Tuesday 24 June 2008


Sunday 22 June 2008

Exotic stuff!!

I often wonder if my food ravings fall on deaf (or possibly bored) ears... Like anyone with an obsession, I find that most of my conversations centre around it. When asked "How are you?" I will most often reply with an answer that has food at the core.. "I'm stuffed, I cooked for 16 last night" or "I'm great! I tried a recipe for bouillabaisse last night and it was da BOMB!" or even "I am so freakin excited, I just found a local supplier of my favourite rasa al hanout!" I have been increasingly aware that I have very little else in my life except my food obsession, and was becoming concerned that I should maybe broaden my horizons.

Until this weekend when my friend Jo asked me out on a food date.

Apparently, several months ago a series of food shops opened up at Doncaster Westfield, and Jo has been walking around the centre for months thinking to herself "pg would LOVE this!!"

So maybe those ears are not so bored, and there IS a social need to open up discourse on food, food miles, SOLE food and what constitutes GOOD food. As part of my theory on "What is Australian Food", I surmise that as we, as a society, further evolve, we move further from the food of the traditional Motherland, and are entering a phase where the food of our actual citizens becomes less of the exotic, and more of the mainstream.

Like any adolescent, we're breaking the ties with Mum and Dad, and evolving our own identity, based on the sum of our experiences. And the reality for Australia, and its cuisine, is that a huge percentage of our collective experiences are from other cultures.

Thus more and more purveyors of food and food stuffs are carrying the ingredients and the flavours of Africa, or central Europe, of Latin America, of the Orient.

And this is what is obvious in 4 shops in a pretty standard suburban shopping centre.

The first shop is Jones the Grocer. You know that Australian palates are changing, when you have a providor with a cheese room, in the 'burbs. There are various tasting stations, the presentation is immaculate, the staff are young, good-looking and knowledgeable, and the food is SENSATIONAL. Their macadamia fudge made me make a mess in my rompers, and I am not a sweet-toothed person. You can buy anything from Tartuflanghe Italian acacia honey with truffle to Jones the Grocer's own brand of lavosh. Galler Belgium chocolate to dried porcinis.

The second shop is Oil and Vinegar. As far as I can find out, it is the first of this franchise in Australia, Again, presentation is immaculate, the feature wall being covered with a dozen or so glass amphorae with different oils and, well.. vinegars in them. The amphorae are backlit, and the effect is spectacular. Forget the demise of Tastespotting.. if you want real life food porn, it's there for you in the 'burbs! They too have several tasting stations, and you can sample everything from the real aged Moderna aceto balsamico (at $35 per 150ml) to both white and black truffle oil.

The third shop is El Bazaar, a funky shop that stocks all things Middle Eastern. here you can scoop chick peas from hessian sacks, and if you close your eyes and inhale you could very well be in a souk, or the spice markets of Istanbul. The prices of their dried goods were ridiculously cheap, and with Coles only 2 shops away, this puts paid to the argument I often hear that "shopping SOLE is too time consuming. I don't have time to go to individual shops". El Bazaar has a huge range of dried fruits and nuts, and the shelves are stocked with an amazing array of fruit pastes and gels and spices and cookware. I asked the young girl behind the jump about tagines and she offered to ring her Mum to see if you could get an answer to my queries! Now THAT's service.

The final shop was the Oxfam shop where you can get everything from a "Not Made In A Sweat Shop" bag, thru fair trade quinoa to organic chocolate.

And it's at these last two places I made my purchases.

The Nabali Tree Olive Oil. (from the Oxfam shop) I have Googled for info on this product and found absolutely NOTHING. SO, dear readers, I believe I am the first person ever, to write about it. It doesn't even feature in their online catalogue.

Nabali Tree olive oil is organic cold-pressed extra virgin OO, certified USDA organic, certified Fair For Life by IMO and is a member of the Palestinian Fair Trade Association. It is a product of Canaan Fair Trade, Palestine. The label reads:

"Fruity and flavorful and legendary, Nabali Tree Olive Oil, from the native olive tree of Palestine, the ancient home of olive oil.

Canaan oilve oil is naturally organic owing to the ancient Canaanite traditions of farming that persist to this day. Canaan olive oil is produced by farmer cooperatives that are members of the Palestine Fair Trade Association. We guarantee fair prices to farmers and reinvest a portion of our profits in developing projects that serve the farming community. If you are enjoying this oil withing 3 to 6 months of pressing, you will experience the peppery hints and subtle bitter aftertones of "Zeit Fghish", a set of taste impressions unique to freshly pressed Palestinian Olive Oil"

It is a Chartreuse green, and I couldn't detect any peppery notes, but the date on my bottle says it was pressed in 2007, so I might have missed the time period and the oil is more mature. There is most definitely a bitter note to the oil, which mellows on the back palate. It is really a unique olive oil. I am planning to use it as a dipping oil with some sumac and Zaatar.

And my other purchase was from El Bazzar. Some Pashmak, or Persian Fairy Floss. The very knowledgeable young girl behind the jump (the same one who offered to ring her Mum for tips on tagine cooking) explained that this stuff is basically halva that has been pulled and stretched in a similar way to pulled noodles until it resembles fairy floss. It has a pronounced nutty taste. Actually, it tastes exactly like it sounds.. nutty and sweet.. Halva in thread form. A large box cost me $6.50, and I am going to top some hot chocolate chai with it al la Mute Monkey's Beetroot experience. The kids had some last night, atop Emmaline's Chocolate Indulgence Cookies, and some vanilla ice cream. It looks and tastes decadent and spectacular!

So forget all those anti-SOLE arguments, and get with the programme. Those of us in the 'burbs no longer have to trek to Turkisk/Greek/Viet enclaves to get our fix of "exotic" ingredients. We no longer have to brave the Nazi parking officers in Richmond, to get a Simon Johnson-esque rush. We can buy beautiful, fresh, ethical ethnic ingredients at our doorsteps, and incorporate them into our everyday cooking!

Thursday 19 June 2008

A postcard from London...

Mater Beige is in LONDON!! Bless her! She is one of the strongest, most resilient women I have ever met, but this trip has been fraught with issues for her. She traveled the world with my father, my beloved Hobbit, and this is the first trip she has ever undertaken without him. She said "I never want to go to places I went to with your father, it would make me too sad", but, as is a travelers want, all roads lead to London. It's the jumping off point for pretty much all the rest of the travel she want to do. So I know that she will be walking the streets with a sense of both nostalgia and excitement, as she remembers the numerous times she traveled there with him, and with my brother and I.

I can still see, in my mind, the Super8 film my Dad took of my brother and I eating whelks in white vinegar at Paddington Market in 1976.

This is her first ever holiday, since she was 15, without my dad, and I am full of props for her for taking this step into her post-Hobbit life.

Before she went, I told her to take me as many pics of food, and gather as many descriptions of food and restaurant visits as she could.

So I get a postcard today:

Dear Kids,
I am enjoying my holiday so far in this wonderful city once more, The weather is sunny and warm. We went to Covent Garden Market yesterday and walked up the street to Harrods and had a great dinner last night in a famous fish restaurant".

Oh Mumsly!!! MORE INFO PLEASE!!!! Was it Scotts of Mayfair?? fish!? Golden Hind?

You tease me with your lack of information!! I appreciate you remembering that I wanted to know about food, but I need so much more!!!

If you are reading this online (although the post card took 20 days to get here, and you're actually on a train thru Catalonia right now), you HAVE to feed me some more snippetts!!

She then goes on to further tease me with this:

and tonight we're going to Gary Rhodes' restaurant

Aaaaaahhhh!!! Could the frisson of anticipation be any more orgasmic???

Which one, Mumsly?? W1 Brasserie?, 24?, W1?....

How can I live vicariously through you if you don't give me the details???!!! How can I peruse on-line menus and download pics and reviews (all the better to quizz you about when you get back) if you don't give me details???


I love my Mum, but she is SUCH a tease....

Wednesday 18 June 2008

Winter Wonderland

My ex MIL was the first person, some 20 years ago to introduce me to the wonder that is lamb shanks. When I started buying them, this cut was much maligned and I usually purchased them in the Pet Food section for about $2 for 6. They now weigh in at about $3 each. Google "Lamb Shank Recipes" and you'll get about 172,000 hits, so wide is the popularity of these scrummy morsels.

With 7 mouths to feed, and each of the boys able to eat their body weight in shanks, this once-common recipe at The House of Fur and Purple Love, is now, sadly, a rarity. But I make the recipe as such that I can get about 4 nights of differing dishes out of it.

PG's Lamb Shanks.

2 shanks per person. Place lamb shanks on a baking rack over a tray and bake off in a hot oven for about 15mins, until browned. Set aside. Using the rendered fat in the tray to cook off some onion, celery, diced carrot, parsnips and garlic in a large saucepan. Cook until onion is glassy. Deglaze pan with 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and a splash of balsamic syrup. Return shanks to pot and add 500mls red wine, 500mls chicken stock, 750mls tomato sugo. Cook covered over lowest heat possible for at least three hours, stirring occasionally. 1/2 way through cooking add a bouquet garni, or random handfuls of Italian herbs.


Dish is ready when the lamb is sliding off the bone

Just before serving, add a goodly splash of Worcestershire sauce.

Serve on a bed of mash,topped with some flat leaf parsley for warming wintry goodness.

If you've cooked like I do, and have enough left over to solve the hunger crisis in Sudan, here's how to max out this recipe... if you've paid $3.00 each for a shank, you want to get the best bang for your buck.

The next night, add some beef stock, some cannelli beans and some more sugo (you are looking for a thick broth consistency). You can add some Tabasco at this point, serve it with warmed tortillas and a handful of corn chips, and call it "Mexican Lamb Broth" or serve it with crusty ciabatta and call it "Italian Lamb Broth" (I often divide the left overs into 2 lots and do both, freezing one portion for another day. )

If you go the Italian option, you can get another days meal out of it. Bring any remaining broth to the boil and add a knob of butter, some semi sun-dried tommies and some arborio rice... I know this will have the Risotto Nazi's out there swooning into their "blood temperature chicken stock added ladle by ladle", but I gots a fam of 7 to feed. BITE ME.

Stir constantly until the rice is tender and the liquid absorbed, call it "Italian Lamb Risotto" and top it with shaved Parmesan

OR.... DON'T add the Parmesan, add a handful of black olives, some crumbled fetta and top it with a goodly dollop tzatziki and call it "Greek Risotto"

And if there's any of the bloody stuff left over the next night, I like to roll the mix into good sized balls, dip in an egg wash and roll in breadcrumbs and deep fry. Serve on a bed of rocket and call them "Arancini's"

Tuesday 10 June 2008

**sigh** I think it might be over....

My love affair with Fu Long. I took Mme Mouse and her partner there, on Sunday. I have blogged often about his place, both here and Chowhound. I was even considering a review on Food Buzz, and thus, had my camera at the ready.

Fu Long and I have had a deeply intimate relationship for over 2 years now. I truly believe(d) it was one of the great Yum Cha experiences in Melbourne.

Except for last Sunday.

This is the first time I have been to Fu Long without one of our Asian friends. As such, we were not even offered my usual faves of chicken's feet, or duck tongue and jelly fish salad. The congee trolley just rolled on past.

(and yes, I could have hailed them, but I didn't, You'll see why soon)

The other thing was that we went to the later sitting (1pm).

The trolleys were only moving in one direction, so by the time they came to us (seated at the very end of their run, down by the fish tank), the food was cold. Even in the steam carts.

The gyoza were room temperature and overtly chewy, due to having congealed. The tofu stuffed with eggplant and prawns, which normally comes with a delicious light gravy, had turned into a congealed mess, the gravy looking like Clag. Even the shiew mai had gone rubbery by the time it came around.

Fried items, while never really high on our list were revolting. Those lovely brown crusty oval shaped thingies, stuffed with minced pork (I have no idea what they're called, but their coating is almost burnt, like an Asian version of kataifi pastry) were wilted, soggy and the congealed oil just dripped down your chin.

Fu Long changes its Yum Cha menu regularly, but I was loathe to try some of the dishes I haven't seen before, due to the quality of the preceding dishes.

And firm faves like salt and pepper calamari, chilli octopus legs, yam cakes and mango mousse were nowhere to be seen.

We off-ordered some calamari and when it arrived it was rubbery and nasty.

Anyone shed any light on this?? Was it because we went to the second sitting, so things weren't as fresh?

New management?

Is there any way to ensure we're near the beginning of the cart's run?

And oddly, as we left at about 2.45, new dishes were coming out that we hadn't seen before FROM OUR SIDE OF THE RUN... I thought a Yum Cha sitting was from 11-1 and 1-3 (at least that's what we were told when I made the booking)

I'll give it one more go, at the earlier sitting, because.. like any long-term relationship, I am prepared to turn a blind eye to a grumpy "off" day. Otherwise, I'll be in the market for a new Yum Cha relationship.

For shits and giggles...

A fun food quiz...

I got 7.

How do YOU rate??

Try your luck HERE.

Sunday 8 June 2008

girly night update...

All the girls get in on the action.

Perfeect chick flick food!

Including hot chockie chai with foam!

One of our movies..

Our verdict? premonition.. WORST MOVIE IN WORLD!!

So, the antidote for a bad chick flick?? (and fortification leading up to watching Atonement)


Off to Yum Cha in a few mins time.. stand by for report!!

A girly weekend...

Mme Mouse and I are having a hot girly date this weekend. We're in for a movie night tonight, Yum Cha tomorrow with her and the gorgeous new b/f (whom I am christening PFOMGC.. see if you can work out what it means!!).. He is a seriously AWESOME young man.. not that that suprised me, as Mousie is an awesome young woman!

Anyhoo,.. she's at work right now, and this is what I've set up to greet her when she gets home...

Come on a journey with me, ok??

My front door...

down the hallway...

round the corner, by the piano...

into the kitchen...

and viola!!

We gots Atonement, Elizabeth, the Golden Age (which has our own very loverley friend Joon's cousin in it), Premonition, No Reservations and Death at a Funeral to watch!!!

AND you can't even see the blue castello and the toblerone Ice cream I got in the freezer!!

yippe ky-oh for girly days with your daughter on a nasty grey winter day!!

REGULAR READERS PLEASE NOTE: The hideous cafe curtain are no more!!! The have been replaced with purple silk, edged with a Greek Key gold border! Such sumptuous fabulousness for my kitchen table!!

Tuesday 3 June 2008


My husband, Furry. He is living proof that a leopard, if willing, CAN change its spots. When I met him.. and I mean on those first few dates when you're kinda checking out a potential mate, he nearly got flicked. Call me shallow, but as a food obsessive, it was really important to me to meet someone who was as "into" food as I was. And guys? If you're reading this, what you are about to learn is a pretty important piece of "secret girl business". All women (and maybe some guys) have a secret list... it's divided into "can do's" "could do's" and "deal breakers". My list looked something like this:

Must be gainfully employed. (deal breaker)
Must have chest hair (can do))
Must have resolved issues with any ex (deal breaker)
Must love to eat and cook (deal breaker)
Must have an interest in gardening (can do)
Must love the water (could do)

I am sure you get the idea. So, on those first few dates, I was marking off the mental check list, determined not to be swayed by the luscious broad shoulders and the kindly manner. Our tastes in music were a "could do". He's into trashy heavy metal and I am a classical girl. He is a total sports nuts, while I'd rather read a book. (can do) His politics and mine were gulfs apart (could do).

And then I asked one of my deal breaker questions. And this is how the conversation went.

pg: So, what sort of foods do you like?
Fur: Umm.. I dunno.. I like Chinese.
pg: What sort of Chinese? Hunan? Szechwan? Cantonese?
Fur: Ummm.. I like lemon chicken and beef in black bean.
pg mentally enters an X on her mental check list
pg: What about Thai? Do you like Thai
Fur: Ummm.. I dunno, never eaten it.
pg: What about Vietnamese food?
Fur: Don't they eat cats?
pg mentally enters a double XX on her mental check list
pg: What about Japanese? Ever eaten Japanese?
Fur: **insert look of incredulous horror on Furry's face**
Raw fish? No freakin' way, I would NEVER eat that shit!!

Well, it's bloody lucky for Furry that I was mesmerized by his broad shoulders and his kindly, almost 1950's manner, because I gave him three weeks. I referred of him, to my girlfriends as my "disposable chew toy"

Fast forward to about a year later. Furry comes home in a dark-assed mood. Why? Because his new job is somewhere where he can't get any decent sushi for lunch. It's okay tho, because there is a Viet bakery selling banh mi, and that will do.

He's a work in progress, my lad!

After the Second Big Heart Attack of 2005, Furry decided to get into cooking. He does a mean turn in "bachelor" food.. wraps, nachos, spag bog, but he decided to get into cooking "the way YOU do"

So far he's mastered, gow gees, lime glazed pork spare ribs, seafood rissoni, banana fritters, rice paper wraps, Nam Jim chicken, san choi bow and much MUCH more.

He even owns about 7 cook books.

And last night, I saw his final stage of evolution from bogan boy, to GREAT cook. Up until now he has been religiously following recipes.. measuring and weighing ingredients, and following the recipe slavishly.

Last night we had:

Korean Marinated Beef Strips
(adapted by Furry, from The Hinkler Kitchen "Wok Perfection" cook book)

500g of lean beef, cut into strips
(he used my newly sharpened cook's knife to do it himself, rather than buy pre-fab strips)
2 spring onions chopped
(He sliced them in his very own V-Slicer)

2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
2 1/2cm piece of fresh ginger root finely chopped
2 tablespoons palm sugar
(purchased by Himself at his sown secret Asian Food store)
3 tablespoons light soy
3 tablespoons dark soy
(yes, he now DOES know the difference)
1 tablespoon sesame oil.

Dry fry the sesame seeds till golden, Place in a mortar and pestle with all other marinade ingredients and grind until a thick paste is achieved. Pour over beef strips, add 1/2 the chopped spring onions and marinate in the 'fridge for at least 4 hours.
Cook in a smoking wok, in batches until done.

The recipe says to serve on rice, or with Hokkien noodles, but here's Furry's take on it.

Red Bean Stir Fry
(adapted by Furry, from The Hinkler Kitchen "Wok Perfection" cook book)

185g of fettuccine cooked till al dente and set aside,
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
250g asparagus cut into 5cm lengths
125g fresh green beans
125g fresh yellow beans
440g can red kidney bean, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander
90g pine nuts, toasted.
fresh bean sprouts to garnish.
Heat oil in wok, add onions and garlic and fry till onion is golden. Add all the fresh vegetables and quickly fry off until tender, but still retain some crunch. Add red kidney beans, coriander and fettuccine and heat through (about 3 mins). Scatter with pine nuts, top with Korean Beef Strips and garnish with bean sprouts.

And bugger me backwards with a spoon, if he didn't even take the bloody photos, too!!