Sunday, 28 March 2010
communal cooking is fast becoming a lost art. The ritual of tomato day (as seen in the seminal Australian film, "Looking for Alibrandi"), is something that only seems to happen these days in ethnic enclaves, like the wine making or olive pressing days of the Greek community in Dromana. Tomato Day is that wonderful women's ritual, when all the female members of a family all get together, usually in Nonna's kitchen, to boil, bottle, can, cook, puree, peel and preserve the last of the season's tomatoes, ready to keep the family in passata and sugo for the rest of the year.
When Mater Beige and the Hobbit married, a Fowlers Vacola kit was de rigeur as a wedding present. The art of canning, or preserving and laying down fruits and vegetables was considered just another part of running a house.
While I am grateful I don't have to use a mangle to wash my family's clothing, and I love my new steam iron, I do mourn for the lost arts of communal cooking.
It's easy to grab a can of SPC peaches out of season, and there is a real place in my kitchen for frozen veggies. What I mourn for most is the women's mysteries of Tomato Day. When recipes and tips and secrets and gossip brewed and bubbled along side the pounds of tomatoes.
Cooking feeds my soul, and sharing cooking knowledge and cooking space is, to me, a very intimate experience. The process of cooking is how I nurture those I love. And to do it with other women is a profoundly spiritual and moving thing, for me. There's something about being together weighing and measuring and tasting that I find deeply soothing.
So to this end I was both chuffed and honoured when my darling friend Georgie suggested we get together to turn her box of end-of-season tomatoes into sauce and passata. We poured a glass of wine, poured over some cookbooks and sliced and diced and cooked and baked and measured and pored and laughed and sighed and bitched and moaned and nurtured both one another and our families.
More soul-fulfilling than a coven meeting, more bonding than a chick-flick, more fun than a night out on the tear (and cheaper!), the art of turning whole produce into a rich, thick sauce is almost alchemic. And the secret of this magical process? Passion and laughter.
off to turn those bags of yumions into caramelised onion jam.
Wednesday, 24 March 2010
I'd much rather be up decorating YOUR cake until midnight, that celebrating my day. However, I think I missed my calling as an events planner, and LOVE planning the most minute detail of a do... but more about the pleasure of my guests than my own.
So I recently was treated to an AWESOMELY cheesey birthday bash, in which I had no input. I am such a control freak, that I actually found it quite difficult to have no input into the event.
The theme was "Indulgence", which as my nearest and dearest know, usually means something to do with food!
So, without further ado, here are the pics of my cheesy, indulgent birthday bash (complete with private chef flambe-ing, and rose petal-sprinkled private spa). The photos on my birthday dinner are here.
Wednesday, 17 March 2010
Omakase means "It's up to you" (from Japanese 任す, entrust). It's when the patron leaves the choice of dish up to the chef himself. Last night, Lima Bean and I celebrated the last day of his Birth Week with his actual present. An Omakase experience at Shira Nui. Chef Hiro Nishikura's Omakase comprises dishes made up of two pieces of sushi or sashimi, served at just-the-right moment, although, depending on how hungry you are, you can stop any time. This style of dining allows Nishikura to show off his considerable skill.T he chef will generally present a series of plates, beginning with the lightest fare and proceeding to heaviest, richest dishes. Omakase is not exclusive to the serving of raw dishes and simmering and frying is also an option.
The implied undertone of Omakase is that the chef will use the very best ingredients at his disposal, and his very finest skills to present you with a perfect morsel of food.
And Nishikura did not disappoint. From the very first dory seasoned lightly with lemon juice and salt, via marinated tuna on sweet yam and wakame, with a taste-gasm segue to peppered seared Wagu, gliding home through red clams to the pinnacle of the experience, the fried oyster, every single piece of the Omakase menu was exquisite.
I have a photo of every dish, but with Lima Bean pretty much yelling at me "Put down the camera and eat", some of them were pretty dodgy.
Lima and I, being the ridiculously obsessive foodies that we are, pretty much talked about nothing except flavours and textures and mouthgasms all night.
The highlight of the event MUST be the final portion, a perfectly fried oyster, wrapped in nori, seasoned with light soy. Every single thing.. from the temperature at service, to the creaminess of the texture was perfect.
I simply cannot rave about this highly enough. The service was perfect, the food sublime.
Monday, 15 March 2010
Social Networking at its best.
2 months ago I finally pinned down World's Best Daughter, Mme Mouse, about her impending 21st birthday. When I was a wee lass, a 21st birthday was akin to a wedding... halls needed to be booked about a year in advance, invitations took 6 weeks to print, flowers and food needed to be ordered months before the day.
These days, apparently, it's de rigeur to leave it all to the last minute.
So, as I mentioned, just over 2 months ago I finally stopped getting that "It's AGES away" look, and got Mme Mouse to make some decisions about the venue.
After some false starts ("No darling, you cannot have 350 people at the Aquarium"), we settled on a venue that sounded perfect... a cafe and art space, with provision for me to do some of the catering, a funky retro-fitted inner city vibe and well withing budget.
The 1000 £ BEND cafe.
2 months ago.
The past 8 weeks have been dedicated to weekly emails, almost daily phone calls, several in-person visits by Mme Mouse, only to be told, by email, ten days ago that the venue is now no longer available on the date we wanted it.
We were, to be fair, given several other dates that the venue was available for us, but up to the point of publication of this post, I have not yet heard back from the venue as to the availability of any of them.
I am NO business woman, but I cannot, for the life of me, see how a business can stay afloat with this sort of ethic.
Enter social networking tools.
Like Face Book and Twitter.
One 140 character post in my twitter stream resulted in the name and number of one Robyn from Venues Galore. Less than one week later, we have an awesome venue booked, with provision for pretty much everything we need and want. It's not a Scout Hall in the Boonies either, it's the uber funky and delicious Belgian Beef Cafe. With imported fixtures from **duh** Belgium, such as opulent chandeliers, and leather banquettes and Art Nouveau inspired interior, it positively radiates class!
They are available at the price we want to pay, on the day we want it, and the experience of booking and choosing food (such as twice cooked pork belly with pickled apple or the fried Gruyere and Emmenthal croquettes) has been seamless and painless.
I am usually ranting on about the inequality of food marketing and the problems of sourcing organic chevre in the suburbs.. and I am really not all on board for shout-outs, but both Robyn at Venues Galore and the Beer Cafe have been so stupendously accommodating and professional, I felt it was the least I could do.
Avoid all the hassles of getting bent over by people like 1000 £ BEND and go straight to the professionals.
Can't WAIT to report in on the actual event!
Friday, 12 March 2010
Which makes it an odd choice of name for a wonderful little deli in the heart of chi-chi pooh-pooh Laburnum.
THE TWIG & TWO BERRIES, 5 SALISBURY AVE BLACKBURN, 9877 4991
Super child, The Lima Bean has been waxing lyrical about this place as his "go-to" when he was a student at Box Hill High.
Unlike some mothers, I never had to worry about my kids roaming the streets, getting into mischief. I was more worried that they'd spend all their money on random organic cheese and bring it home for me to cook with.
So it was only recently, after 6 years of having The Lima Bean rave about this place, that I managed to get there.
They stock an awesome array of cheeses, smallgoods, pastas, passattas, Simply Tomato products, Lush deserts, Doodles creek yumminess and more.
They also stock Ben and Jerry's ice cream.
Ben and Jerry's is an American brand that I am only familiar with via online forums. As well as this place, SOLE Mama's, FB, Twitter and Chow, I run an online support network for women. It's a small community of some 300 souls, it's locked and closed and as secure as an Internet site can get. It's here that we plot and plan and scheme and support and nurture and air our dirty laundry.
And talk about food.
And I must confess that it's actually the only place I've ever heard of Ben and Jerry's. But that's probabaly due more to the fact that I don't watch commercial television than somehow missing out on having my finger on the ice-cream zeitgeist button.
I have heard of Cherry Garcia and I get the cultural reference, but I didn't know the brand!!
So I had actually heard of B&J's Cookie Dough icecream.
And yeah, I thought it sounded disgusting.
But when Lima and I were at the twig and two berries, there is was... in the freezer...
I've had women at The Tavern RAVE about this.. offer to pay my air fare to the US JUST to taste it.... offer to somehow send me punnets of it.
Babes I am SO glad you didn't. Because it tastes like crap.
Just like it sounds, think lumps of uncooked chocolate chip biscuit dough mixed with vanilla ice cream.
I profusely apologize to Lunchy and Kamper and Fun Mom and all my American sisters who've raved about this to me over the past eight years, but I just didn't get it.
However, I DID get the Woodside Saltbush chevre. Oh yes, I did...
Kris Lloyd at Woodside Cheese Wrights, is probably best known for pioneering a range of seasonal cheeses, with innovative packaging and presentation, that takes advantage of seasonal variations in milk supply. Woodside Cheese Wrights has won numerous cheese awards throughout Australia, including the Grand Dairy Award, and has won the South Australian Premiers Food Award in 2002 , 2004, 2005 and 2006. In 2008 Woodside Cheese Wrights was awarded 1 gold and 2 silver medals at the renowned World Cheese Awards held in Dublin - Woodside was the only Australian cheese maker to receive a gold medal in these awards.
The milk is set using a traditional long set method overnight. The following day the curd is ladled into cheesecloth bags . We allow the curd to drain for several hours this process is very gentle as the curd has a delicate structure. This product is pure with only a small amount of salt being added. Once salted a further draining process occurs for a period of ten days.
Our Chevre has a mild, flavour with almost a lemony tang, this comes from the acid in the cheese.
This product is particularly favoured by chef around Australia, it is perfect on its own and makes an ideal partner to both sweet and savoury dishes. Chevre can be used in tarts, both sweet and savoury, terrines and wherever a crumbling Goats cheese is called for.
We decided to team up this cheese with some Tassie smoked salmon and some home made pasta.
Cook the pasta until al dente, drain and return to the pot, crumble the chevre and let the heat of the pasta melt it a little. Tear the salmon into wee bits and add, again, letting the inherent warmth of the pasta heat it through without cooking it.
Serve with a couple of finely minced capers and some sea salt.
Thursday, 4 March 2010
50,000 all over the world have basked in the organic duck-fatty goodness of AGITK.
That's VISITS, people.. not just hits.
People who stopped, read, (hopefully) laughed, and maybe took away a recipe or two. Maybe a personal truth or three. Who knows, maybe even changed the way the shop or eat. Or think about food.
Because without you, my dear readers, there would be no AGITK,
Sometimes, clearly it IS all about you.
I have the latitude and longitude of every single one of you, so watch out for a Thank-you card ;)
Monday, 1 March 2010
Just stop trying that have children now. In fact, if you already have children, just sell them off for scientific experiments. That way, at least you'll recoup some of your losses.
Because I have, simply, the best son in the world. He's totally gorgeous, articulate, well-mannered, comes from excellent breeding stock, sends grammatically correct SMS's and loves his Mum. He does housework without being asked, remembers we're out of washing powder (and picks it up himself on the way home.). His friends are all just delightful. Funny, quirky kids with great senses of humour, who are all destined to achieve really REALLY cool things (yes, I AM talking about you, Stephanotis!). Maybe it's where we come from but you can talk to these kids about anything from racism to politics, from weasel-words to insidious advertising and get a really interesting, thoughtful, well thought-out, articulate response.
Oh, and they all have AWESOME manners!
SO you might just have to deal with the truth.
Face it. Your children will NEVER be as good as mine.
He also loves to cook. This is the child who supervised a great deal of the catering for my wedding. At only 12 years old.
If there is one thing my son knows.. it's food.
So, as World's Best Daughter goes back to 4th year Uni, Lima Bean starts his Gap Year.
Lima attended a programme for Gifted Students, has been a CHIP kid since 4 and has spent an inordinate amount of time doing things like chess lessons and performing in amateur theatre.
He's been a busy kid.
SO this Gap Year is designed to ease the pressure of doing VCE in a Gifted stream, and just allow him to hang.. and be a normal nearly 18 y/o (Oh, Christ, did I REALLY just type that?)
So he's now working.. and in true Lima form, got the first job he applied for, in the first interview.
And within a week of him getting a job, he had to take a day off to have ALL FOUR WISDOM TEETH OUT.
That is some seriously mean-arse pain right there.. and swelling.
Except, (and this may NOT be the last time I wax lyrical about how freaking made of 49 different and distinct types of awesome my son is made up of) this is the still 17 y/o who went back to work within 2 days of the surgery.
Oh, yeah, there is some serious Übermensch going on right there!
(it's alright if you have to Google that word, really.. it doesn't make you thick. It just means your parents didn't love you enough to give you a "proper" education. But then again, you were probably too stupid to deserve one, anyway. )
So, for the past two weeks we've been living on pureed congee, colcannon, smoothies and ice cream. All good stuff... the congee was what can only be described as a umami-bomb. And I took a gamble and pureed some Massaman beef curry. And achieved what could be best described as taste-varna.
But there come a time, when the thick creamy goodness of homemade chicken soup cannot be outdone by something with texture. So rather than go from congee to Nachos, we're heading there via last weeks pesto and also moussaka.
I know, my Big Fat Greek Contingent of readers out there will be swooning, but trust me.. the variation on a theme here was worth it.
PG's Moose Kaka.
Cube 500g of lean lamb. Marinate overnight in some olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice and fresh oregano. Slow cook (for at least 3 hours) the next day with:
3 tablespoons Olive oil
1 Onion; chopped fine
1 clove Garlic; chopped fine
4 1/2 cups Chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons Chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons Whole oregano
1 cup Dry red wine
8 ounces Tomato sauce
1/4 teaspoon Ground cinnamon
1 pinch Ground allspice
Salt and Freshly-ground black pepper to taste
(this is my recipe for Greek tomato sauce and can be made separately from the Moose Kaka and kept in the fridge for up to 5 days)
layer a baking dish with some Arborio rice (we needed the texture, what can I say.. we were sick to death of potato!), add a few goodly knobs of butter and some vegetable stock.
Top with the slow cooked lamb mix, top this with some grilled eggplant (I bought mine at a Greek deli, but you can make your own) and the seal the whole shebang with a thick layer of bechamel sauce, thickened with Kefalotiri cheese. (Kefalograviera will do just as well, or you can use Gruyere).
Bake the whole thing in a medium (200C) oven for about 1.5 hours and scarf with a green salad with some olives.