Can’t help but cook

I can’ help myself. I have a need to cook or at least be involved in the process.

Recently I had surgery on my right hand which rendered me quite incapacitated – amazing how many things I couldn’t do – including cooking, opening jars, bottles, squeezing toothpaste etc. I was most frustrated one day when my husband had gone out and I wanted to open up a bottle of sparkling red (perfect for late autumn afternoons). I thought it would just be a matter of undoing the foil and then twisting the cork with my left hand. Alas, no. It also required the use of my right hand to hold the bottle tight. Which I could not do.

For the first couple of days while I was still aneasthetised and sedated with pain killers I was quite happy for M to do the cooking – I didn’t even feel the need to make a decision on what to cook/eat. I told him I was happy just to leave it all to him. Day 3 however, things changed. M was going to cook some kangaroo fillets and serve them simply with some greens and I suggestd that the woodfire roasted capsicums would make a good addition – both in terms of colour and texture and flavour. Easy. However in the interim I had been watching Rachel Koo’s Cosmopolitan Cook – an episode where she was in Sweden and had cooked venison steak with pureed celeriac and pickled blackberries. She had also quickly pickled some finely sliced carrot to look like petals. Sounded divine. And I thought that the kangaroo would do well as a substitute for venison. So whilst shopping I was on the look out for something to pickle – not blackberries – but something small and crunchy. I found tiny little baby turnips – perfect. Also found some lovely little dutch carrots and a big celeriac. So when we got home I made up the pickling mixture and trimmed the turnips (bit of an effort given my invalidness) and set them to pickle. I wasn’t sure how they would turn out as all the recipes I had read called for turnips to be pickled for at least a week. Fortunately though they were just right. I had quickly blanched them beforehand but they still retained a nice crunch.

The celeriac was beyond me so I simply gave instructions. Meanwhile M had done his own bit of research into celeriac and had sautéed it with fresh thyme and garlic and then steamed it till it was cooked and mashed with a fork.  Not how I would have done it as I had envisage a very smooth white puree spread on the plate and the kangaroo on top, but it was absolutely delicious; so much so that I could have just eaten that on its own!!

I did have to apologise for my intereference but I just couldn’t help myself. While M is a really good cook he’s often a bit pedestrian while I’m always on the look out for new ways of doing things and even though I may not set out to get inspiration from a cooking show or recipe, inevitably I do get inspired and want to create something that sings on the plate and palate.

However having overstepped the mark yesterday I have sworn to not interefere with his ideas and repertoire – after all, everyone has their own way of doing things and I think he likes to cook for me as much as I like to cook for him.

So I shall embrace my debilitation and just sit back and enjoy being catered to.

 

Baby turnips
Baby turnips

Food, wine and sommeliers

Food and wine – what else is there?

My brother’s partner has a birthday close to mine and my husband’s – 5 days in between each – so this year we celebrated all three together here in Sydney.  My brother and his partner live in Auckland and they planned to arrive Friday night (the day after Helen’s birthday).  We didn’t want anything high-end – we’re all struggling financially but we all also felt that we’d “been there, done that”, so low key but fun was the plan.

We decided on Berta’s in Sydney and I booked a bar table – always much better fun than the more formal settings – and had a lovely night with great food (Chui Lee Luk, formerly of high end French restaurant Claude’s, was currently cooking there) and fabulous Italian wine.

Next day we met for lunch at Yellow – one of my favourite Bentley Bar places; in fact, the Bentley is one of my all time favourites, dating from way back when it was a tiny place in Surry Hills.  Sommelier Nick Hildebrandt who is also Front of House, is warm and friendly and extremely knowledgeable and helpful when wondering what to drink.  Deservedly, Nick has been awarded Gourmet Traveller’s Good Food Guide 2015 Sommelier of the Year, while Brent Savage was awarded SMH Good Food Guide’s 2015 Chef of the Year. The two are quite a team, but so are their staff, and it’s this aspect – great friendly service – that makes the Bentley bars such good fun.  Which brings me back to our lunch at Yellow.

Because it was such a simple affair – really we were only going to have a glass of champagne and a nibble before going on to see a performance at Hays St theatre – we ended up ordering toasted sandwiches.  Doesn’t sound very interesting but my smoked brisket pastrami with cheddar and pickled cabbage (Reuben) was the best I’ve ever had – and I’m very fussy about my Reubens.  Two of us had these while the other two opted for a pulled pork and chilli mayo sandwich – I can’t remember what else was in them but there were groans of delight at first bite.  So what to drink?  We had started off with a glass of Roger Coulon – superb. To go with both the pork and the pastrami (very different flavours) we thought perhaps something white but decided to ask the sommelier. I don’t know why people don’t like (or is that they are are scared of?) sommeliers.  To me, they are the source of all knowledge:  what shall we have with all these different dishes?  Our sommelier that day was fantastic – a young guy who works in fashion and moonlights in restaurants to make money.  He was great fun: chatty, friendly and incredibly knowledgeable about the wine. He recommended a nebbiolo which was not only the perfect match but absolutely delicious.  Could have stayed there and had another bottle.

So, if you’re ever confronted with a wine list where you just don’t know any of the wines – ask the sommelier.  He’ll make recommendations.  A good sommelier will even give you a taste of the wine he recommends to see if you like it – no pressure.  Really. And its such a great way to try new wines.

Celebrations

My birthday and my husband’s birthday falls just 5 days apart.  This is always awkward.  Celebrating two birthdays in the one week in style is just overkill, but then who’s birthday get’s the big celebration and who’s ends up with “well lets just stay at home and have some great champagne and good food”?  Generally its my birthday (falling first) that we go out for – and not always to high end places, sometimes its just a fabulous lunch somewhere or a causal place like “…” in Newtown – just somewhere that I would like to go to eat.  I’m not really into the big flash dinner thing.  Perhpas we’ve done too many of them but I’d rather go to those places on the spur of the moment rather than as a planned event.  Too much pressure.

The trick to celebrations – birthdays/anniversaries etc – is to make them feel special.  One year I took my husband (and daughter) to the Sydney Fish Markets early in the morning.  We bought some wonderfullly fresh oysters and had them with a bottle of champagne and some lovely ripe brie and huge juicy strawberries.  We sat on the pier – picnic style and watched the boats unloading.  And then we all drove home and off to work/school.

Another time, for an anniversary celebration I decided to do something right out of the box:  a night time picninc by the water.  But I wanted it to be a surprise. So I told my husband I had made a booking for a flash restaurant where the dress was very formal.  Meanwhile, Pip and I shopped and cooked and prepared everything and packed the car with picnic rug and chairs and t-lights, plates, linen napkins, glasses, champagne etc.  I can’t remember what I made (although one of the dishes was a pigeon and pickled walnut terrine – that took days to source ingredients for, another was individual plum frangipane tarts).  Pip and I scurried around getting everything ready and packing the car in a bit of a frenzy before M got home.  Secrecy was the key.

And then it was time to get dressed and go.  I wore the Akira outfit I had worn for my wedding and M put on his tux.  Stylish.  And then we got into the car and I drove.  M wondered where we were going – he started to recognise some of the landmarks so the next step was to blindfold him.  We drove to Neilson Park and Pip and I set up our little picnic spot near the water, lighting all the candles and setting out the food while M sat in the car – no doubt wondering what was going on.  We then led him out and only when we were at the spot did we let him see.  The look of surprise on his face and pure joy was so worth all the effort we’d gone to.  It was, relatively, such a simple thing – a picnic at the beach – but it was so enjoyable – we even danced barefoot on the sand with the waves lapping our feet – that it remains in my memory as one of the best celebrations ever.