Tuesday 25 May 2010

warts and all

here's the thing. Us food bloggers (floggers?) like to post lots of pretty pics and luscious, mouthwatering recipes. At least I do. I mean, WHY would we post our failures? I am guilty of sometimes NOT posting pics when the recipe was awesome, but the pics made it look like cat's vom.

Originally, I intended to post almost everything I cooked, but nearly 3 years of blogging has taught me that it's impossible to post everything. I have a file, labeled "guilty pleasures" chock o' block of pics I have taken for posts I intended to write, and never got around to.

So here's a post you probabaly thought you'd never see.

It's about my abject, dismal failure last week.

I twittered and facecracked all day about my new paella pan, and how excited I was about de-virginating it. Like a book whore, I rubbed by hands together in anticipation of my new toy, and the myriad of new flavour experiences it would bring to my table.

I googled recipes, ways to season said pan, history of the dish itself. Hell, I read a discourse on whether Andalusian or Basque paella was more authentic.

I purchased nearly $60 of seafood, and sourced real saffron and calasparra rice.

I hit the ground full of vim and vigour, convinced that my au fait-ness with risotto would set me in good stead. Hell, I'd eaten paella in Spain, so I TOTALLY knew what I was doing.



The whole thing ended up in the dog's bowls.

It was AWFUL.

I spent the first hour seasoning the pan. I boiled water in it for 10 mins, to remove any dirt and oils, dried it fully and then added a cup of peanut oil and placed the pan in the oven, on the hottest setting for 35 mins.

As I expected, the pan cam out with a beautiful golden glow over 3/4 of the pan.

Yes. only 3/4 of the pan. There was a whole quadrant where the oil had pooled which had remained pristinely chrome.

So I took my favorite horsehair bristled pasty brush to swirl around the oil.

And melted the damn thing.

Threw out the pastry brush, discarded the oil, wiped the pan down, ignored the pathetic looks of my hungry family and soldiered on to start cooking the dish itself.

It was about 7.00 when I began to actually cook the dish.

The first problem was, I think, that I overloaded the pan. During the cooking process, as the rice swelled, it caused any remaining juice (chock full of that hideously expensive saffron) to drip over the sides of the pan. I estimate I lost at least 250mls of juice.

The next problem was the heat. I just couldn't get it right. I moved the pan around the hob, trying to ensure that all parts of the dish received heat (as you don't stir paella), but to no avail, I just couldn't get enough heat to cook the prawns, calamari and mussels on the top of the dish, without coming dangerously close to burning the bottom rice.

After more than 40 mins, the prawns had only just pinked, the mussels hadn't even opened, the calamari hadn't curled and the rice at the edges was barely cooked.

I upped the heat, which only made the juice flow over the sides of the pan faster, and I detected a nasty whiff of burning rice.

So I turned down the heat and gave it another 20 mins of turning the pan constantly.

So in the end, I committed the ultimate paella sin.

I stirred it.

And sure enough, the rice on the bottom had stuck and started to burn in the centre, while the rice grains at the edges were barely cooked.

I fished out the as-yet-un-opened mussels and fed the whole lot to the dogs.

Ordered pizza for the fam and went to bed in a huff.

I WILL attempt it again, but this time, I will avoid all the Belgiam Whistles of chicken AND rabbit AND prawns AND mussels AND calamari AND tomato AND peas, and use half the quantity of rice.

Any other hints and tip gratefully received.

Thursday 20 May 2010

Look, It's complicated.

Look, it's complicated, ok.

Lots of people are asking me about it, and that's all I can say.

It changes from day to day.

Last night it was so warm and nurturing, but who knows? Tonight the whole thing might have changed. Hell, it could end up all hot and spicy!

We're both very different, with different tastes, and I guess it really depends on what we, individually, bring to the table.

People think that it's hard, but it's not really. It all depends on how much you want to commit to it. And you need to remember that is doesn't happen quickly, It needs time to develop and evolve. It, quite literally, needs time to marry.

But we're BOTH committed to improving it. Every day, bit by bit, as long as it lasts.

As long as meets our needs.

I mean, I wanted it this morning, but he didn't. He's more of an late-afternoon kinda guy. He couldn't stomach the thought of it before about 11am.

And then there are the kids to think about. They need their needs met, too.

I mean, so many people are affected by the decisions we make about this, we need to factor ALL of those things in.

So, like I said, It's complicated. Only because there are so many ingredient to it. It's really NOT that complicated, I guess.

PG's "It's Complicated" Soup.
2 zucchinis sliced.
2 carrots slices.
1/2 a pumpkin, cubed.
4 HUGE field mushrooms, sliced.
1 large red onion, sliced.
1/4 red cabbage, sliced.
1 red capsicum, diced.
1 can kidney beans,
7 whole tomatoes, skin scored.
100g fresh peas.
2 litres chicken stock.
1 large can tomato puree/pasata
1 glass white wine.
200g small shell pasta
6 large GOOD QUALITY sausages, browned in oo. ( I used lamb and pesto ones from Leo's)

Dice and fry off the first seven ingredients, until softened and the onion is golden. Whack in a large pot with all the other ingredients and bring to a gentle simmer, Cook for 20 mins or until the tomatoes have broken down. ( I add the pasta about 10 mins before serving)

Add some old parm rinds, if you have any.

Cut the snags into four with a pair of chicken shears.

Serve with parm and crusty bread.

Tuesday 18 May 2010

Finding your pack...

Us humans like to "belong". We like to add little labels to our ego to help us fit in with a group. We like to belong to a pack.

There are many ways we do this.. with our clothing, body adornments such as uniforms and tattoos, wedding rings, and ways of speaking.

Did you ever wonder why a doctor says "I want an MSU and an FBE, and throw in a FOB STAT"? It's not because it's quicker, it's because its esoteric, identifying him or her as a member of an elite group who uses language to identify that they are somehow different from the hoi polloi.

And we all do this in some way.

Some of us (well, not me!) like to identify with sub-groups that most of us wouldn't be seen dead associating with. The anti-intellectualism of racist bigotry and misogyny done up as nationalism is one that springs to mind.

Then there is that other one.

The redneck.

I drive to work along the busiest arterial road in Melbourne and every morning I see a van, a hotted-up ute proudly displaying the esoteric identifier of Australian rednecks everywhere.

The bumper sticker.

Only this chap is clearly OVER-identifying with his pack, because the entire tailgate and back window of his car is covered with said bumper stickers.

I know about the Denny Ute Muster, the Yakandandah B&S Ball ("It's an Aussie thing!"), No Fat Chicks, An R. M. Williams sticker and even an Eureka Stockade flag, topped with a fetching wide-brimmed Australian-style cowboy hat. Did you know that Mountain Cattlemen Care for the High Country?

Now I take no umbrage at any of these sentiments, not even the fat chick one, because, as a fat chick, I personally wouldn't go anywhere near you and your car. In fact I am GLAD you deny fat chicks the use of your vehicular mode of transport, as I'd rather dress in blackface and crash a KKK convention than sit in your piece of shit crap-box . I'd bet a dollar to a bent penny any "chick", fat or otherwise that you graciously DO allow in your car would be expected to put out for the privilege and I wouldn't shag you if you were the last man on earth and I could borrow a Linda Lovelace flaps-on-it-like-a-circus tent, actively diseased ladypart to do you with.

Anyhoo. .. I digress.

So, the owner of this fine specimen of vehicular pack mentality got me thinking.

All sorts of packs have bumper stickers. The Christians have got their smug "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven" or their fish symbol (giving rise to the term "freaky fish people" in our family lexicon). Hell, even the athiests have their scarlet A or their Darwin fish. Pagans have their chirpily nauseating "The Goddess is Dancing" and "Magic Happens" (I am all for Tim Minchin's response to these stickers, BTW) and then there are the "Poverty is owning a Horse" crowd and the "Baby on Board" brigade.

Bumper stickers are designed to identify us to like-minded souls. Maybe they are some sort of mating signal?

So (and here we come to the point of this post).

Why aren't there more foodie bumper stickers? Why aren't there any at all, actually. I can honestly say I've never seen a food-related bumper sticker. I once owned a Long Gully Winery bumper sticker, but I couldn't put it on my car, as it was grammatically incorrect. "Life is to short to drink bad wine".

I mean, the foodie and the word nerd in me battled it out, and unfortunately the word nerd won.


Even a quick google only throws up one obvious food quote on a sticker:

"I didn't fight my way to the top of the food chain to be a vegetarian".

Not even remotely funny, IMHO.

Google for "Beer bumper stickers" and you get thousands of hits, same with "Relationship bumper stickers", but "Food bumper stickers"? not to much. As well as the above vegetarian one, I also found "You mean chocolate is NOT one of the four food groups?" and it was cross referenced under "diet and weight loss".

So here are some I want to see on the back of your hybrid cars in the near future, ok?

Your Mise En Place or Mine?

Your Pad Thai or Mine?

Hollandaise can smell your fear.

The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese. ~G.K. Chesterton

I come from a family where gravy is considered a beverage. ~ Erma Bombeck

Maybe we need a symbol.. you know.. like the pink ribbon, or the WWJD bracelets. JUST so we don't feel so left out of the mob-identification thing.

My choice would be:

And yours?

Monday 17 May 2010

A random turn in the road.

I am a great one for adventures. Ask my kids. A drive with Mum was ALWAYS an adventure. I had them convinced that multiple U-turns were not, in fact, Mummy being hopelessly lost AGAIN, but an integral part of a drive with me.

Random turns in the road have led me to some of my most awesome adventures. If not for a split-second decision of "left or right?", would I ever have eaten this most amazing Tuscan mushroom bruschetta, nor would I ever have discovered Darling Park Winery, with its awesome 20km platter, and ultimately would never have been given our wood-fired oven.. which really means I probabaly would never have started blogging.!

So this weekend, Furry and I headed off to Chez Fur, for some much needed R&R. And we got to the end of our street, and I had an overwhelming compunction to head right instead of left.

And Furry didn't miss a beat. He just whacked on the indicator and headed in the very opposite direction of our intended destination.

Originally my plan was to head to Chez Fur via the ferry. The ferry trip from Queenslcliff to Sorrento is a Melbourne institution, and friends of our recently did it. We've been meaning to do it for ages. So that was the loose plan.

Right up until we stopped in Queenscliff.

What a magnificent little town! The buildings, the shops, the wharf, the inlet, everything! We completely fell in love with the place.

And our love was requited over lunch at the Royal Hotel. Local mussels in a Thai-inspired broth, a real chicken schnitzel, a Guiness and a Beez Kneez for $32.00. The mussels, a dozen of them, were only $13.00.

We were hooked.

The delicious Alicia then showed us around the place. The hotel is a curious hodge-podge of different rooms, connected by random doorways and staircases. The basement, which housed the Queenscliff morgue and Coroner's office up until the 60's is a chilly and clearly haunted space, yet the owners have turned it into a funky private function space.

For $144, we got a beautiful room for the night, complete with 4 poster bed and net. (shared bathroom), dinner in the dining room (including a wine and a beer) AND a full cooked breakfast and coffee the next morning.

It's not the Vue Grand, and it doesn't pretend to be. It's a funky, quirkly family hotel with some of the friendliest staff I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. The food is OUTSTANDING and unbelievably cheap. Every little nook and cranny is filled with some antique biscuit tin, or fishing rod, or some other curio. There is an awesome outside grotto, to which we will be returning in Summer, and their breakfast arrangement with Beaches Cafe in Hesse Street keeps us early risers happy.

Hell, there's even a gift shop that sells everything from antique glass ear syringes to Japanese calligraphy brushes. And more excitingly than all of the above.. NOT A POKIE MACHINE IN SIGHT!!

If this hotel were a person, it would be an aging, beret-wearing Beat poetess, with a penchant for crumpets and velvet capes. Or your Dowager Great Aunt, in silk lace who smokes a cheroot in a verdegris'd holder.. Go and embrace her slightly down-at-heel yet proudly authentic self soon!

Royal Hotel, QUeenscliff, 34 KING STREET, QUEENSCLIFF VIC 3225,
(03)5258 1669

Friday 14 May 2010

More Cat's Vom.

I have about a zillion recipes for awesome food. Really REALLY awesome food. Food so good it will make you weep and hear heavenly choirs. There's just one unfortunate thing about some of these recipes.

They pretty much look like a cat has vomited on a plate.

Which, given that no one has invented Smell-O-Vision for Blogger yet, means that providing you with a picture will pretty much have the opposite effect I am looking for. Dry retching over your keyboard is NOT the effect I was hoping for.

So you'll need to use your imagination on this one.

When I was married to the Wasband, we had a dear friend known as Mr Yum-Yum. He would come over regularly and cook these awesome Vietnamese dishes. It was Mr Yum-Yum that first introduced me to rice noodle soup, wet cake and hair vegetable, now more than 20 years ago. He was Chinese-Viet, and learned watching his Grandma cook, back in Saigon.

This is my very favourite Mr Yum Yum recipe, and was a staple dish during my pregnancy with the Lima Bean. Think a sort of Vietnamese laksa or Tom Gai.

I have no idea what this is called in Viet, and a quick Google of "Vietnamese Sweet Soup" yielded nothing, so if the recipe is familiar to anyone, do drop me a line in the comments section and tell me about it.

Mr Yum-Yum's Vietnamese Sweet Soup. (feeds 4)

1kg chicken legs/drumsticks with skin on. Each drumstick chopped into 3-4 pieces with a freakin' big Asian cleaver.

Marinate in:

1tablespoon curry powder (I use Hoyt's for this, but Clive of India is good too) and a goodly slosh of Vietnamese light soy. Grate a knob of fresh ginger and 2 cloves on garlic. Add chopped-up chicken and marinate for 2 hours.

In a large, heavy based pot, bring 2 tablespoons of peanut oil to a gentle heat, add 1 stick of lemon grass bashed and smashed. Sloooooooowly simmer the lemon grass stalk, trying to render the essential lemon grass oil into the cooking oil. This usually takes about 10 mins on a gentle heat, stirring constantly.

Remove lemon grass stalks from oil

Gently infuse a teaspoon of annatto seeds in the lemon grass oil until the oil is a deep orange/red. Be very careful, as overheating the seeds means they will burn and the oil will be bitter and unusable. ALSO, overheated seeds tend to "pop" and leave scorchingly hot, bright red stains all over your kitchen and you clothing. This is a "do-not-want" situation. Once the oil is the right colour, let it cool and remove the seeds.

Bring the now-seedless oil back to a nice high temp and add the now-marinated chicken. Fry off until brown and add 1 whole diced sweet potato or 4 diced waxy white potatoes. Stir until coated with oil.

Add 1 can coconut milk, 1 can of sweetened condensed milk and a litre of chicken stock. Drop heat down to a simmer and cover. Cook for about 30 mins or until potato is tender.

Add 250g of fresh okra, peas or beans, and cook a further 5 mins.

Slop into huge big Asian-soup bowls, and serve with a crusty Vietnamese roll.

Ok, it will LOOK like cat's vom, but it will taste like majik.

Tuesday 11 May 2010

In sickness and in health..

Call me an old hippy, but when my family get sick, I am more likely to reach into the pantry, than into the medicine cabinet. I am completely secure with Western medicine, hell, I work as a Nurse. And Furry wouldn't be alive today if it weren't for his regimen of cardiac drugs. However, for most home lurgies, I tend to use food as my first line approach. Not only is it about cooking and creating and nurturing, it's also about accessing age-old wisdom that has been pooh-poohed by science until recently.

There is a reason why Grandma's chicken soup was cooked up when we had a cold or a 'flu.

Specifically, it has anti-inflammatory properties that could explain why it soothes sore throats and eases the misery of colds and flu, Dr. Stephen Rennard and colleagues at the University of Nebraska Medical Center found.

"Chicken soup may contain a number of substances with beneficial medicinal activity," the researchers wrote in their report, published in the journal Chest.

"My wife was making chicken soup one year for the Jewish holidays and we were talking about its effects on colds," Rennard, a specialist in pulmonary medicine, said.

Congee is the Asian equivalent. And while I couldn't find any online studies about the medicinal benefits, thingsasian.com says:

Congee is not just a dish served any meal; it is also a base for therapeutic treatment. It was prevalent in China as early as pre-Qin period (221-207 B.C.). Congee with asparagus is believed to be a diuretic and was also used to reduce cholesterol. Ginger congee was used to settle the stomach, and reduce nausea and considered a cure for indigestion and diarrhea. For ailments of the respiratory system and fever, one recommended medicine was Pear Congee. Congee with black sesame seeds was used to improve lactation in nursing mothers. Spinach Congee was used as a sedative, while Chicken or Lamb Congees were valued to strengthen a weakened constitution.

I have used congee several times to de-lurgify my household. And it's a staple on the menu when you've got a head cold or a sdore throat. It's easy to digest, gentle on the throat and mouth, is warming and nourishing all in one.

The other absolute staples in my home remedy kit, is tofu and ginger. Usually together. Tofu is chocked full of phytooestrogens (did you know menopause was unheard of in Asian cultures before a more Western diet was introduced?) and ginger is a well known stomach calmative. My fave ginger and tofu recipe is Dòuhuā (Chinese: 豆花) or dòufuhuā (Chinese: 豆腐花), a sweet dish made of slices of tofu in a spicy sweet ginger syrup. I was taught to make it with powdered tofu mix and the syrup with palm sugar and fresh ginger.

So, as the 'flu season descends upon us, I advise that we fill our pantries with some tofu, fresh ginger, soy sauce, rice, chicken stock, garlic, winter veggies and a good quality chook or two and rug up against the cold. Because I can guaratee that any combination of the above ingredients can only be better for you, and taste a WHOLE lot better, than a course of Flagyl.

Thursday 6 May 2010

A face like a bucket of Ma Po tofu.

I'm a fickle bitch. Quixotic and mercurial.

Only the other day I blogged about my latest obsession being dumplings.

No more.

My affair with dumplings was fleeting and tawdry.. based on my basest animal urges.

What is commonly called love, namely the desire of satisfying a voracious appetite with a certain quantity of delicate white human flesh. ~Henry Fielding

Now I have discovered The One. The Real Thing.

The one, at whose first tender lip brush, I hear heavenly choirs of seraphim.

Ma Po tofu.

Seriously. This is a dish so made of awesome.. from its odd translation ("old lady pockmarked face beancurd"), to the rich and hearty soupy broth, in which resides slow cooked minced pork and cubes of silken tofu, there is nothing not to love about this dish.

Wiki says:

Ma stands for "mazi" (Pinyin: mázi Traditional Chinese 麻子,) which means a person disfigured by pockmarks. Po (Chinese 婆) translates as "old woman". Hence, Ma Po is an old woman whose face was pockmarked. It is thus sometimes translated as "Pockmarked-Face Lady's Tofu". Legend says that the pock-marked old woman (má pó) was a widow who lived in the Chinese city of Chengdu. Due to her condition, her home was placed on the outskirts of the city. By coincidence, it was near a road where traders often passed. Although the rich merchants could afford to stay within the numerous inns of the prosperous city while waiting for their goods to sell, poor farmers would stay in cheaper inns scattered along the sides of roads on the outskirts of the ancient city. Another less widely accepted explanation stems from an alternate definition of 麻, meaning "numb": the Szechuan peppercorns used in the dish numb the diner's mouth.
The combination of dried birds eye chili and Szechuan peppercorns gives this dish a bite that is NOT for the faint-hearted, but you can adjust it to suit most palates. True Mapo doufu is powerfully spicy with both conventional "heat" spiciness and the characteristic "mala" (numbing spiciness) flavor of Sichuan cuisine. The feel of the particular dish is often described by cooks using seven specific Chinese adjectives: 麻 (numbing), 辣 (spicy hot), 烫 (hot temperature), 鲜 (fresh), 嫩 (tender and soft), 香 (aromatic), and 酥 (flaky). These seven characteristics are considered to be the most defining of authentic Mapo doufu.

The other benefit, if that all of that chilli increases you metabolic rate, giving you a natural chilli high, and is said by some to aid weight loss. The tofu is an awesome source of phytooestrogens.

  • Marinade for Ground Pork:
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp tapioca starch (can substitute cornstarch)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • Other:
  • 500g pound ground pork
  • 500g pound regular tofu (medium firmness)
  • 1 leek or 3 green onions
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp Chinese salted black beans (fermented black beans, also called Chinese black beans), or to taste
  • 1 Tbsp chili bean paste, or to taste
  • 3 Tbsp stock (chicken broth)
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 2 Tbsp light soy sauce
  • Freshly ground Szechuan pepper
  • 2 - 3 tablespoons oil for stir-frying, as needed


Mix marinade ingredients. Marinate pork for about 20 minutes.
Cut the tofu (bean curd) into 1/2 inch (1 cm) square cubes, and blanch (drop into boiling water) for 2 - 3 minutes. Remove from boiling water and drain.
Chop leek or green onions into short lengths.
Heat wok and add oil. When oil is ready, add the marinated pork. Stir-fry pork until the color darkens. Add salt and stir. Add the salted black beans. Mash the beans with a cooking ladle until they blend in well with the meat. Add the chili paste, then the stock, bean curd, and leek or green onions.
Turn down the heat. Cook for 3 - 4 minutes.
While cooking, mix cornstarch, water, and soy sauce together. Add to wok and stir gently. Serve with freshly ground Szechuan pepper.

recipe from http://chinesefood.about.com

Wednesday 5 May 2010

More on Furry's learning curve.

I am currently obsessed with dumplings. Gow Gees. Shui Mai. Gyoza. Wrap pretty much anything in a pastry wrapper, and I'll give it a red hot go. Coming off 5 weeks of being sick means that I have to treat my system with kid gloves. Dairy is still out, as is anything fatty. I've been living off Majick Phở and rice dishes for weeks, so I am on a major flava crava jones right now.


Hmm. Yes.


He's back in Melbourne, longer than he expected. A few irons in the fire to get him back to PNG, but nothing set in concrete yet. We've adjusted to sharing living spaces again and I must admit, it's nice to come home and have the house all clean, and dinner cooked. In lieu of rent, I get my gutters cleaned and Furry Balls on demand.

Not such a bad arrangement, actually.

So yesterday, Furry announces he want to improve his repertoire of Furry Ball recipes. So I phaff off to work, leaving him with some $$ for ingredients and my car.

And get home to 90 dumplings, in 4 different flavours.

A quick call to friends up the hill, with an impassioned plea to come and help us eat all of the fruits of his labour, and we've got an instant Furry Ball Feast! It was so SO good, we have decided that while he's in town we'll utilize his skill and we've declared Tuesday "Dumpling Night"

This, from the man I met all those years ago, who thought serving nachos with a paint scraper was the height of his culinary possibilities. ]

Last nights offerings were chicken and ginger, pork and 5 spice, classic Furry Balls, and beef with Schezhuan pepper. The dipping sauces were siracha, red vinegar and sweet chilli, hoi sin, classic light soy and Furry's own concoction of soy, vinegar, sliced birds eye chillies and diced coriander roots.

He is now the proud owner of a mincer (for his up and coming seafood gow gee fest next Tuesday night), and is, as we speak, at home experimenting with xia long bao, or Shanghai soup dumplings.

And in true GREAT home cook style, he is realizing that a repertoire is not about how many recipes you can churn out from cookbooks, but on how you can adapt your knowledge-base to allow for seasonal ingredients, individual palates and plain old cravings.