Jellies for adults

Today I went and packed up my office.  Having just been made redundant at work – effective immediately – I had no opportunity to think about ‘what’s next’ or about what I would do with all the things I had accumulated in my office , my personal space for the last 5+ years.   It was where I spent the majority of my time.  Full of paintings, books, reference material, a pinboard with postcards I had collected on my travels and from colleauges from theirs as well as momentos from exhibitions and celebrations.  The usual stuff.  And my Bose stereo system. A quick half hour and a station wagon loaded and I was gone.  So much for 5+ years work.

The thought of just going back home to unpack was unappealing.  I needed to do something nice – a drink and nibble somewhere.  We headed to 4Fourteen (or is that Four 14?) in Bourke st – Colin Fassnidge’s place where at first opening it was difficult to get a seat. A few years on and its just walk in and not a fashionista in sight.  Pretty empty by the time we got there at 2.30 but kitchen staff all working hard.  Its an open kitchen so you can see everything.  The place is large and bright and beautifully set up – the banquettes at the back are gorgeous tan leather, they serve wine in proper glasses and the place has the feel of a NewYork loft.  But its the food that really makes this place worth coming to.

We just wanted a drink and something light: seared bonito with ginger ale jelly and apples accompanied by a glass of Duval Leroy champagne. It was a perfect match – more so because my husband had ordered the champagne before we had considered what to eat – champagne being the  drink for all occasions, and in this instance, to toast the end of one phase of my life and the start of something new.  What that new is, I don’t yet know.  But the dish was certainly one that suggested good things to come. When did jellies become so adult?  The flavours and textures just sang in my mouth.  It was so playful – beautifully cooked slices of just just cooked bonito scattered with the jelly and grated green apples in a dressing I couldn’t really figure out, but absolutely perfect. It was joyous.  How do people think of these dishes?  Its what makes the difference between just good food and really exciting food. Food worth celebrating and food for celebrating.

Our other dish was a chargrilled lamb tongue – and I’ll bet if this was presented to you without knowing what it was you’d just think it was perfectly cooked meat that your knife sliced through like butter – tender and succulent. Accompanied by a glass of Spanish red, again a perfect match and a perfect way to farewell 5 years of dedication and welcome my unkown future.

Occasions are worth celebrating, no matter what the event.  This quick meal did that for me.  Good food, good wine, good company.  Life’s OK.

Easter indulgences

Easter is an opportunity to wind down, relax, reflect, be. There’s nothing to do. Gone are the days when we would go away on holidays, camping or otherwise with kids. Now its just the two of us and there’s something very indulgenet about being able to do nothing for 4 days. There are no expectations – everyone is away or with their families, shops are closed – well for 2 days – on the other days its like armageddon is about to strike and everyone heads for the supermarkets and grocery stores and specialty stores for their supplies of food and chocolates and buns and breads.

So for us its just a matter of what shall we do and cook/eat. Our plan was simple enough: on Friday there was a lunch time yoga class (12.15) which we could easily get to after a lie-in and late breakfast for which we bought a baguette, some chevre, tomato and fresh figs. After yoga, back home for a small picnic in the local park. This wasn’t planned but it was such a beautiful day and our apartment is dark and cold. There’s something special about April – the sky is blue, the weather is warm and sunny and there’s a sense of quiet and stillness.

So some leftover baguette, tomato, white anchovies, chevre, ham, a couple of plums, a bottle of verdhello and off we went. A short walk, a picnic rug, kindles and wine and food and glorious sunshine. Then back home to prepare dinner.

I had decided that a whole poached salmon would be nice – and simple. I had hoped that my daugther and her boyfriend would join us for lunch but they had other plans. Who could blame them. I sent my husband off to the shops on Thursday to get provisions and instructed him to go to the fishmarket for salmon. There’s a very good fish shop in our local shopping centre but I didn’t think they would have whole salmon and if they did, they would only have huge ones. Hence the instruction to go to the fishmarket. We only needed a smallish salmon.

My husband went to the local fish shop and was impressed with the two huge salmons they had and decided he would save himself a trip and so he bought one of the two salmons: 3.3kg. That’s a huge slamon. It was more than 60cm long. I don’t have poaching equipment for such a huge fish. I don’t even have an oven that’s big enough to hold such a big fish. Hell, I don’t have the ability to lift one of those into a pan. What to do? He helpfully suggested I could cut it in half. But the whole idea was to poach a whole salmon. So I cut the salmon in half. I removed the fins and then I left the half with the head for poaching and went about attempting to fillet the tail end to gravalax it. Honestly, If I had known I would have suggested he just buy fillets. Some rather bad knife skills later I had 2 half fillets of salmon ready for gravalax. Orange rind, lemon rind and a bit of lime, chopped dill, salt, sugar and vodka. Salmon now ready to be cured.

As for the poached salmon, I made a court bouilion and brought it to the boil then turned it right down and immersed the slamon and slowly poached it. Still there was enough fish to feed a family. I sauteed some leeks, blanched fresh green beans and chopped some heirloom baby tomators and then made a hollandaise sauce. The fish was delicious. But we have enough fish for dinner tonight (I’m steaming some baby potatoes and making a cos, cucumber and dill salad to accompany). There’ll be plenty fish left for another day. Tomorrow I’m cooking pork ribs with a Balinese spice rub and some long beans in a traditional Indonesian sauce (belacan). I’m hoping that my daughter will turn up for lunch (it was going to be dinner) otherwise, there’ll be leftover ribs to eat another night.

I’ve also made some traditional Russian easter breads and coloured some eggs. Its for Sunday lunch. Esater is a time of celebrating, traditions mainly. I like the festivities this festive season affords. Even though we celebrate alone, I still enjoy the sense of occasion. And with only the two of us, it really doesn’t matter when or how we eat. What matters is that we enjoy.

Happy Easter.image

Winter indulgences

I haven’t bogged for ages about food – I think I lost my way a bit.  It all became about eating well and fitting food around activities – yoga/gym/work etc.  Lots of advanced planning and quick meals – what to cook when you’re only home at 7.30pm? All fairly pedestrian.

This weekend has afforded me the luxury of indulging in winter foods.  I suddenly thought “beef cheeks” with red wine – lots of it both in the cooking and in the cook.  I have a fabulous recipe for a Spanish beef cheek dish that uses annatto seeds/oil, manzanilla fina sherry  and green olives and is served with tomato bread and a parsley and anchovy salad (delicious); and another one that I think is gorgeous but very decadent because it calls for both red wine and gorgonzola.  Delicious, but ….hmm …

So I went looking for recipes and came across one from Frank Camorra of Movida.  No blue cheese, instead:  red wine adn Pedro Ximinez sherry.  How decadent is that?  500m good quality shiraz (well, there goes a bottle – just a bit leftover for a glass for the cook), 500ml sherry and 500ml water (plus thyme, bay leaves, onion, garlic and carrots).  And a long slow cook. Its served with a cauliflower puree and the cauliflower is cooked in cream and butter !  Did I mention “decadent”? For those who know me, you’ll have thought I’ve gone troppo – I don’t use butter and avoid dairy and fats and carbs, etc, etc,…. yawn.  So this is definitely a aberration.

But winter weather (not that we’re having much of it here in sunny Sydney) calls for comfort food – big rich meaty dishes that can sustain us.  Full of flavour and readily accompanied by equally big flavoursome reds. And given its a long weekend, why not indulge?

I thought I may as well make extra so that we could have another meal of it during the week and then decided that perhaps we needed something lighter in between.  Some lovely looking chicken thighs at AC Butchery caught my eye and I marinaded them in a mixture of lime leaves (the only herb still growing in my garden), lemongrass, galangal, chilli, palm sugar, fish sauce and lime juice and then pan fried them before finishing them off in the oven.  They might sound rich but I served them with a salad of rice stick noodles, chopped cucumber, chilli  and asian herbs with the usual Vietnamese dressing.  Bliss. I just love the way these flavours dance in your mouth – each one complementing the other. It was a dish to savour and then sit back and sigh over.  Perfect.

Today some beautiful bright red rhubarb stalks captured my imagination.  I chopped  and cooked them in orange juice with sultantas (you need to add a few drops of water or the rhubarb will stick to the bottom of the pan) and am looking forward to having them over my oats in the morning (and possibly with the leftover cream for desert – would that be too much?).

I also quickly made some more preserved lemons – these are a staple of mine and I love that you can just make a jar or two and have them in the pantry for use. I also gift these to people – after all, who doesn’t use them?

So now its finally time to indulge in my Modiva-braised beef cheeks and cauliflower puree.

Tomorrow I go to the gym.

Beef Cheeks with Ximenez sherry

The geese have gotten fat

Christmas Day began with some white peaches poached in lemongrass syrup. I’d made the syrup for martinis we were going to have later in the day so it seemed easy enough to use some of the syrup to poach the peaches in. Accompanied with a bottle of Lamandier champagne they were beautiful. Some fresh mangoes and perfectly ripe cherries followed.

And then it was time to prepare. Snapper carpaccio with shaved fennel, clementine segments, salmon pearls and shiso leaves. A white wine of some description to accompany.

I had planned on searing some tuna and serving it sliced with a jalapeno dressing and garlic mayonnaise but the range of fish available at the fishmarket the day before was limited. Apart from the ubiquitous prawns, crayfish, lobster etc. there was very little in the way of either whole or filleted fish. We did indulge in some prawns with a lovely presto of coriander, green chilli and preserved lemon the night before. And a most interesting bottle of champagne: Pierre Peters (there are so many good French champagne houses that I haven’t heard of.)

So Plan B became scallops seared with ginger and soy/mirin and served in their shell on a bed of finely grated cucumber and radish and topped with shredded nori and toasted black sesame seeds. Truly delish. The delicate texture of the scallops is a perfect match for the crisp and crunch of seaweed and seseame seeds and the mirin/soy dressing added just enough flavour to enhance the experience of these equisite sea creatures. I never knew how good scallops were until I tasted them just cooked. Why is it that so many people over cook them? They loose all flavour and become rubbery and dull.

And then it was on to the ham. Glazed with maple syrup, brown sugar and mustard it was warm and unctuous. To accompany I made a variation on a waldorf with celery, apple, red grapes, walnuts, witlof and raddichio. I cant’ remember what we drank with this. There was another bottle of champagne (Mumm) at some stage (earlier I think with the scallops) but it paled into insignificance compared to the Lamandier. I do recall drinking a rather nice French pinot (yes, they’re called burgundy over there). And then we had the lemongrass martinis. And then it was time for a nap. Which turned into a sleep. I woke at 8pm. It was time to get the feast going again.

I had marinated a neck of pork in some wonderful smoky chillies that someone had told me about (from northern Thailand) and palm sugar, fish sauce and galangal for about 48 hours and it had been slowly cooking for about 2 hours. It was the most wonderful flavour experience – all those sharp, salty, sour and sweet Thai flavours with the succulent pork served with chopped peanuts, fried shallots and fresh coriander. Oh, and a green mango salad. A lovely bottle of Vouvray set this off to perfection.

And then it was time for desert. I had made basil pannacotta and raspberry jelly. As I was straining the raspberries through the sieve I wondered why? I recalled that you could buy raspberry jelly in little packets in the supermarket. All you had to do was add boiling water! However, the taste, is not the same. Trust me. It was like eating gelatinous raspberries. I know that doesn’t sound very appetizing, but it was like mouthfuls of flavoured fun.

More drinks and then more couch time with videos till finally slices of American fruitcake and glasses of sauternes appeared. Our Christmas feast took well over 13 hours. It was quite a day. Relaxed, companionable, full of good flavours, tastes, sensations, easy going conversations and veg out times. All Christmases should be like this.

I’m hungry!!

A few weeks back I embarked on a diet. Its one of those weird ‘eat as much chicken soup as you like’ diets with very specific foods each day.  Eg, the first day is fruit.  The second day is vegetables.  Third day is fruit AND vegetables.  Day 4 is bananas (you’re meant to have smoothies).  Day 5 is beef and tomatoes.  Can’t remember what day 6 is but day 7 has rice.  So essentially, no fat, no carbs, high protein.  Oh, and no alcohol. 

Hmm.  My chubby hubby needed to loose weight and I thought this was a good way to kick off a detox.  It has been many years since we had an alcohol free day.  Seriously. 

And so we began.  I made huge quantities of chicken stock and then made soup.  Surprisingly, fruit in the morning followed by soup at lunch time, more fruit in the afternoon and soup again at night was manageable.  As was the no alcohol.  Day 2 was challenging.  What to eat in the morning?  I ate so many sticks of celery and carrot – and of course soup but god I was hanging out for a banana.  I think I really needed a sugar hit.  The alcohol free day was tolerable (though I must confess I did feel like having a swig out of the bottle).    Day 3 was fine.  Day 4 we decided would be fruit and veg. I just couldn’t do the banana smoothie thing. 

And Day 5 was good – eye fillet with wilted spinach and oven roasted tomatoes and capsicum (I know it was meant to be just tomatoes, but honestly, there’s nothing like a bit of creative interpretation).

And then on Saturday we had dinner booked at Bambini Trust.  I had a delicious papadelle ragu – one of their signature dishes – accompanied with a bottle of St Emilion.  Oh, and a lovely Vespa martini to start.  So having broken the diet there was nothing to it but to continue in decadence on Sunday with real food and alcohol.

Since then we have been pretty much (more or less) sticking to this food regime Monday through to Friday and having weekends off. Its been both easy and challenging.  Is that an oxymoron?  I should clarify.  I’ve cooked some wonderful vegetarian dishes from Ottolenghi’s wonderful book “Plenty” – mostly using chickpeas and avoiding all starches.  Fruit in the morning has been good; a carrot and celery juice mid-morning; soup for lunch; fruit mid afternoon, and so it goes.  But I miss bread!  And those dips and biscuits I used to have with a glass of wine when I got home.  And sometimes I feel hungry.  But I know its not really hunger – its just a want for things (much the same as I sometimes just want a new pair of shoes).

On the plus side, chubby hubby says the fat is melting off him like the proverbial snowman.  He’s lost about 8 kilos.  I’ve lost a couple.  And our food bill has gone down.  And our wine stock has not diminished. In fact, now we’re running out of storage space!

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What’s gone wrong at Ezard’s?

What went wrong?

We flew to Melbourne to celebrate my son’s birthday.  Five of us arrived for the second sitting on Friday night. I hadn’t been to Ezard’s in a while and was looking forward to a great night.

I don’t’ know what went wrong but the staff just weren’t on the ball.  We sat down and ordered a bottle of champagne and were intrigued with the condiments on the table.  We asked the waiter what they were – wasabi and nori, sugar and chili and a szechuan salt.  Interesting.  We dipped our fingers in them to taste.  There was no bread.  It took a little while for the waiter to notice – no bread. Kind of amusing I suppose.

I’m loathe to write anything else about this meal.  4 out of 5 of our main meals were badly overcooked.  3 were inedible. The Blue eye was actually burnt (no, not seared, burnt) on one side.  My pork hock was so tough I couldn’t cut through the meat, let alone the rock hard skin.  The accompanying spicy thai beanshoot salad was lovely.  Still, I wanted to eat the pork.  It was supposed to have been cooked in master stock and then fried.  Yum.   I have no idea how it tasted.  I couldn’t cut through it.  I let the waiter know.  2 others also sent their mains back.  The fourth person was hungry and ate her chicken but said it was very dry. We declined the offer of re-cooking. Its always awkward when some at your table have already eaten their meals and you’re still waiting for yours.

Things happen, food comes out overcooked. Sometimes.  Except that it shouldn’t happen at a 2-hatted restaurant.  And certainly not with 4 out of 5 meals.  That’s just inexcusable.  Clearly Teage wasn’t there.  But what about the Head Chef? Had he gone AWOL?  Maybe the kitchen was left in charge of the dishwasher. Or did they just not care?  There was no real apology.  They clearly weren’t embarrassed by it.  In fact, we were still charged for meals that we didn’t eat!!!

It left a very bad taste in our mouth and was a very disappointing night.

Fortunatley we were able to salvage it with a visit to Izakaya Den with some tasty morsels sent out by the chef and a bottle of sake.

So save your money, give Ezard’s a huge miss and go elsewhere.  After all, Melbourne is blessed with good eating places.

 

Champagne tastes

A friend emailed me to say that she was going away for a girls’ weekend and bringing a box of champagne.  Nice.  Very generous contribution.  Whilst awake in the small hours I found myself thinking about this.  Would she bring a case of the one champagne or a mix?

So I wondered what champagne would it be?  What was her favourite?  Everyone has their favourites.  My husband’s preference is for Mumm – lovely fine bead and yeasty flavours.  I prefer a more toasty champagne such as Roederer  or  Lanson. Though for those everyday occaisions (where $$ are a consideration) Piper Heidseick is nice.

I pondered this: would you just bring your favourite or take the opportunity to do some tastings – try a range of champagnes and compare?

5-6 women.  That means that at any given time you would need to open at least 2 bottles.  I reckon to be on the safe side you’d want to have 3. I tend to drink my first glass very quickly.  Hell, I drink the next glasses quickly too. There’s something about those bubbles that makes you just want more. Easy drinking I call it.

Whatever they do, I’m sure those women will have a hoot of a time.  I can just imagine them lounging on sofas, sipping champagne and giggling away – until they start to laugh uproariously as only a group of women can.

Salute!

Breakfast – again

Its Tuesday – my work from home day.  I’ve been up and at the computer since 7.30am.  I’ve had breakfast (sliced tomato on sourdough toast), showered and have been busy attending to all manner of things (remotely).

And now I’m hungry.  There’s leftover chicken curry in the fridge.  And a pot of freshly cooked rice on the stove.  Perfect.  But is it too early to eat curry at 9.30am?  In India we started the day with idlis or dosas served with fresh chutneys and rassams or sambars – a great way to get you fired up and ready to face the heat outdoors. In southeast Asia we always have the local breakfast: a bowl of pho, nasi lemak, roti, congee – all hot, savoury and perfect starters.

I don’t really have a sweet tooth so biscuits don’t do it for me.  Don’t want more toast.  Fruit?  Nah, too cold.  Why not eat curry?  I could call it a late breakfast Indian style. Besides, its calling out to be eaten.  So curry, it is! The joys of working from home.

Here comes the sun

Saturday was a glorious day and driving back from yoga in the morning I just wanted to be outside enjoying the sun’s rays.  Our place is dark. And cold.  Great in the heat of summer, but not so good when I want bright light and sunshine.  The courtyards face the wrong way.  They get sun, but not when I want it.

So it was off to the park with a basket  – crusty fresh bread, tomato sliced with a generous pour of olive oil (for bread dipping), some goat cheese (recently discovered a lovely aged French goat cheese that comes in a lovely bamboo container), a bottle of Italian white wine, a couple of sarongs and cushion to lie on and the weekend papers.  What could be simpler?    It was glorious.  Our local park is large with oak trees providing ample shade and nicely grassed for those of us who love to bask in the rays of the sun.

I was engrossed in my reading but could hear a repeated thump/thwack noise.  I looked up and saw a boy hitting a tennis ball against the brick wall of the pergola.  There were couples strolling by and families with prams, quietly chatting away in a myriad of languages.  How perfect, I thought.  A park for all reasons. And blissfully I returned to my reading, enjoying my food, wine and sun.

Rhubarb, rhubarb

The other day I bought a bunch of rhubarb – it was big and a deep crimson colour with contrasting bright green leaves andlooked so fresh I wanted to eat it immediately . I stewed it with some sugar and now have a huge bowlful in the fridge from which I take helpings of to accompany my porridge.

I use real oats (as opposed to the instant variety) and cook them with some dessicated coconut and water (Just 2 mins in the microwave!!).   Each morning I pack my oats and coconut mixture and rhubarb and strawberries into little containers to take to work.  I also pack whatever leftovers there are for lunch.  Today it was leek and pumpkin risotto.

 

I generally eat my breakfast sometime between 9 and 10.  Today I got busy.  And then I got hungry.  At 10 o’clock I was ready to eat my lunch.  Porridge wasn’t going to cut it.  I waited till after 11 and heated up my risotto.

 

Now its after 2pm and I’m thinking about my porridge and rhubarb.  I’m having a topsy kind of a day.