March 13th, 2009 — Dinner, Drink and Drunk, Eating Out, Recipes, Reviews
I’m not much of a cook but I’m a real hellion when it comes to ordering up a good meal. Would the kitchens of New Orleans (“It’s pronounced ‘Nawlins’ man! You sound like a fuckin’ limey!”) be up to the challenge?
I arrived in the Big Easy on the evening of Friday 7 November 2008 after 26 hours on the Amtrak Crescent train from Washington DC. My sleeper was very cosy and the views magnificent.
Miles and miles and miles of forests in their glowing fall colours, tiny hamlets painted by Norman Rockwell, long stretches of failed dismal outer suburbs not painted by Norman Rockwell, more beautiful forests, enormous military depots in Georgia where the autumn light turned the ranks of Abrams Main Battle Tanks into squat bronze terrapins and then sunset over the plashy bayou before the final run along the Lake Pontchartrain causeway across oily black moon-rippled waters into the glowing crescent of Nawlins.
The sleeping car attendant was suavely attentive to my needs (“Smoking stop in 10 minutes Mr N.”) and the lounge car very damn elastic about bar closing hours. But the dining car offered some pretty fucking indifferent cuisine and service.
“We do steak and eggs. Or warm chicken salad. How would you like it?”
“You really don’t want to start dissing me here honey.”
So I was feeling distinctly peckish by the time we were decanted around 7.30pm at the Union Passenger Terminal in Nawlins – a chunk of 1950s moderne brave new world of mass travel – right next to the crappy concrete brut 1970s Louisiana Superdome (which is quite a lot smaller than the MCG by the way – but better lit up at night).
Five minutes later a taxi (helmed by a 300 pound bloke who appeared to live in it) dropped me at my hotel in the French Quarter – a 170 year old charmingly dilapidated, sprawling and eccentrically renovated southern mansion run by a charmingly dilapidated, sprawling and eccentrically renovated southern family.
After unpacking and frisking my whiskers, I asked the hotel’s matriarch where would be a good place for a louche gentleman on the loose to enjoy some quality local cuisine before flanuering into the night.
Thirty minutes later I headed out into the Vieux Carré armed with a hand-drawn map marked with Xs everywhere and much juicy gossip about local activities. (Corruption in Nawlins city council elections!!?! Shocked I was!)
So anyway, to cut a rumbling stomach short, I ended up in front of Oliver’s Creole Restaurant on Decatur St at about 9pm on a Friday night. The place was buzzing and looked unlikely to accommodate a lone traveler trying pot luck – but nothing ventured, nothing gained.
I pushed through the swing doors and was immediately bailed up by the Restaurant Captain (An American variant of maitre d’) who looked and sounded like a wiry aging ex-hippy version of Burl Ives. Magnificent sideburns. Or as my grandmother called ‘em “bugger’s grips.” I chose not to share this observation with the man who was gonna get me a table.
Continue reading →
February 25th, 2009 — Bachelor Fare, Dinner, Feeding people, Food for Babies and Children, Veganisable
[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!
Continue reading →
December 15th, 2008 — camping food, Dinner, Feeding people
Please note that the family Virgo has already advised me that I didn’t stitch the pictures together too well.
My old and dear friend Stevie is a regular commenter here and blogs on his beefchange (like a treechange, but with cattle) at WoodenSpoon. He and our friend Captain Ken (that is his nom de progrock. No, I am not kidding.) are part of a group of friends who started camping together at Araluen on the last weekend in November every year since their first year at university, 1983. When I was in Year 7. Just sayin’.
We first went three years ago, and again this November. We had planned to go each time in between, but life and a Federal election intervened.
The hosts are Fabian and Judy, at the family property on the Deua River. The valley is in lush stone fruit growing country, 30 clicks inland from Moruya and a couple of hours from Canberra. There is a beautiful old wooden house with about 80 rainwater tanks, an Aga cooker and a big fireplace. At every turn there’s another little verandah with a couple more comfy chairs to sit in and admire the view.
A ten minute trek down the truly stupid hill takes you to a beautiful grassy flat near the river. It wasn’t in flow this year, but there’s still a beautiful warm swimming hole surrounded by very steep treed banks. And there’s a nice little flat shady spot where responsible parents can nurse their hangovers and respond when one of the kids shouts more loudly than usual from their floating crocodile.
As the years have gone by, there are more and more kids, but adults still slightly outnumber them. There is a core of four-day campers, and others come and go for a night, or a day or two as they can manage.
There are some Big Serious Jobs that smooth the whole event, like mowing the flat with the tractor and chainsawing up enough wood to keep the fire burning all weekend. Fortunately there are many big capable men who really get into those bits, which leaves the chicks some time for sitting around.
There is usually one big special meal together on the Saturday night. The rest of the time, you make something when you or the kids are hungry and whoever fancies some is welcome. Special meals in the past have included camp oven pizzas made to order by Simon, a whole fire roasted pig, a baked dinner, etc. They are not always successes – the spectre of The Great Boiler Chicken Disaster of 1987 hang heavy over the air this year, when a paella with chicken and chorizo for sixteen was to be the main event.
Fabian was the Maestro of the paella and others brought tapas to share – huge green olives a, fiery spiced almonds, batatas bravas and anchovies with pickled chillies.
Fabian was planning to triple this Gourmet Traveller recipe for eight, and it had some specific information about how the cooking should be done for authenticity:
As with all classics, paella varies from village to village and even from household to household. Some say true paella Valenciana must be cooked outside over a fire made of orange branches, dished up with a boxwood spoon and eaten only at midday. In his book, Catalan Cuisine, Andrew Colman goes one further and writes that for men cooking and sharing paella, the only acceptable topics of conversation are “women, bullfighting and crops”.
The first stage was the lengthy browning of chicken pieces and chorizo. Fortunately Fabian has a gargantuan wok from their Webber. While that was going on, the prep squad had mobilised. It takes a long time to infuse six litres of chicken stock with saffron on a gas ring, but there were many helpers.
Also, there was a bloke just standing around. Perhaps he was trying to work out whether the camping party had been infiltrated by one of the Milats.
One of the tricky things that the recipe didn’t mention was how to manage water from the tarp above you bucketing into the wok. We found that stationing a tall person there to artfully empty the pooling tarp worked OK.
It’s hard to serve paella glamorously when you’re to be eating off your lap wearing a headlamp and it’s pissing down, but you’re very unlikely to get any complaints. I had two helpings, and extra for breakfast. Next year: Woks of Fire!
There’s a set of the paella, and of the whole camp at flickr.
November 4th, 2008 — Contributors, Dinner, Eating local, Feeding people, Recipes
Even though it’s spring time and the salads are getting a flogging and the BBQ is all cleaned up ready to rock and roll the nights are still cool enough to allow for the odd curry or soup or other winterish type dish – before we pack away the casserole pot for another 6 months.
It was 16 degrees this arvo when I decided “Bugger it – I’ll do my Red Meat Curry”. So off to Box Hill market I went. The kilo of rump already chopped was $9.90. It was chopped a bit smallish for me – I like bigger chunks in this dish but it would save me the slicing when I got home. I bought it from the Italian guys down the end as I don’t reckon the Asian butchers have got the beef under control. Worse with the lamb – I reckon the Asian guys don’t know anything about lamb and I suspect they don’t even like it. When it comes to pork and especially belly pork I head straight to the Asian guys. But tonight it’s Red Meat Curry. I have tried lamb as a substitute for this dish and it works ok. But beef is better.
Setup: Usually I would put Dr John Naw’lins on the speakers up loud while I’m cooking but tonight it was PM on Radio National.
Four medium brown onions roughly chopped.
Melt them down in a big pan on top of stove – a bit of brown don’t hurt just don’t burn them. When they are melted down a fair bit throw in about four good cloves of chopped garlic and a whole lot of chopped ginger. Continue to melt down for a while.
Have ready on a plate the spices:
2 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoons of turmeric
1 teaspoon of chilli powder
12 curry leaves
1 teaspoon of ground black pepper
Throw all these spices in the large saucepan on medium high heat and stir to brown off onions and melt them and toast up the spices and mix them.
When ready shovel out onto a plate and wait.
Slop more oil in the saucepan. I use Rice Bran Oil . Until exactly 5 minutes ago I thought it was healthier than Peanut Oil – now I’m not so sure. Get the oil hot – drop in half the red meat – not too much or it will stew. We are seeking to brown it here. Brown it. Then tip that half out on plate and brown other half.
Meanwhile you will have been warming the casserole bowl in the oven at around 220 degrees.
Throw meat and onions and spices into casserole and place in warm oven.
Get a large tin of Coles brand diced Italian tomatoes and open it up. Pour it into the saucepan used to brown the meat and smoke the spices. Deglaze the bowl and heat tomatoes. Grab about half a beef stock packet – I usually have half ones frozen in the freezer – and plonk it in the mélange. It’s not strictly Gunga Din but I like to splash a bit of salt in at this point. Depending on your tendencies you might like to chuck in a dollop or two of tomato paste – I don’t.
Slop a small amount of water in. Then pour it into the casserole dish what has the meat in it. Then whack it in the oven somewhere above 220C for two hours. Give it a stir every now and again.
I hardly need to tell you that this is best cooked slow and then left overnight before eating. That will make it taste mature and well integrated. But if your ungrateful unwashed unfed are like mine hanging around the kitchen saying “When’s it ready” then, like me, you will roll your eyes heavenward and sigh and you’ll serve it up on the night it’s cooked too.
OK. It goes with basmati rice. Plonk a measure for each person in the rice cooker and 1.5 of water for each measure. Sometimes I put frozen peas or sultanas in the rice mix prior to cooking. Squeeze a lemon into the rice cooker.
Ok it’s ready. Rice on plates with meat curry alongside it – not slopped on top please, some Patak’s Lime Chilli Pickle on each plate, a big drop of ordinary mild chutney on each plate as well and a big dollop of fresh Greek yoghurt. Or you can plonk it all on the table in separate serving bowls and yell out “It’s ready”.
All that’s needed is a fork and mouth.