Entries from March 2009 ↓

Words to the wise from Dr Sister Outlaw

I am a quiche maker extraordinaire, and a dab hand at buttery shortcrust. The quiche I made for last night’s Earth Hour/40+something-too-big-to-tactfully-mention-any-more-party literally flew off the plate, with much ooing and aahing about my magic ingredients, which in this case included sage, oregano and thyme and a judiciously sliced preserved lemon quarter, in a mix of eggs and ricotta.

But before you go all funny about me blowing my own trumpet, I would like to share with you some of the learnings I have gleaned in the last week’s baking, during which I made three quiches, one successfully:

  1. Always check that one actually possesses a rolling pin before one makes the pastry. An old bottle of Cascade Ultra-C is not a worthy substitute. (Observant readers may recall that I have mentioned my rolling pin deficiency on this site already. You would think I would learn, but alas, I forgot I lacked a rolling pin twice in one week.)
  2. Olive oil is no substitute for butter in pastry, no matter how many foody websites insist that it produces a nice workable crust. On the other hand, if you actually want a biscuit crust that tastes like olive oil and falls away from the bottom of your quiche, go right ahead. Personally, I would just cut your losses and make frittata, but then maybe the rolling pin deficit is to blame?
  3. Silicon baking dishes are robust, but not robust enough to tolerate being set on top of a lit gas jet for some minutes.

Just in case you thought this was a blog restricted to people who are actually competent in the kitchen.

Zoe, she’s here to help

So my women’s group tries to have one session each term run by one of the members because this is cheap called “capacity building” and helps the government justify giving us money.

I put my hand up to do a “demystifying what is in the Asian supermarket” kind of session, and I need your help, because it’s on next Wednesday and I’ve just remembered. For many years now I have been wandering home with random bags of things from the Asian grocery and I’ve lost track of what might freak out your average whitegirl. I don’ t know it all by any means, but I know where to find out and I’ve quite a few Asian cooking reference books. I’ll be concentrating on Chinese and Vietnamese foods, as they’re the cuisines I know best.

I should be able to get whatever groceries we need, and I’ll take a rice cooker, gas ring and wok. I’ll also set up a table with the reference books. Ideally, I’d like it to be part demonstration, part chatting, part Q&A.

When I think about what would be the most useful things to show someone who was starting to learn about cooking Asian-style food, this is what comes to mind for me:

  • why you shouldn’t spend a lot of money on a wok and how to season one properly
  • light soy sauce and dark soy sauce, which are very nearly the same shade of black although that’s not the point
  • what “hot” means (hint: fucking hot)
  • that stir fries are much better if they have one or two ingredients (not counting oils or seasoning)
  • bottled sauces that are worth it (eg toban djian, aka broad bean chilli sauce) and those that are not worth anything at all (black bean, plum, lemon, etc, etc, etc)
  • how to make aromatic oils to dress veggies, etc, with
  • the logistics of cooking a Chinese/Vietnamese dinner

I might pre-cook a red-braised dish, take the rice cooker, and do a veggie stir fry and maybe another dish – perhaps the insanely good steamed chicken from Fuchsia Dunlop’s Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook. Enough for the 15 or so people to have a taste of a few different styles

I’m also wondering what “novel” ingredients it might be most useful to spend some time on – maybe fresh rice noodle sheets, jicama (aka Mexican yam bean, often used as a water chestnut substitute). dried black beans, kang kong (aka water spinach, aka water convolvulus), frozen edamame and ….

I’d be interested to hear any good or bad experiences you’ve had with Asian supermarket shopping, and what you think it would be useful to teach some noobs. If you and I were wandering through the Asian grocery, what foodstuffs would you be asking about? Would you just be so excited to use the word “foodstuffs” that nothing else mattered?

[Disclaimer: I am 5'11" and of frecklishly obvious Irish heritage]

Introducing Nigel

Nigel dropped out of medical school to study art and spent much of the 1970s as a Maoist conceptual artist in New York. How cool is that? He has been having more fun than he really should have ever since. His visually obsessed blog is artwranglers and he’s my boss, so behave.

Nigel asks: “Is this the best gelati in the world?”

nigel

In sleepy Bermagui – the last unspoilt fishing village on the south coast – for the past six years Francesca and Alberto Cementon have made the most sublime range of gelati we have encountered outside Italy. (We still remember, don’t we, a kind of creamed rice gelato we sampled on the Piazza del Campidoglio, which set an aspiration standard for tradition and innovation). Go out of your way to visit the Bermagui Gelati Clinic – you can see from the snap below that it used to be the Veterinary Clinic, but the professional tone is appropriate. It’s between the Bottle Shop and Mitre 10. Here you will find an extraordinary range of gelato experiences, all freshly made on the premises.
 
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Pamela has made it to Adelaide

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Instalments one and two.

Day 6: Glenelg, Adelaide

I’m currently holed up in a motel in the Adelaide beach-side suburb of Glenelg. Kind of like Perth’s Fremantle without the hippies, or perhaps Melbourne’s St Kilda minus the cool. Sleeping 300m from an ocean beach is my idea of heaven, but turned into hell yesterday when the stench of 500 rotting carp dead in a nearby waterway wafted over the area. A cool breezy change is helping clear the air, and not a moment too soon.

I’ve spent the past couple of days in at the State Library of South Australia and the Royal Geographical Society of South Australia looking through albums of photographs from early exploration parties through central Australia. Exhausting work (no, really, it is!) and I’m already over it. It could, however, be much worse – the guy next to me in the library reading room appeared to be attempting to reconstruct a cricket test match from 1937.

Eating these past few days has been non-remarkable, partly because of fiscal restraint on my part, partly because of lack of inspiration. Restaurants abound in Glenelg, but most are over-priced Australian-fusion fare. But this morning’s breakfast at a café in Henley Beach was fantastic: creamy scrambled eggs with a side of warm smoked salmon tossed in baby rocket and served with perfectly browned toast and great coffee. I sat and ate as I watched a group of teenagers haul themselves out of a rough sea at the end of a 2km ocean swim. I had driven north to Henley this morning hoping to attach myself to an informal training swim held by the local Aussie Masters club, but took one look at the churning sea and thought better of it. I think I’ve a way to go before I’ll be swimming the 20km Freo to Rottnest.

During my meanderings through the archives I came across the following entry in an account of a government expedition into Ngaanyatjarra country in 1903. It was written by a young Herbert Basedow, whose life’s work was recently celebrated in an exhibition at the National Library of Australia. This one goes out to all my fellow photographers, who know as well as I do what a pain in the arse we can be:

“After I had spent some time with the natives and taken several photos, an old man gave me to understand that my presence was no longer required. In fact, he actually turned me round to face our camp and gave me a slight shove towards it.”

For those of you who have no idea where Ngaanyatjarra country is, here is a link to a map of the area that familiars call “the Lands”.

Given my pre-occupation with the library this week, the only photo I have for this post is of a gem I picked up in amongst shelves crammed crocheted footy earrings, decorated jewellery boxes and jars of tomato chutney in a little craft shop in Waikerie. The name of the shop, “The Cobweb”, doesn’t exactly in still a sense of confidence in the freshness of their products, but this jar of fig jam was clearly made with love. A lot of love. I’m looking forward to sharing it with Edwina, who will be hosting me during my stay at Warakurna community. Being a good country girl from Hay, she is herself a great enthusiast of the stuff. Thank you, lady number 53A from Waikerie, we will enjoy it.

fig-jam

windfall

… or more accurately things picked up off the side of the road. It’s very late for apricots, but I found a boxful on the way home from dropping my son at school this morning. Not too ripe, and while a few are rust-marked they’re still fine to be cooked. Killer fact of the day: an average bike basket can carry just over 5 kgs of stonefruit.

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And a hello to anyone who’s found there way here from The Canberra Times’ Food & Wine article today. If you’re new to blogs, you can use the sidebar over on the right there -> to check out some of the latest posts, or find your way around by looking up a particular ingredient or category of posts. The blogroll is a list of great food blogs from all over. The contributors tab up top lists all posts by each of the site’s writers and there’s a recipe index too. Don’t feel shy to leave a comment.

A better kind of lemon chicken

One of the joys of Canberra is the four distinct seasons, and of all of them Autumn is my favourite. Although this summer wasn’t as bakingly hot as it has been for the last couple of years, it was still hot enough that I’m enjoying the beginnings of briskness in the mornings and snuggling in a warm bed at night.

If you try to eat seasonally, particularly if you grow some of your own food, Autumn is the best time of year. I live in a cul-de-sac of eleven houses, four of which have veggie gardens, and it’s quite common to see someone or other ambling across the road with a handful (or a box) of excess produce. It was our turn last week, when our neighbour Kev dropped in with two lovely early butternut pumpkins from his patch. I’m hoping for some figs, as our tree is tiny. It’s one of three in this street and the next grown from a cutting from No. 8′s magnificent tree.

One of the best arrivals with the cooler weather is lemons. Meyer lemons seem to be the most commonly grown variety locally because they tolerate cold fairly well, but I spotted the first fresh thin-skinned Eurekas of the year at Choku Bai Jo last week. While they’re very common and often cold-stored to sell over the summer, freshness really brings out their appetising sharpness. I love their colour too which is more “lemony” than intensely yellow.

 
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Pamela is eating in a north westerly direction

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The first instalment of the tale of Pamela’s journey is here.

Day 1: Canberra to Mildura (700 and something kms)

This morning the Parents sent me off into the world with a stomach full of poached eggs and bacon and in a ute packed with donated blankets and clothes (thank you Wamboin craft group, and Trish and Glen). I only got as far as Yass before I stopped for a coffee (it was a slow start). It was the beginning of what turned into a disastrous day’s eating.

Handy Hint #1: If you are ever in the position of having to buy a tall flat white at McDonald’s McCafe, make sure you ask for a double shot.

The coffee was in fact so bad that I couldn’t drink it. But against all logic, I actually chose to stop at the next McDonalds (Gundagai) to buy another one. But this time, a long black. I figure there’s not too many people in this world who can ruin a long black.

Turning off the Hume Hwy, I made north for Wagga Wagga and then west through a landscape that produces so much of our food, gourmet or otherwise: the endless, empty wheat fields of the Hay Plain; the orchards and irrigation flats of the Murray-Darling basin rivers of the Murrumbidgee; the acres of land cleared for grazing around Balranald. I was playing tag with a truck carrying 600 sheep for live export to Saudi Arabia, the driver of whom stopped to check on his flock almost as regularly as I was stopping to pee.
 

sheep
 
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