Saturday, February 26, 2011

how to be a food blogger - from the master

So many pin up boys, so little time.

I've been on a bit of a David Lebovitz binge of late.

For a good reason. This guy is a master.

If you write a blog, really any kind of blog, especially one about food, read his latest post on food blogging.

If you’re just looking to get a pile of people leaving comments, you may as well just post recipes that include a cup of corn syrup or tell readers that you recommend running a cast iron skillet through the dishwasher.

Happy reading.

Have you got a food writer crush?

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

worse things than a shortage of bananas

It's been a crap summer in this part of the world. We seem to be leaping from disaster to disaster. Just as the floods, fires and cyclones are beginning to recede in Australia, it's New Zealand's turn for sorrow.

Some of you know I'm a kiwi and it's only just come to my attention that there's been a bit of quiet worry in the blogosphere as to the fate of my family and friends. It's ok, those closest to me live in Wellington, though we all know someone in the quakezone.

Full update on the almost defunct, not-about-food blog for those who are interested.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Pear and cinnamon cordial-with bonus poached fruit

It started with half a dozen slightly wrinkled apricots looking reproachfully at me from the fruit bowl. Not even organic and past their prime, I’d been musing on food wastage and felt growing levels of guilt about not consuming all that I’d bought. To extend their life a little longer I chopped off any blemishes and stewed the fruit with a scant amount of water and sugar.

Oh my goodness, I’d forgotten how good freshly stewed fruit tastes. The flavours intensified in the cooking and transformed into a fragrant treat.

A few weeks later, some pears begged for the same treatment. The end of the week fruit is like the kid picked last for the sports team. They’re not necessarily unworthy, just the stars got chosen first. Eating the fresh pear (an organic Bartlett) told me today it was perfect, neither too hard, nor too soft and the flavour subtly sweet. Not being able to get through the rest of the bowl in one sitting, poaching was the obvious solution.

I usually poach pears in port but this time wanted something more breakfast friendly so opted for a simple syrup. I like David Lebovitz’s approach and covered the simmering fruit with paper to stop them from browning. I went easier on the sugar and spiced them with cinnamon and vanilla.

The house quickly became scented with cinnamon. I’m sure it must be a mood enhancer, like a feline stalking catnip I kept pacing by the stove taking in huge wafts of the enchanting aroma.

Not only was the fruit an amazing success but I also lucked on a new drink. My love for elderflower cordial reaches almost addiction levels at times but poached pear and cinnamon syrup could rival it. The taste has the subtleness of elderflower, balanced by the base notes of cinnamon.

This following was for a small test batch, for a larger amount of cordial scale up as required.

Pear and cinnamon cordial

6 ripe pears, peeled, cored and quartered
4 cups water
1 cup sugar (plus more for the cordial)
1 cinnamon quill
1/2 – 1 vanilla pod (to round the flavour but not dominate, unless you love vanilla)
pear juice concentrate (optional)

Place the water in a large pot, add sugar and dissolve over a gentle heat. Add the spices and prepared pears, then cover with a round of parchment or baking paper with a small hole in the middle (see the Lebovitz link above if unsure how to do this). Simmer over a low heat til the pears are just cooked. Mine took about 20 minutes.

Allow the fruit to cool in the syrup to enhance the flavour, then remove the pears with enough syrup to coat them. Return the pot to the stove and bring to a simmer. As the rest of the fluid is to make a small batch of cordial you may want to add more sweetener. I used some pear juice concentrate but if you want a clear syrup add more white sugar rather than the brown concentrate. Reduce the liquid by a third then decant to a small covered bottle or jar when cool.

For a fragrant drink add 1 – 2 tablespoons of cordial to a glass of sparkling mineral or soda water.

And don’t forget to eat the poached pears, perfect as a simple healthy dessert or on cereal for breakfast.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Recipe: Fish cutlets in vine ripened tomato sauce

2011 has been about practicing mindfulness thus far for me. To date it has kept me in the moment when dealing with a new landlord (oh don’t get me started on that, it could waste a perfectly delightful moment as I sit at my desk on a sunny day writing) and stopped me from feeling too sorry for myself while succumbing to an annoying bug.

This being in the moment lark is not always easy. I remember Stephanie Dowrick writing years ago in the Saturday Age about the mindfulness of washing dishes but to be honest I’d prefer to be anywhere else than in the moment when undertaking that menial chore.

I see shopping for seasonal food as a central tenet of my practice. Going to the market with no fixed ideas of what to cook means some surprises in my basket. I recently ate a lot of daikon – stretching my cooking repertoire to using the green leaves in soup, the root raw in salads as a replacement for radish and a foray into stir fries for the crunch texture. Last week it was a wander through the fish hall for the freshest looking produce at the most reasonable price.

I returned home with modestly sized but thick, snapper cutlets with not a clue about how I’d cook them. I’ve ranted before about the Australasian phobia for fish on the bone but like most flesh, this makes it taste sweeter. The snapper is blessed with a medium sized spine with thickish ribs, making them an ideal fish to eat whole. The cutlets are also encased in omega rich skin so the whole piece is like a tidy package that stays together well when cooking. This is the ideal cut for those who can’t get through an entire fish or are working their way up to dealing emotionally with the beast. Being headless there are no eyes to distract the squeamish fish lover.

Fish cutlets are great to poach and stew as they keep their shape. With the garden bearing a host of love apples, tomatoes feature in much of what I'm cooking at the moment. I’m not sure the genesis of this recipe, finding none that fitted the bill, it came together from fragments of memory and imagination. Flying by the seat of my pants, in the moment, it turned out perfectly.

Fish in tomato and olive sauce
(serves 2)

2 tabs olive oil
2 large fish cutlets (or 4 small)
1 cup fish stock (vegetable or chicken stock would do)
1/2 cup white wine (optional)
A pinch of saffron threads, soaked in 2 tabs hot water
1 onion, chopped
A touch of chili, for subtle warmth (optional)
2-4 cloves of garlic (the more the better)
3-4 large, ripe tomatoes (or a cup or two of canned crushed tomatoes)
A decent handful, green beans, top and tailed
10 black olives (I like Kalamata)
Salt and pepper to season

Soak your saffron threads in a little hot water or stock.

Heat a heavy bottomed fry pan to medium to high, add half the olive oil and fry the fish for a minute or two both sides. This is to seal and colour the fish rather than to cook through. Put aside once seared.

Add the rest of the oil to the pan and sauté chopped onion. Because I was going to blitz the fresh tomatoes in the food processor I did the onions and garlic in it first, a great shortcut for a tired cook. Stir frequently ‘til translucent, then add the garlic and chili. After a minute or two pour in the crushed/blitzed tomatoes (mine were grand lisse still warm from the garden and perfectly ripe) wine and stock. If using warm stock, add the saffron to it for 10 minutes first, otherwise soak the saffron in warm water and add with the stock. This recipe works fine with just stock and no wine, though the alcohol adds depth of flavour. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer. After 5 minutes or so add the olives, green beans and fish. Depending on the thickness of the cutlets poach in the tomato sauce for 4-5 minutes each side ‘til cooked through.

Taste and season as required. Serve on rice or with crusty bread.

In the moment, my thoughts were on eating not photography. But feast your eyes on part of this morning's Tommy Toe haul.

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Melbourne CBD lunch quest continued

I’m loathed to write about my quest for lunch in the Melbourne CBD. Each time I post my top three lunch spots, one falls off the perch. First Sataybar closed its nearby store. Then last time my beloved dosas dropped off the radar. Both Nila City and Sydney Road are long gone. Though the De Graves Street spot is now occupied by the sister shop to the Lygon Street fish/burger/sushi chain that includes a small selection of brown rice nori rolls.

A year or two ago I added Ume Sushi House to my lunchtime treats. Little Bourke Street isn’t usually in my city circuit but it’s now become the eatery of choice on the days that I have enough time to stroll and eat at a more leisurely pace. Nori Rolls aside, the dishes at Ume are generous and appropriately priced in the $10-15 range. Not an everyday lunch choice for me but makes a nice treat.

Though I was taken by their vegetable tempura bento for awhile, it’s just too much food to get through for me as it includes not just a generous array of tempura but also miso soup, small salads, rice AND a vegetarian nori roll.

My current treat is their chirashi sushi. There are so many variations on this dish, often translated as “scattered” sushi, that each restaurant’s version is unique. Ume’s presentation is a delight and the bonito flecked condiment in the bottom right corner (can someone tell the me the name of it?) is a tasty addition.

What's on your lunchtime menu at the moment?

Ume Sushi House
383-385 Little Bourke Street,
Melbourne VIC 3000
Open 9-5 weekdays

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