Thursday, October 30, 2008

menu booboos

Cafe in The Causeway, Melbourne. October 2007

It was so bad I had to take a photo.

Sadly didn't have a handy digital on me in the mid-90's when at Joe's Garage (Fitzroy) I saw the new waitress diligently chalking up the specials board. The fish du jour...
"Barramundi marinated in prozac"

I kid you not!

Have you got a favourite menu booboo?

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

beyond the fridge door - time to share your hidden secrets

I missed Wendy’s expose of bloggers fridge doors last month. But inspired by a memory I have on the contents of said fridges I thought I’d belatedly share the whole caboodle.

Twenty years ago I rocked up to a house interview. One housemate was absent but the other did a great job at telling me how they lived. In the end he just said, “look inside the fridge”. And that was that. I knew I could live with this person. And eat well too.

(Andy you know who you are, if you’re lurking out there – don’t be a stranger!)

While Wendy explored the doors of fridges (which if Jung or Freud were around now, am sure they’d be equally fascinated with), I’m daring you to go further. Take a candid shot, no rearranging or waiting for a better moment, of the inside of your refrigerator (ice box or esky) RIGHT NOW. I dare you to post it.

My pictures are a little blurry but you get a good snapshot of how we are eating right now. At least at the front of the fridge, it would take too long to document each shelf. And anyway, I suspect some scary things are lurking back there!

If you get the urge to share this window to your soul stomach, post your pictures on your blog this week and leave a link back to your post in my comments. Will do a round up in 8 days.

Click on the images in my much neglected Flickr photostream for details and more fridge images.

What does this fridge say about the SE and me? More on info on flickr

Come on inside..Comes with 18 exciting notes in Flickr

...and have a drink. Once more the Flickr notes try to make sense of it.



is it just me, or didn't I get it?

I walked down a familiar alleyway. One that I used to work next to, where a colleague’s client was once assaulted. The place had changed. No huge dumpsters stinking of garbage. Not a discarded syringe in sight. (Which made me think – the best way to “clean up” the streets of Melbourne is to put in more bars and restaurants, have a doorman keeping an eye on things.)

So our arrival at Canary Club was unexpectedly delightful. Nestled next to the exclusive Kelvin Club, the mosaic studded entrance way was welcoming. We told the guy on the door that we were here to eat, yet strangely instead of giving us a table downstairs, ushered us up to the club area, where we were to dine semi reclined on large day beds.

Perhaps we were the wrong demographic. The staff were professional but it got under my skin after a while to be asked every ten minutes “is everything alright ladies?”. I aint no lady! I also find that kind of over servicing a tad intrusive when you are obviously in the depths of conversation. Yet, when it came to clearing empty glasses there was no asking whether we wished to drink more.

Canary club serves tapas, it had been offered as the place to go when Movida is (inevitably) full. Yet the two places are like chalk and cheese. Canary Club seemed to have a forced atmosphere. The DJ was doing his stuff, very quietly at that hour of the night. Most people upstairs, lounging, were there to eat as well. Though some sweet young things seated around one of the few tables, clutching their drinks looked like they were there for action, though none could be found.

The food was ok. It’s tapas, which is always a challenge to create a balanced meal. We ate a generous calamari salad, the seafood just the acceptable side of cooked before becoming chewy and the vegetables were heavy on raw sweet onion and rocket. There were some swordfish skewers, attractive and tasty. My friend had a serve of slow cooked lamb that she said was enjoyable.

I had a fino from the very small selection of Spanish Sherries. I would have had another, if asked.

While there was nothing wrong with Canary Club, it was like a child that hadn’t grown into its clothing yet.

The website describes the place as:
Situated at the end of a typical Melbourne laneway, inspired by the tapas bars of Barcelona, Canary Club draws you in and greets you upon arrival with its rich tapestry of Gaudi styled tiles.
Set over two levels, it has the essence of the funky Hairy Canary - with a six metre cocktail bar downstairs and a sexier lounge area upstairs. The large chocolate day beds create an ambiance of decadent naughtiness.

Perhaps my experience of tapas bars in Barcelona is a tad out of date but it didn’t remind me of them at all. Having seen the Gaudi tiles, there mosaics are pleasant but not in the masters league. I just got the feeling the designer had never been to Spain.

As for decadent naughtiness, if the cutie at the door that led us in person upstairs had lounged with us and fed us by hand. Now that would have created the atmosphere they were after.

While Hairy Canary has been around long enough to be a Melbourne institution, it has got ambience sussed without trying to force it. Canary Club feels more like a wannabe cousin than a younger sibling.

But who knows, it might just grown into what it wants to be. One day.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

dolmades and wine

At this time of year I am getting to watch the grapevine grow before my eyes.

Last year with the extreme cut back, for the garden makeover, we didn't know if the 50-plus years old vine would survive the drought. It flourished but there were no grapes. The previous year it had been laden, so much fruit it was hard to pick it all before the birds got them.

With even less than usual rain this winter, I wasn't too hopeful about the state of the grapevine. I never water it. I figure its roots must be pretty deep by now. But it is a tough country to be a plant in at the moment.

Two weeks ago, I took a shot of the first leaves.

This morning the same leaves looked like this.

Abundance, half a dozen bunches have sprung up since I last blinked.

I see dolmades, in the next month before the leaves toughen under the summer sun. Anyone want to join me in November for an inner city afternoon of blanching and rolling and cooking? It is an activity best shared with wine and laughter.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

bachelorette eating

I shudder a little writing the “B” word in the title. It’s an Americanism that doesn’t relate to my single days at all. But I can think of no nifty phrase that immediately captures being home alone and cooking just for myself.

There is going to be quite a few solo dinners over the next month or two. The Significant Eater is in studio lockdown finishing his Fine Arts degree, then off to New York for a study tour. I know, nice for some!

Last night I got a taste of what it will be like coming home alone for dinner. Not an entirely empty house as there is always a bevy of hungry, affectionate cats to greet me.

When just whipping something up for dinner for myself, I steer towards one pot, pan or dish, wonders. A simple meal, no side dishes, quickly created. So last night it was a return to an old favourite, a Spanish omelette topped with fresh asparagus. While the evening before, cooking for two, was a Sri Lankan style vegetable curry, with basmati rice, achard and mango pickles. Spot the difference?

Summer solo eating, apart from the aforementioned tortilla espanol, means salads with a can of tuna, salmon or a premade veggie burger or slab of marinated tofu. Even with a bit of blanching of asparagus or beans it still only takes 5-10 minutes to prepare.

But considering I have at least a month of this coming my way – what do you like to cook up, just for yourself? I did it for years but I’ve become out of practice.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

confessions of a food nazi - word cloud

Word cloud courtesy of Wordle

I think there's some Beat poetry hiding in there somewhere :)

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

muffin time

I’d forgotten how easy it is to make muffins. A bowl of wet ingredients, another of dry – mix together and bake.


I almost followed a recipe, just improvised a little along the way.

Of course when I compare what I made to the original – the methodology is the same, the ingredients improvised and quantities are a little fuzzy. Strangely, at the time I was making the muffins I was sure I was following it to the T.

So I’ll make it easy. If you haven’t got your own favourite banana muffin recipe, then follow Catherine’s. I figure that if over 250 people have commented on it, the majority having happily used the recipe themselves, you couldn’t go wrong.

But if you want to walk on the wild side, then follow my version.

Banana muffins with cherries, walnuts and nutmeg

Turn the oven onto 175 c

Wet ingredients

30 g melted butter
1/3 cup (or more) maple syrup
2 large ripe bananas, mashed (more if you’ve got them)
1 egg, lightly beaten

Combine the above ingredients, letting the melted butter cool down before mixing it with the beaten egg.

Dry ingredients

A large handful of dried cherries (I found some in the pantry clean out and thought – why not?)
A large handful of walnuts
1.5 cups of flour – I used a mixture of 3/4 wholemeal and 1/4 rice flour (why? Because they were there)
1 level tsp bicarb soda/baking soda
1 level tsp baking powder
Scant 1/2 tsp sea salt
A generous pinch freshly ground nutmeg (it was about 1/4 of a small nutmeg)

Chop the dried fruit and nuts. Combine the flours and other powdery things in a bowl. Toss the fruit and nuts through it til they are coated in flour.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones and stir, just a little, don’t over work it.

Spoon into greased muffin tins.

Cook for 20 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack.


UPDATE: Have made a few tweaks and this version of the cherry muffins is even better!

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

more lemons

A friend gave me an armful of lemons off her tree yesterday. They are thick skinned and have a medium amount of juice. It’s a long time since I preserved any but in the spirit of pickling things, I got the urge to make a jar.

Previous endeavours in preserving lemons have taught me to downsize. While its nice to give away jars of homemade produce, I found that if you like cooking with preserved lemons you tend to make your own, while those who don’t just tend to let the gifted jars gather dust.

It only takes 5 minutes to put a bottle together. Recipes vary. I tend to follow Stephanie Alexander but you know me by now, I read one version, then another elsewhere and just go ahead with no measurements and throw something together.

I managed to get 3-4 large lemons into one of those coffee jars that old ladies in Op Shops tend to think are worth a dollar a pop.

Five minute preserved lemons

Wash your lemons. Scrub them if necessary. Make sure your fruit is home grown, organic, no spray (or from a reliable organic source) – remember it is the skin you will be eating so you want it chemical-free and clean.

Slice your lemons into wedges. When I’ve done large jars in the past I have partially quartered whole fruit – cutting through the lemon about 4/5 of the way through and pushed some salt and spices into the wedges. For a small container leaving them whole was not an option, so cut each lemon into 8 wedges.

Pack the wedges into a jar with the odd scatter of black peppercorns. Don’t be afraid to push the lemons down with a bit force to reduce some of the juice and oils.

Squeeze some extra lemons (great use for the ones with slightly blighted skins), enough to cover the wedges. Before pouring, stir in a generous handful of rock salt. Let it dissolve a little before pouring the juice over the fruit.

Pop in a stick of cassia if desired.

Seal well.

Keep them on the bench for a week or so, giving them a gentle shake each day.

When you start using them either top with more fresh lemon juice to keep the fruit covered, or pour a thin layer of vegetable oil to top the jar and refrigerate.

Use the skin of the lemons (discarding the pulp) in Middle Eastern dishes, salads and fishy creations.

For those who prefer their recipes with more precise measurements – check out Lucy’s recipe for speedy preserved lemons. I hope her new home has a lemon tree!

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

pickling while Wall Street burns*

When I am brave enough to continue my kitchen audit and spring clean the refrigerator (who knows, today could be the lucky day) I know there is going to be a plethora of jams, chutneys and relishes. The reality is my tastebuds tend to opt for savoury over sweet. As much as I like sweet things, I prefer salt, spice and alliums as a major part of my daily flavour profile. Because of this pickles and other unsweetened preserves never last long in the house.

The Significant Eater is a bit of a pickle-fiend. He has a thing for pickles of the European variety like onions, gherkins, eggs and rollmops but his love of Kimchi is legendary. On the top of my list is a good Indian mango pickle and our new favourite - achard, which hails from Mauritius.

A few weeks ago I spotted a tub of yellow vegetables, at a deli at Vic Market weeks ago and they’ve become a bit of a staple. Traditionally they are eaten with white bread and meat, neither being quite my thing. Instead I have added them as a side to vegetarian curries, smoked fish and the SE has been popping them into his sandwiches.

Pickles should be simple to make so I began searching for recipes, given we are getting through them so fast. Like the achard I bought the standard combination of vegetables seems to be cabbage, cauliflower, carrots and green beans. All recipes I looked at had onion, mustard seeds and garlic to flavour, with chilli, vinegar and turmeric being optional.

The brilliant yellow colour comes from the mustard seed oil, rather than the turmeric. I haven’t used this oil before and only occasionally worked with the seeds themselves. The oil, like the seeds, imparts an earthiness rather than just heat or spice. If you believe everything you read about mustard it could be competing for superfood status. It is reportedly high in the antioxidant selenium (though this depends on the status of the soil it is grown in) like garlic and as a member of the Brassica family has the reputation of being an anti-cancer food like all the rest of the cabbage clan.

For my first batch of Achard dé legumes I was inspired by a recipe from Madeleine Philippe. Here is my variation.

Mauritian pickles

1/4 – 1/2 green cabbage (depending on size), finely sliced
1/4-1/2 cauliflower, broken into small florets
2 carrots, julienned finely
a generous handful green beans (not in season yet so I stuck to my smaller sized hand for this measurement), finely sliced lengthways
180 ml (approx) mustard seed oil
2 tablespoons mustard seeds (I used yellow but the recipe calls for black) next time I’ll use more
6 cloves of garlic, crushed next time I’ll use more
1-2 large brown or white onions, finely sliced
1 large chilli (I used red though some recipes call for green) next time I’ll use more
2-3 tablespoons white vinegar
salt to taste

Sharpen your largest knife, pour a glass of wine, crank up the stereo or have someone around to chat and lend a hand.

Slice your way through the mound of vegetables. Cut as finely has you have the patience for. I separated my veg into 2 big bowls based on denseness and blanching time – the cabbage and beans in one, the cauliflower and carrots in another.

Get a large pot of water boiling.

When you have a rolling boil gently pour in the cauliflower and carrots, once the water comes back to the boil cook for another minute before adding the cabbage and beans. Give them a further minute or two on the boil before straining and cooling in ice water. The vegetables should still have some crunch. Once cooled leave them to strain, as you want to get as much water out as possible.

In a large pot, preferably one with a thick bottom, pour in the mustard oil and add the onion. Cook over a low heat, stirring frequently, until the onions are transparent. Next add the mustard seeds, garlic and turmeric. Give it another stir. Now combine the chilli and drained vegetables. You may need to add more oil, the idea is to coat them with the yellow fluid but not make them swim.

Now season with salt. While the spices will mature a bit with time the saltiness will stay the same.

Allow the vegetables to cool, and then mix in the vinegar.

Sterilize some wide mouth jars (hot wash in dishwasher, or cleaned by hand with detergent and water, followed by 20 minutes in a low oven).

This test batch filled 3 recycled, 500gm sized jars.

Pack your jars and refrigerate. Try to leave them at least a couple of days before devouring.

Last night we added the pickles as a side dish to a particularly spicy kedgeree. It both boosted the vegetable content of the meal and tempered the heat. It tasted so good that though I was full enough to burst, I still felt bereft that I couldn’t finish my plate.

Today for lunch I topped some rye bread with mayo, avocado, smoked salmon and achard. I see no end in sight for the pickle love-fest in progress in this house at the moment!


Shelf life? If the pickles remain well covered with oil, brine or vinegar, stored in sterilized jars (don’t forget the lids) that seals well and kept in the refrigerated they should last for at least a year. However always use commonsense – look for any signs of mould, sniff and taste cautiously. As we are getting through a jar a week, I’m unlikely to find out just how long they will last.

Pickles are a good way to extend the life of vegetables but always use fresh, good quality produce to begin with.

It is great to use up a glut of seasonal produce.

Almost any vegetables can be blanched and pickled with vinegar or brine and spices.

It means there are vegetables on hand at times when the cupboards are bare or the fresh stuff is scarce.

While most nutritionists will tell you there is Vitamin C in pickles like this, in reality this nutrient is lost from the moment the plant is picked and cooking further depletes the C. However they still have a lot of fibre and trace nutrients.

*Have you noticed how fancy magazines like to feature recipes for jams, pickles and other preserves these days? I expect there will be even more of these as part of a new Depression Era Chic. I know most of our grandmothers would be aghast at buying a kilo or two of fruit or vegetables (often out of season at exorbitant prices) and a few designer jars. Preserving comes out of a tradition of ‘waste not, want not’ using up any excess produce that you have grown yourself to keep you fed during the lean months. If you can’t grow your own, look out for seasonal gluts, farm gate sales and buying in bulk at wholesale markets.

Today’s exploration of mustard seeds is in celebration of Weekend Herb Blogging, this week hosted by the delightful Susan from The Well Seasoned Cook

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

from the depths of the pantry

In case of nuclear war

2.5 jars of green/brown and 1 of red lentils

3 packets of millet

2 red/1 white packets of quinoa

4 tins of borlotti beans

a wide assortment of dried beans



3 opened bottles of rice wine vinegar

2 open bottles of Chinese chili oil

lots of different bottles of vinegar (balsamics of varying ages, red wine, white wine, sherry, 2 x apple cider)

3 jars of dried shitake mushrooms (originally fresh, then if not all used dry rapidly in the paper bags they are bought in)

rices of every description

at least 8 bags of gluten-free pasta and a few wheat ones as well

5 packets of plain rice crackers

plus the stockpile of organic canned beans and tomatoes in the laundry

a respectable amount of


rice noodles

coconut milk

canned kidney beans and chickpeas






dried fruit

corn thins

cooking oil




an open packet of salty plums

rancid seeds and nuts

baked goods lingering in tins too long

some rice cakes that tasted like polystyrene

lots of extraneous packaging

Neat and tidy

Multiples amalgamated into bigger receptacles and little bits down graded to smaller.

Most of the bottles of various liquids rehoused in a sturdy baking tray so can be moved en masse when needed.

Cupboard now clean and usable...but for how long? Due to having such a small kitchen (though bigger than the last one) there is another cupboard with overflow food, the tea/coffee and assorted things that don't fit anywhere cupboard, the spice drawer and the fridge which almost every open sauce bottle, jams, pickles, chutneys, relishes and goodness knows what else - gets shoved in there.

PS: I guess it will be dal for dinner tonight.

Update: The SE made a nice silverbeet (the last from the garden) and lentil spicy concoction for dinner with brown rice. Spent the night in a fair amount of um..intestinal dyscomfort.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

archaeology in the kitchen

I spent a good hour chopping, stirring and chatting tonight, a most satisfying way to welcome the weekend. After thinking about it for a week or two, I made my first batch of Mauritian pickles (achard). I’ve been buying them from a deli at Vic Market and am absolutely addicted. Will let you know how they turn out once they have matured a little while.

I have to instigate my own pantry challenge sometime soon. There is a truckload of brown lentils taking up space and as much as I don’t mind lentils it takes a lot of effort to whip up any sense of enthusiasm for them I must admit. Can you make anything remotely sexy with lentils?

Next cab off the rank is beancurd skin. The use by date is this week. Though I hardly think it will go off. I bought them to make this recipe but I’ve begun playing with the stuff and will need to get another pack if I am to cook what I intended.

For lunch today I made a flat Asian omelette with spring onions, garlic and coriander and wrapped it with some mango pickle in rehydrated beancurd skin. Interesting. I’ve read they make a good gluten-free alternative for dim sum wrappers.

I bought manioc flour a month or two ago. No idea why right now. Any suggestions?

Elected to have a night at home being cooked for, over an offer to go and see roller derby in the flesh. As much as my curiosity was roused by the image of skater girls duking it out, it is an all too rare event at this end of the academic year to not be the one getting dinner on the table. I grazed on raw vegetables while making the pickles then feasted on whole flathead baked in the oven with Asian flavours and some crispy potatoes on the side. Yum!

More good news, the price of Green & Blacksdark cherry chocolate has gone down in price substantially. It is not fairtrade any more, despite showing the image on their homepage. By keeping only one product as fairtrade it seems to legitimise the use of the logo on the site. No Cadbury branding either. At least it is still certified organic and the combo of sour cherries with dark chocolate tastes just as good as it always does.

I’m almost afraid to excavate to the back of the cupboard to see what is lurking there. It’s a very small space but it amazing what is packed in there. Anyone else conducting an archaeological style dig in their store cupboard?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

what you wish for

I asked for spring.

And I got it…hayfever and all.

I asked for fresh green vegetables to eat straight from the garden.

And I got Brussels spouts.
A season too late but neither of us had any idea how they grew before.

Then last week I was at David Jones salivating over the bone china, as I do. I coveted some lovely little coffee cups in the Sarah’s Garden range.

I decided that I could not justify the expenditure (capitalism is on the brink of imploding, there is only so long I can live on baby Brussels sprouts).

Then on Saturday while en route to my lovely football-free lunch, I spied an older version of the cups in a junk shop. They have a green background with butterflies rather than the current blue, botanical style but they were sweet none the less.

And they came to me for the meagre price of $6 each.

With the spring goddess reining her gifts down upon on, what are you wishing for?

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