Entries Tagged 'Bachelor Fare' ↓

Dr Sister Outlaw books a table for one at Becasse

The other night I found myself in Sydney, all alone, at the end of two extremely interesting but tiring weeks of work-related learnings. Something about the blueness of the autumn sky, and the sudden freedom of completing my duties, infected me with hedonism. I decided that I would do something I’d not done for a long, long time and buy myself a scarily expensive meal. After spending most of the day thinking about it, I booked a table for one at Becasse. After a trip to the beach, to catch the last warm waves of the season, and buying myself a new pair of red shoes, I was there. Alone.

Dining alone is a curious experience. I remember being told, by a much older woman I admired 21 years ago, that the measure of a restaurant is how they treat the solo diner. Her name was Lynn and her gold standard was the legendary 1980s restaurant Stephanie’s, whose staff did not sit the solo diner at a table next to the kitchen, but put them in the best seat, so as to shower them with discreet attention. As Lynn pointed out, the food and a good book should substitute for lack of companionship, and being alone should never be a reason not to partake of all the best that chefs have to offer. I’ve never forgotten Lynn’s example and have often eaten alone often and happily. But restaurants as splendid as Becasse are restaurants for romantic encounters, or significant life events, or, if one is truly vulgar, proving your financial muscle to people you want to impress. I’ve never really considered going to such a place alone. My Crush, stuck at home and unable to accompany me asked, won’t you feel awkward being by yourself? I thought I wouldn’t, but I needed to test that.

I’m so glad I did. My booking was last minute, but the lovely bloke who answered the phone explained that he did only have two tables, and I would be near the kitchen, but he hoped I wouldn’t mind and I would find the staff friendly. The only indication he gave that he thought my request for a table for one was odd was asking me if I was in the food industry. No, I assured him, but I did want to eat a really good meal. I knew by his tone that I would, and the night would be good.

It was. The ambience of the restaurant is late 70s, with lots of black and white velvet wallpaper, gold and smoked glass, and frivolous chandeliers. There was almost one staff member per table, and a phalanx of chefs. I had forgotten how spoiling it is to eat silver service, but they did it in a way that was completely unfussy and laid back. The lovely woman in charge of the food had the motherliness you’d expect to find over a bar on the Central Coast, and none of the staff were hipsters. Who’d have thought that?

I love going to a restaurant with someone with a good palate and unpacking the food, but being alone meant I could focus completely, and not feel self-conscious for it, as I might have with a friend or a date. The food deserved the attention. Big kitchens do things you could never do at home – emulsions and gels and foams you would only bother with if you were a bit demented, and they pride themselves on flourishes, such as making little sculptures of marinated baby heirloom vegetables with crumbled olives and purees of beetroot and peas (please excuse the grainy iPhone pictures – it was dark in there and I thought it would have been rude to pull out the flash, or use my proper camera). 
Despite such amusing frippery, it was all underpinned by some very decent cooking – French-based, Asian influenced and rounded out with a deep knowledge of wholefoods and craft. The breads, for instance, were outstanding examples of a skilled baker’s work (the little green block in the bread picture is a fascinating but unnecessary emulsion of olive oil, while the white one was an emulsion of butter and pork fat, which I did not taste as I am a friend of the pig). Apparently Justin North, who owns Becasse, is opening new digs and a bakery across the road – I suggest you go there as soon as it opens. Just ignore the emulsions.

Other highlights were the delicate punch of wagyu and tuna in a beef and tomato consomme, the smokiness of scallops with miso and magically simple things; toasted buckwheat crumbled on top of scallops; the consistency of the chocolate mousse, with its glazed surface; the delight of creamy pannacotta at the bottom of a cup of mandarin granita. Nine of the ten courses were extraordinary, blending seafoods, beef and smoked flavours with lots of variations on potato and light, light dressings. It wasn’t perfect: the eggs with legumes were foamy and it was all too salty, but only the last savoury course was entirely disappointing, because the chicken was tough and the lemon pith overpowering. Still, this was the flaw that kept my feet on the ground and I was wowed by the smoked scallops, the various versions of potato, the wagyu and yellowfin, the savoury biscotti with goats cheese, those pumpkin and rosemary brioches, and that chocolate mousse.

And, as it turned out, being near the open kitchen was quite entertaining. I could hear the machinery of the restaurant and the calm, well-drilled voices of the head chefs as they pulled together the tiny elements of dishes they’d prepped all day. I had my back to them, but a piece of smoked glass in front of me provided a perfect reflection of what they were doing, and this meant I had a kind of chef TV, as well as a great view of the restaurant. And they could not see me watching them …

Dining alone was a wonderful experience. After two hours, when I was getting a bit restless but had eaten through only eight of the 10 courses, I fell into the closing pages of The Great Gatsby, and floated away. Then it was time to go. When the bill came I signed the credit card without a flourish, then poured myself out into the night, full of happiness and pride for spoiling myself so thoroughly.

So I’m sending thanks my old friend Lynn, wherever she is, for giving me the courage to eat alone in a fancy restaurant. I loved it Lynn. You knew I would.

[I have been wrestling with the alignment of the text with these photos but they will have to wait until Ms Zoe gets back from her holiday shenanigans to fix the blessed things. My bad.]

The Case of the Devil’s Kidneys, by Sir Arthur Conan Nabakov.

compleat bachelor fare archive

It was on a cold and dreary night in November 1892 that I was first introduced to yet another of the singular talents of my friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes, talents with which he was wont to so often surprise those that thought they knew him well.

Welcome

The fire was blazing in our chambers at 221b Baker Street and I was seated comfortably in an armchair, browsing through the privately published memoirs of a Ruhr industrialist visiting Siam in incognito. Meanwhile Sherlock Holmes sat listlessly at his desk with his commonplace book open before him but ignored. Once again it was clear to see he was in the grip of one of his queer humours.

Looking across, I recognised of old that glint in his eye that signaled a brooding determination to break loose of his lethargy. I feared his gaze would soon turn to the drawer that held his vials of five percent cocaine solution, or worse still, to his violin case.

Suddenly Holmes leapt to his feet and began to pace about the room. “I feel like something spicy and gamey,” he ejaculated.

an ejaculation

“Why my dear Holmes, whatever could you mean?” I murmured, rising to feet and closing a chapter on a stimulating account of nubile hermaphrodites in Indochine.

“The Devil’s Kidneys, Watson! That’s what I mean,” he curtly exclaimed.

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Sister Outlaw on single women’s (good) food

I am very good at cooking for other people, but very bad when I am by myself. Other people get lavish meals like lamb shanks in Middle Eastern spices on preserved lemon couscous with carrot, beetroot and parsnip roasted in brown sugar and olive oil, followed by lemon delicious pudding. But when I am child-free and left to my own devices I eat crap. Some nights I’ll just get chips and gravy for tea, or cook pasta and cheese, or fried eggs on toast (NB: no veges). I also have an unhealthy obsession with dukkah (sesame seeds and nuts and spices like cumin with salt) and have been known to eat half a jar of the stuff, stuck with olive oil to most of a loaf of fluffy white bread (gosh, I’ve been wanting to own up to this for ages, it feels good to get it off my chest). It was delicious, but I did not feel so good the next day.

Recently returned to a single state, I have resolved that I simply have to devote as much attention to cooking nice things for myself as I do when cooking for other people, or I will become lardy and unhealthy. As we know, being lardy and unhealthy is inimical to dating but, more importantly, leads to permanent ill-health and it’s hard enough to meet a bloke in Katoomba without confining yourself to the hospital grounds.

But enough about non-dating in the Blue Mountains. This post is about how virtuous I am for cooking even though I didn’t really feel like it, how I managed to work dukkah into the meal without overdosing on the stuff, and how it’s important to just get going and do stuff for yourself, because the results are really special. And it doesn’t take much effort, or cost much.

This week, I made a VERY yummy celeriac and parsnip soup, which was dead easy. You just take a celeriac – a funny lumpy vegetable that manages to be like celery, potato, cauliflower and ginseng all at once – and chop the tops and bottoms off it. Then you quarter it, eight it, peel off the skin and chuck it in the pot with two quartered onions, two or three cloves of garlic, some water, some dry white wine, two peeled parsnips, a bay leaf and some thyme. Cook it until the veges are soft (about 20 minutes) and then blend it to bejeesus, add some soy milk or stock to get it to the consistency you want and warm it through with some salt, pepper and a vege stock cube if it’s not savoury enough. Serve it with some crumbly parmesan on the top and drink the rest of the wine while you eat.

But the nicest dinner of the week incorporated green veges AND enabled me to eat dukkah. I just love simple pasta dishes like grated zucchini or pumpkin tossed through spaghetti. Tonight, I fried an onion with some small pieces of sweet potato, garlic and a finely sliced piece of preserved lemon (my most specialist secret ingredient). When that was rocking I shredded a small bunch of silverbeet into the frypan, tossing until the colour brightened. I mixed it up with some fetta, a bit of butter, a smidge of cream and a small handful of coriander leaves. Then I mixed it into hot, fairly wet pasta (so the pasta water made a kind of sauce) and sprinkled dukkah over the top.

DSC00894

It came out lemony, with plenty of bite in the silver beet and the salt of the feta and nuttiness of the dukkah hanging perfectly off the sweet potato. I even had enough left overs to ensure that I don’t have to buy lunch tomorrow, which is good in these global financial crisis-ridden times.

I am really interested to hear about other people’s eating vices so invite PDP readers and writers to share their sins against fine dining. However, to ensure we honour the goals of this blog, perhaps it’s best to temper stories of vice with tales of how we have managed to redeem ourselves by cooking clever and artful food, even when we is by ourselves. So, c’mon contributors and commenters, share.

Nabakov presents The Hat Flu Cure

compleat bachelor fare archive

A very seasonable recipe based on litres of tradition and extensive hands on research. Works fine with all hats.

First catch your flu.

Blend half a bottle of fine coloured spirits – preferably brandy, whiskey/hy or rum, with a couple of glasses of fishpiss (water) in a saucepan and bring to fingerhurting but not boiling heat.

Then flake in a cinnamon stick the size of Donald Trump’s real dick, half a dozen cocktail-sized lemon slices, a pinch of hammered cloves and some grated nutmeg if the mood takes you..

Now add a big swingeing tablespoon of unsalted butter from happy cows, another equally butch dollop of honey from busy bees and simmer, stir occasionally and sneeze for the length of four good 60s pop songs.

Decant contents of saucepan into thermos flask. Recline on bed or sofa with flask and glass to hand. Place hat on foot and starting imbibing your hot toddy.

When you can’t focus on the hat anymore, that’s when the hat flu cure is kicking in.

hatty

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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Duckie’s Mount Yum

[for meat-eaters, but can be converted to vegetarian]

In my (reasonably broad) experience of men, each likes to have their Signature Dish, a culinary piece that they’ve stumbled upon or invented (or mother used to make) and have tweaked to make it utterly Theirs. It is carried with them through the years, brought out to impress the chicks, and then served to the family proudly over the years and passed down from father to son etc etc… ok, maybe that last bit’s an exaggeration, but most of it rings true, no?

Best Beloved is a enthusiastic but slightly nervous cook. He travels widely in the foodie universe, but never without a guidebook. This following dish is one of the very few things he will cook without a recipe; it is a family favourite, and went nameless until I decided to blog it, upon which Bumblebee decided that it should be called Mount Yum. Before this, it was always know as ‘your/my chicken/nut dish’.

To celebrate the fact that it is made without a recipe on the bench, I will not be providing ingredient quantities. You need to think about how much each person can eat and provide enough of everything to divide between the number of people eating. There’s no right or wrong; substitutions are not only welcome, but encouraged. There are endless possibilities. Best Beloved rarely strays from his favourite combination, but the other day we had no pine nuts and I persuaded him to use slivered almonds rather than popping down to the shop. Lo! It worked! (Sigh.)

Please excuse the crockery, we’re waiting for it all to break. If BB had known I was doing this before he started, he would have brought out his collection of 60s Poole pottery!

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Nabakov presents: Spag Bol al Dante

compleat bachelor fare archive

Ah Spaghetti Bolognaise! The bachelor’s friend, muse and destroyer of waistlines. Here I offer a hot new take on an old favourite. All measures are calculated for two people of firm appetite with enough left over to fill a few jaffles on a hungover late winter morning.

This one’s a bit tricky though as it involves not one (1) but two (2) hotplates. You’ll need all your project management skills here.

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The Devil Drink presents: The Alcoholical Oracle

The Devil Drink

How do you do. Allow me to introduce myself, I am the Devil Drink. Pull up a chair, make yourself comfortable, and help yourself to a glass of whatever you’d like.

You see, with her child-chewed Penguin paperback edition of the Delomelanicon, a bit of incantation and a burned sacrifice or two on the suburban gas-burning altar-stove, I have been summoned here by Zoe to provide my services. I must say I find myself unusually at home at this progressive’s dinner party, I’m quite familiar with your best of intentions. My driveway is paved with them—but let’s not get started on discussing real estate just yet.

It’s the usual deal, as I’ve explained thoroughly to others; temporal benefit for payment delayed, a deal unique in bargain-basement value. No job is too small, naturally, and I’m offering here all my efforts in agony auntery, booze pointers and advice on grogiquette. In short, let me answer your curiosity about anything drink-related.

Readers, let your idle hands make the Devil’s work. I am entirely at your service. Questions in comments below or if you’d prefer to remain anonymous, to thedevildrink@yahoo.com.au. My answers will be published in one week.


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