exclamation.

Number 2 reacquainted me with my old friend the Brut Rose. This was a drier wine, delicately tinted the gentlest pink. I wouldn’t have said no to another glass, but despite liking a drier wine I would have takes the Brut Reserve in preference.

Number 3, the Brut Blanc de Blancs, was thumbs up the winner for the Significant Eater. A tad drier than the rose and would pair well with savory food. It was lively in the mouth and it made me briefly have delusions of a lifestyle I can’t afford.

The final tasting was the Demi-Sec. The strawberries and cream aroma was particularly noticeable and was a distinctively sweet wine, though not cloying. We did the unthinkable and not finish the tasting glass. The blanc de blancs had spoilt us!

Alas, we went home with 2 bottles of Spanish Sherry to put in the fridge. Now the weather is warmer, a drop before dinner occasionally is a refreshing (and cost effective) aperitif. But friends and anonymous blog readers, if you ever get the urge to show your appreciation you now know what to do!

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

the "I'm here in spirit" post

While I’m not cooking (or blogging about such things) I’m:

Reading cookbooks
Amusing the cats
Spending far too much time on facebook
Wishing I was off to San Francisco and New York with Pixie
Snatching moments with the Significant Eater
Being visited
Worrying about the health of my parents
Flying across the Tasman to turn worry into action
Excavating the backyard and building decks, by which I mean I’m coordinating tradies and finding ways to finance such a venture (I’m getting the feeling this is going to be bigger and longer than last years house renovation).
Writing a book proposal
Doing my GST (again)
Mouthing off about politics
Trying to get out of the house to walk more
Catching up with friends
Throwing impromptu threck* warmings
Visiting the library to find more cookbooks
Seeing art
Going to the movies
Blogging about other things (like learning latin and building strong bones)
Wishing I had more time to cook and write about food!

(*one has to invoke the goddess of the grape when a third of a deck is built!)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

time to lighten up

Jill Dupleix's is a prolific home cook and food writer, who Aussies have known about for years. Her latest effort "Lighten Up" breathes a little commonsense into the concept of eating for good health. Thankfully this is not another diet book. She engages some simple philosophies such as eating oats for breakfast, going for moderation over abstinence, having quality alcohol in smaller quantities (preferably with food) and of course getting off your bottom and moving your body more.

While she doesn't necessarily skimp on oil and the book still features it's fair share of dairy and meat - there is a great quinoa dish, lots of fish, miso, tofu and best of all - natural, vegan "ice-cream" made from bananas (I've earmarked the chocolate version).

I'd not describe the recipes as 'pure foodnazi' but I love it's down to earth approach. Recipes are simple and appear easy to follow. The short blurbs introducing the book and each section are inspiring. This is casual, health conscious yet still impressive home cooking at it's best.

Update 12/07: check out the mango ice-cream

Sunday, October 14, 2007

steamed Monk fish

I recorded my initial foray into steaming fish last year. This time I decided to follow things ‘by the book’, well not quite – there is always the inevitable ingredient twist with me. The book in this case was the Significant Eater’s well worn “The Essential Seafood Cookbook”.

I chose monk fish because it was the best option at the fishmonger’s and I’d never eaten it before. It looked fresh and a small enough in size to fit 4 fillets in my largest bamboo steamer. This was a simple meal that met both good health and great flavour requirements. It was served with some steamed potatoes, a mixed salad and a cauliflower salad. It went down a treat.

Steamed fish with ginger and chilli

4 fillets of white fish
5cm piece of ginger root, shredded
2-4 kaffir lime leaves, shredded (the original recipe calls for 2 tabs coriander stalks)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 red chilli with a bit of a kick
a splash of fish sauce (optional)
2-3 spring onions, finely sliced on the diagonal
lemon or lime juice

Line the steamer basket with baking paper (or banana leaves if you are going all out for presentation) so the fish won’t stick.

Mix the ginger, lime leaves, garlic and chilli in a bowl and add a splash of fish sauce.

Arrange the fish to lie flat in the steamer basket, the cover with the herb mix. This can be spread quite thinly as the herbs can be over powering for some with a more delicate palate.

Put enough water into the wok so it won’t boil dry, nor be too high to touch the bottom of the steamer. Place on the heat, then position the basket and cover it.

Steam 8 minutes, then add the spring onions and citrus juice. It will need a further 30 sec to a minute or 2, until the fish begins to flake.

Serve immediately with a wedge of lemon or lime.

Serves 4 with vegetables/salads/rice

getting ready to steam

Strangely this dish was not dissimilar to my original steaming effort, it just goes to show it is worth following your instincts sometimes.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

the weekly market shop

Both baskets on the trolley were groaning this week, the time on the parking meter was up and I’d reached the upper end of my budget. About 70% of purchases were organic and there were lots of out of season requests once more from the Significant Eater, still on his strict vegan diet (after today’s cholesterol test, that may change).

The haul included: sweet potatoes, cucumbers, green beans, peas, Dutch carrots, regular carrots, tomatoes, radishes, apples, pineapple, oranges, grapefruit, lemons, kiwi fruit, cos lettuce, cauliflower, pumpkin, paw paw, new season Sebago’s, roasting potatoes, celery, asparagus, corn, bananas, avocadoes, capsicum, red onions, strawberries (2 punnets of organic, about half the price of a month ago), ginger, eggs, coffee, lentils, walnuts, almonds, soy milk and for the first time – organic, brown basmati rice!

What sort of (dairy free) dishes would you make with this haul?

What does your weekly fruit and veg shop look like?

This is what you get for $150 at Vic Market.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A simple quinoa pilaf

While my diet has headed back to ‘normal’ which for me isn’t that far off a health freak’s, the significant eater is in a phase of more austere eating. This is a very conscious way of consuming – vegan, no salt, minimal oil (that only returned this week). I was very happy to see some grains back on the menu and celebrated with a pilaf. The beauty of this dish is in the simplicity - of both the ingredients and the cooking method. For it to cook without fussing use a heat diffuser (sometimes called a flame tamer) which is great for cooking other grain dishes like porridge/oatmeal. Once all the ingredients have been added you just set it on the mat and leave it alone. Improvise with your own choice of vegetables and seasonings. This is a dish with as many variations as you wish.

A simple quinoa pilaf

A touch of vegetable oil to sauté
Finely diced onion
2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed
Diced vegetables – celery, carrot, zucchini
Shitake mushrooms – I only had dried so I rehydrated in water for an hour and reserved the liquid for the stock
1.5 cups of well rinsed quinoa (this was a pretty mix of red and white because that was what we had left)
2-3 cups of water or good quality vegetable stock/mushroom soaking water
slivered toasted almonds (dry roasted) to serve

Sauté the onion, then add garlic and your vegetables of choice in a large, heavy bottomed fry pan. When they have softened a little, spread the quinoa in an even layer on top of the vegetables and pour on the stock/water until the quinoa is covered. Don’t stir! Bring to the boil, then cover and transfer the pan to a heat diffuser mat and let it cook on the lowest setting. Once again, don’t stir – just set the timer for 25 minutes and leave it.

When the time is up, turn off the heat but leave covered while you dry roast your nuts.

Serve the pilaf, top with the almond slivers and enjoy.

* I do prefer to add a bit of salt to balance the sweetness of the vegetables. Other than the toasted almonds (which were delicious) fried cubes of tempeh with a dash of tamari can also be a nice addition.

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Friday, October 05, 2007


Beans, beans, beans – wonderful little packages of goodness! With summer just around the corner the green varieties are sneaking into the stores but for now I am returning to basics and reacquainting myself with cooking dried beans from scratch. As much as I love the convenience of the organic canned varieties, despite all the rinsing the precooked ones always have sweetness to them. For a while vacuum packed, cooked beans in the QuickPulse range were available in the supermarket refrigerator. But I guess, despite it being a better tasting product the mass produced tins won out at the checkout.

If you want to cook your own beans, I heartily recommend investing in a pressure cooker. I got mine from a garage sale, in Toorak no less, for about $10 a decade or so ago. This was a barely used stainless steel job, with no exploding valves. Just give the dodgy old aluminium ones in the op shops a miss. While pressure cooking doesn’t mean you skip the soaking stage, it does cut down the cooking time and eliminate the odd burnt bean accident that has happened to me in the past when I’ve cooked conventionally. This way it’s easy to soak the beans in the morning before leaving for work and then just change the water before throwing them in the pressure cooker when you get home. Once the beast has built up a head of steam I tend to cook cannellini for about 30-35 minutes and chickpeas (garbanzo) for 45 minutes.

Do a double batch of beans because they freeze well and are great in casseroles and dips. Though I’d stick to the freshly cooked ones for use in salads.

Some great bean dishes.

White bean salad with tuna, parsley, tomato and garlic.
White bean puree with olive oil, salt and garlic
Hummus, or any bean dip with tahini, lemon and garlic
Bean stews/casseroles
Provencal: in a tomato, onion, garlic base with olives, fresh herbs and vegetables
Chilli: with those sweet Hungarian peppers for a change
Classic baked beans: with tomato and sweetness, such as maple syrup
Falafels: though the chickpea is a classic, this is the only way I like fresh broad (fava) beans.

How do you like your beans?

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

final reflections from the week that was

The Significant Eater was doing it tougher. Is it a macho thing, the “anything you can do I can do better’ credo? While I did a spring clean, he actually fasted. One friend quipped that he was getting into the spirit of Ramadan. I nibbled on apples and focused my ‘fast’ on a week or so away from being food obsessed. He, on the other hand, sipped water and poured over cookbooks. Masses of them, all meaty and hearty. The antithesis of his current diet.

While new posts of my favourite food blogs piled up to be read in bloglines, I tried (though failed) to avoid reading epicure and I did not read a single recipe. On my trip to the library I followed my regular path: return books, cruise the books and DVDs waiting to be shelved, then straight to the culinary part of non-fiction. Ah! Then I averted my eyes, detoured to design and art and completed the u-turn towards fiction.

I found that food, or to be precise, thinking about food takes up more of my day than I had previously realised. How often had I started the working day wondering where I would have lunch? And after lunch, how soon did I contemplate what would be for dinner? On Wednesday’s it was always a rush to be home before “The Cook and The Chef” started. All little things that added up.

While these small routines in themselves may not amount to a full-blown obsession, when you add a blog dedicated to thoughts on cooking, eating and occasionally drinking – it did get me thinking.

For me the spring detox is as much about giving my mind a break as it is to ‘cleanse’ the body before the onslaught of the more social end of the year. It isn’t til we break a habit, change the route we wander through life – that we can really understand how we operate.

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