30 October 2007

lemon heaven

A bee buzzes near my ear.
The grass tickles my neck and the backs of my arms as I lie on my back with my long locks fanned about my head. It’s a sunny day and I am a child sprawled in the cool of the shadows, under the large lemon tree in my grandparents’ garden.

The branches hang down low to the ground and with my head near the trunk I am enveloped by the sprawling tree. Amongst the leaves the bees hover and crawl, and when drunk on nectar, they leave the garden heavy with their bounty bobbing and wobbling on a dipping flight path.

The air around me is heavy with the perfume of citrus blossom.
I studiously watch the delicate white flowers being pollinated. The industrious bees will pave the way for the weeks to come when I will observe the tiny budding fruit swell and ripen until the boughs are groaning with fruit. Grandpa will give buckets of coarse skinned lemons away to the neighbours and there will be shopping bags full for Mum.

I love the lemon tree’s deep green leaves and the little white flowers with their pronounced pistil and stamens. I love the scent of the cool earth mixed with lemon blossom and the hum of the bees so much, that comforted in this hidden corner of my world, I drift off to sleep.

I’m not a baker. People who bake love the precision of weights measures and temperatures. I learnt that when my father studied to be a Pastry Chef at William Angliss during his mid-life crisis.

I am a cook - an intuitive type, with a short attention span - who occasionally succumbs to the need to provide for visiting sweet tooths. It’s not in my nature to bake spontaneously and my baking tendencies are so weak that I don’t have a mix-master, so sweet recipes need
to be simple.

Mr Stickyfingers eats tons of chocolate and is an ice creamophile but he can generally take or leave cake and biscuits on a daily basis. Both of us prefer salty snacks.

But I have discovered a weakness. It is a fondness shared by many people who do not usually eat dessert or cake. This cake is the one I trot out when I need something that will transport well and like the loaves and fishes, is a crowd pleaser that will go a long way. It keeps well too if you need to make it in advance.

The cake is Lucy Rushbrooke and Greg Malouf’s Lemon yoghurt cake from Arabesque. It has proved to be foolproof. I can make it with a spatula or hand beater, and I use fresh free range duck eggs, freshly ground almond meal, the finest semolina I can find, King Island Yoghurt and fresh organic butter to make up for my baking inadequacies. And if the mix is not exactly measured, it still works.

In typical Melbourne fashion, Mr Stickyfingers procures the ten lemons it generally requires to make the cake and syrup, from branches hanging over various neighbours’ fences. Living where we are, the first Greek Migrants left a legacy of now neglected olive, lemon and fig trees with limbs that protrude into back laneways to plunder over the course of
the year. We love the fine mist of lemon oil that spritz’s the air as you zest and cut the fresh home grown lemons, so I double the amount of zest used.

To the lemon syrup you pour over the hot cake, I add a splash of orange blossom water, glucose syrup and I use Limoncello instead of brandy. That’s the intuitive streak again, which has been hankering also to infuse cardamom and to make a blood orange version of the cake with star anise and cinnamon in the syrup mix. May be next time.

The cake is heavenly – not too sweet and as lemony as you can get without being sour. I can smell all the lemons as I inhale the magnificent baked aroma. The colour is majestic and the texture soft and moist, it’s best served with berries and extra yoghurt or ice cream, and in the right circumstances I garnish it with fairy floss too. I love it. Thank you Lucy and Greg.

Arabesque is published by Hardie Grant. RRP $39.95 paperback


250g butter

200g castor sugar

4 teaspoons lemon zest (I double this)

4 eggs

50g plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

250g fine semolina

200g ground almonds

6 tablespoons lemon juice

120g plain yoghurt


1 cup lemon juice

175g castor sugar

½ tablespoon brandy (I use a tablespoon of Limoncello)

I add a tablespoon of glucose syrup – it makes a thicker syrup, but it’s not mandatory

Cream together the butter, sugar and lemon zest until the mixture is pale and smooth. Then beat in the eggs, one by one, ensuring each one
is completely incorporated before adding the next. Sift flour and baking baking powder over the top, and gently fold in with the semolina and ground almonds. Then mix in the lemon juice and yoghurt. Pour the mixture into a well- greased springform tin (I use a silicone cake mould, and the cake pops out easily), and bake in a preheated 170 °C oven for
50-60 minutes, or when the cake is firm to the touch and golden brown.

Combine the lemon juice, sugar and brandy/Limoncello, glucose in a small pan and bring them to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for
5 minutes to make a syrup.

Remove the cake from the oven and pierce it all over with a skewer. Pour the syrup over the hot cake and allow it to soak in. I remove the cake from the silicon mould when it has cooled and then add a little more syrup to the top. The cake will keep in an airtight container for several days.

Postscript. Another 'non baker' made the cake and complained that the syrup kept running toward the edges and so the centre missed out on the powerful lemony flavour. I always grab a silicone pastry brush and keep stroking the syrup back and forewards to distribute it evenly across the cake. I guess it's an intuitive thing to do, to ensure that all of the cake benefits from the syrup. Adding glucose syrup helps too, as it makes the syrup thicker. This way it mostly sits where it's put, until sinking into the cake.

PPS. Blogger Thanh made this cake and found it to coarse for his liking. He is a sponge cake enthusiast. I warn you, this is not a sponge cake but it doesn't have to be coarse. Mine turns out fluffy and fine because I use the finest milled ingredients (semolina, almonds etc) I can get. As always in baking, the better quality the ingredients and the fresher they are, makes a world of difference to the outcome. Also remember that eggs should be at room temperature and for this cake, preferably recently laid.

29 October 2007

slice slice baby

My man zero is back with a killer slice,
I’m blowin’ up the mic,
Ya damn right, vanilla ice
With twice the punch,
I put the crunch on marky
And take the funky out of his bunch.

Hit'em Hard, VANILLA ICE

Yesterday The Funky Bunch Custard Crusaders traversed 200km in the pursuit of Vanilla Slice. We were in Mount Macedon and drove across to blustery Trentham and on to Malmsbury. We stopped in Castlemaine and travelled as far as Maldon, bypassing the award winning scones for their rumoured to be delicious 'Zen' organic slice, only to have our hopes dashed. Zen only makes their Mille Feuille style Vanilla Slice on Thursdays, and they sell so fast they need to be ordered in advance.

Pictured above is all we came up with. Although the Malmsbury Bakery was doing a roaring business, their photogenic Vanilla Slice was disappointingly merely adequate. A rock hard icing, dusted with icing sugar topped crisp pastry, sandwiching a cloyingly rich custard, that left a fatty coating on the lips. The consensus was that the good Bakers of Malmsbury had plenty of room for improvement.

Later this week - given the time - I aim to launch The Vanilla Slice Blog - a quest for perfection. The Custard Crusaders will review Vanilla Slices and Mille Feuilles on their travels, scoring the custard concoctions that they come across out of twenty, for custard, pastry, icing and the degree of difficulty in tackling the sweet slippery mass. Stay tuned for more.

25 October 2007


“Sham Harga had run a succesful eatery for many years by always smiling, never extending credit, and realizing that most of his customers wanted meals properly balanced between the four food groups: sugar, starch, grease, and burnt crunchy bits.”
Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms

Nestled behind a vase featuring a hand drawn sheet itemising the daily specials, a small ghetto blaster evacuated my earwax with Tito Puente’s latin rhythms. Before me was a plate of garlicky peri-peri prawns with thick soft wholemeal bread, golfball sized potato and salmon croquettes, some sliced magret straddling aubergine and a dish of deep fried soft shell crab.

A plume of fire rose at the other end of the room – and over the top of the coffee machine I could just make out the chef at the stove. No, I am not in a tapas bar, but at The Age Cheap Eats Guide best restaurant Horoki, a favourite of we Stickyfingers.

The red bar stool I am perched upon resembles a rather large leather gear stick and driving the flames is Ken Higuchi, who I recall - in my days schmoozing clients - was the chef of Restaurant Suntory, a vastly different venue to this 30 seat laneway nook. Seated under lights shaded by enormous round shades, two thirds of the clientele here are Asian, of them the majority are Japanese.

We like the unpretentiousness of Horoki. We like the innovative fusion of Japanese technique with western recipes and the fast service, which makes it ideal for a pre-theatre or movie session. We like that the menu doesn’t change much either and that the food has always been consistent in its presentation.

As we turn our attention to the food, the eight small prawns have arrived sizzling in a handled terracotta tapas dish. The texture of the plump pink morsels is perfect, the sweetness of the flesh meshing with garlic, chilli and parsley - and the best thing? Drawing the soft chunks of bread through the rich melted butter at the bottom of the dish. Garlic bread has never been this good.

Four segments of battered soft shell crab, fried to an intoxicating level of crispiness, sit atop butter lettuce. The plate is painted Jackson Pollock style with sour cream mayonnaise flecked with baby capers and yuzu.

The crispy crabs themselves are sour with the yuzu, which has been incorporated in the marinade, but the sharpness is neutralised by the mayonnaise. It’s wonderful until Mr Stickyfingers, by force of habit squeezes the lemon garnish over it without first tasting. I’m not happy. My second piece of crab becomes excessively sour so I am forced to smother it in more mayonnaise, wrecking the texture.

Deep fried Panko crumbed golf balls of potato and salmon are anchored on their plate with a Tatare Sauce made with rich Japanese soy based mayonnaise. Anointing each ball like a miniature Christmas pudding is the ubiquitous brown BBQ sauce favoured by the Japanese, an unctuous mix, which has a base of Worcestershire Sauce and sugar. It’s a riot of flavours and textures: crispy and smooth, with salty, creamy, sour, rich, piquant, sweet and spicy…hrrr.

The result is toe curlingly pungent - like running your tongue over a tray of mixed condiments in a diner. I like the crunch factor but the flavour of the salmon is tragically smothered into insignificance. The dish is filling but it just doesn’t work for me. I take refuge in gulps of hot Persimmon leaf Houji Cha while my beloved, ever a fan of panko crumbs, puts away the crispy spheres.

Salvation comes in the form of the duck dish. The five spice and miso marinaded breast of duck is braised and finished under the grill. On the plate it crowns deep fried eggplant batons. Again swirled across the plate is a thick sauce, this time dark red miso or Hoi Sin Sauce, which gives the dish the effect of a Nasu Dengaku with buttery, melt in the mouth duck. Slippery textures combine with elegant flavours to win me over. I eat it with rice.

Outside in the laneway, overlooked by Allen Woo’s new establishment Laksa Me, smokers drink wine with their dessert, a pannacotta I think. I am sated and slightly deafened, but with the bill arrives a small tile of creamy coconut jelly – a staple of yum cha – a perfect palate cleanser with which to end the meal. As we slip out into the lane, I jiggle with the Latin swing orchestra still jangling in my head.

Horoki Casual Dining Bar. 19 Liverpool Street, Melbourne, Victoria. Phone: (03) 9663 2227. Inclusive of drinks our meal cost $60

Horoki Casual Dining Bar on Urbanspoon

24 October 2007

SOLE Sista's

Deep Dish Dreams: Oh SOLE e mio

My post yesterday Oh SOLE e Mio turns out to have been a catalyst for chewing the fat on what we each do in our own way to eat and contribute to the planet in an ethical way. The conundrum and the expense are raised by two of my blogger friends.

It prompted The Grocer to write
Are You Ethicurean?. Here you'll find her thoughts on what a labyrinth you find yourself in, once you begin to eat your way down the path of social conscience.

The Purple Goddess has also thrown her hat in the ring with how to do it in the suburbs with S.O.L.E Foods.

I'd be curious to hear what you do.

To begin with, my aim in the long term will be to lobby government to assist in making ethical eating more accessible and affordable for all. I want better rebates for farmers willing to make changes to become sustainable and bio dynamic. I want to provide better education for family nutrition and will endeavour to enlist the mainstream media. I will encourage others to lobby supermarkets for a wider range of better produce, locally sourced and raised ethically.

As PG pointed out in yesterday's post's comments, we achieved national acceptance of recycling, so lets take things a step further for the sake of paving the way for a positive future for all.

23 October 2007

Oh SOLE e mio

Lives there who loves his pain?
Who would not, finding way break loose from hell,
Though thither doomed? Thou woudst thyself, no doubt,
And boldly venture to whatever place
Farthest from pain, where thou mightst hope to change
Torment with ease...

Salman Rushdie

Reading an article in this week’s The Age, Epicure section – Moving up the food chain, on “Eating your way to salvation” – I felt quite self-satisfied that I was doing my bit by embracing the majority of items raised in the piece, in terms of eating seasonally, being a Locavore where possible, avoiding packaged foods, especially those with palm oil – supporting sustainability, fair trade, organic and bio dynamic practices, eating free range, heritage and rare breed, blah-blah-blah etc. We aim to eat ethically and we’re introducing household practices that hopefully will help minimise impact on the environment and support local suppliers and manufacturers.

And then I looked at myself and thought, what a wanker.

I am privileged. I have had a good education leading to a healthy career where I have had the opportunity to earn an above average income. Mr Stickyfingers and I have no children or crushing amounts of debt, in fact he has worked for the same company for 27years. We live in the inner city, enjoy the arts and dining out, we travel, read, socialise and have a comfortable home.

In short I’m a lefty wanker. In fact I’m a former anarchist, greenie punk who has gone a darker shade of ecru. Oh the shame of it. How did I become so vanilla?

For most of my life, I have been cocooned in a world of high maintenance, status-seeking achievers who I naively felt that I was rebelling against. But in the cold light of my energy saving light bulbs, I’m no different. Although my badge of honour is not the latest handbag from Chloé, European cars and entry to The Birdcage to rub shoulders with the skimpily clad, solarium set for Spring Racing Carnival, I am no less elitist in my practices, because it takes money to live ethically.

I’m doing my bit because it comes easily in my circumstances. While there are many people significantly better off than me, the vast majority of Aussies are not. As I trawl through the online sea of comment, forums and blogs, I begin to see the people who are beyond my social demographic and get some comprehension of the attitudes that I have for the most part ignored.

I see people who are driven 24/7 by the routine of their lives and by the example of their peers, lifestyle shows and trash magazines. An understanding of the planetary ecosystem, farming, culture and industry is not relevant to their lives. Many have an idea of how to cook, but not many consider the nutritional or environmental impact of their trips to the shops on their families.

To be SOLE in your approach - sustainable, organic, local and ethical - quite frankly takes dosh, which is manageable for us as a couple, but how far would it go if we had three more mouths to feed? I know in my heart that we would cope because slow grown is more filling and so less is required on the plate. And that ethical practices work as loss-leaders, paying off in the long run, but it is not easy to convey this to others.

So while people like myself are kicking back and feeling smug about our contribution, how much will our efforts actually impact on helping the environment, when industry and the majority of the populace need cheap and easy solutions to fit in with their budget and time poor lives? It is exactly to fill this need that Supermarkets have created a demand for items that are impacting negatively on the environment.

I watch Stephanie Alexander and Jamie Oliver with admiration in their attempts to roll back the years and teach children about growing food, cooking and eating responsibly. I feel saddened that in the UK Jamie’s efforts are being undermined by parents and a system that is beginning to reject his ideas because they are not cost effective. And when I read that some UK families regually choose a Pizza Hut family meal that delivers twice the daily requirement of salt to their children - over fresh home cooked produce - my high and mighty streak kicks in with a resoundingly self righteous “How dare they do that to their children!”.

But I am not a mother and I was raised with gallivanting gastronauts for parents, who rejected fast food. The stresses of the average family are not mine.

So in this world where many years of endorsing right wing governments has resulted in the cosseting of a generation of complacent young Aussies - who thanks to the efforts of the battlers who’ve gone before - have had it all at their finger tips, I have found myself gradually slipping into neutral. Like driving a car with a dodgy gear box, I adapted without even realising what I was doing. I see that I too am apathetic. Rather than rousing the punk spirit and reaching out to educate, I am like many others, vainglorious in my endeavours.

So in the midst of my mid-life crisis I have resolved to reignite the fire of my youth for causes. As a bonne vivante spin doctor, I have been nominated to assist the Slow Food Movement with their efforts and though I have never officially joined the cause, I support their practices. In order for a wider community, beyond those of privilege, to embrace these practices we need to get word out. The government and the media need to be involved.

We need a champion for the cause. Although Slow Food and The Slow Movement has been around for a number of years, they have oft been discounted for being a bunch of elitist, unrealistic, fuddy-duddy fundamentalists. The challenge will be to disprove this and to show more people how to live economically, ethically and in the process raise a happier, less obese population that has a planet with a positive future.

It’s time to step up to the soapbox again. I will make a difference. Old punks never die, they just go green around the edges.

Facts from Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity:

of European food product diversity has been lost since 1900

93% of American food product diversity has been lost in the same
time period

33% of livestock varieties have disappeared or are near disappearing

30,000 vegetable varieties have become extinct in the last century,
and one more is lost every six hours

The mission of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity is to organise and fund projects that defend our world's heritage of agricultural biodiversity and gastronomic traditions. We envision a new agricultural system that respects local cultural identities, the earth's resources, sustainable animal husbandry, and the health of individual consumers.

22 October 2007

The Write Stuff

Something that appears to be hotly discussed across the Blogasphere by both food bloggers and their readers, is the topic of printed media food reviews and city food guides.

Many online readers consult both traditional and social media for inspiration and guidance on where to dine out. The reasons
cited are because both are trusted, though those who take counsel online consider that well known reviewers get preferential service and consequently may have a significantly different experience to Jo Average in a venue.

But what actually constitutes a good review? Is it just formulaic content, in that it is pure opinion harnessed to fact and knowledge - or is it something more?

Blogger Elliot Rubinstein deconstructed the standard formula as requiring the following:

1. Introduction and history of the venue

2. Décor and Ambience

3. Service

4. Presentation of food, taste and texture

5. Evaluation of the wine list

To me this is an indication of where food reviewing is plateauing. Since Terry Durack left town and Leo Schofield was sued, the face of reviewing in Australia has changed. Stephen Downes has been banned from a dozen venues, Claude Forell was also refused entry and Mietta O’Donnell has passed on. The Sydney Morning Herald is also in the midst of litigation.

We live in times where publications are sensitive to the possibility
of being sued and Editors have been charged with keeping reviews within the boundaries of what may be politically correct. To borrow from Blogger Purple Goddess’ vocabulary, I believe that reviews
are becoming increasingly ‘beige’ and that’s even amongst many of the blogs.

The best reviewers have developed ‘a voice’. Their writing carries you along giddily in a whirlwind that picks up knowledge, culinary skills, business insight, awareness of suppliers and farming of the food, literary knowledge and sharp observation. At the end of an article the lateral threads of repartee are joined together and deliver the message with a thumping righteousness. There is nothing timid in their approach. There is chutzpah and ‘joie de vivre’.

We know why the popular reviewer's hands are tied, but why are online reviews tame? Unconstrained by editing by others and the opinions of management and advertisers, you would expect forums and blogs to be full of rollickingly naughty bollocking and cheeky asides. Instead they are sweetly worded appraisals and gastroporn.

Why? They are taking their leads from the mainstream media. And given that Australia’s favourite publications as examples of gastroporn are fairly pretty to look at, easy to read and mild in content, we will not make any inroads in being able to manipulate language to stunning effect.

Underwritten into these documents is the Australian tendency to pursue the yen to be normal and to standardise things. This is a country where we are a way off from encouraging striking out from the norm, where the tall poppy is still trimmed. Here, eccentricities are neutered and words of passion are regarded as excessive, churlish or childish.

By the same token, without adequate literary skill, reviews attempting ‘cleverness’ may result in conveying bitchiness and not insight. In my heart, I feel that we should be encouraging food writers to write with a voice that conveys both knowledge and personality.

My favourite English reviewer, AA Gill wrote a piece on Food Reviewing in The Sunday Times recently. I would like to finish with some of his words, that I wholeheartedly endorse.

The Pleasure Principle (an excerpt), October 14, 2007, Times Online

And no, not anyone can do it. Reviewing isn’t complicated, but most people who think they can review can’t. Expertise isn’t always a help; it can make you talk down to your readers and distances you from their experience. But over the years, you do acquire it – I now know a lot about food. Except cheese, which, like grammar, I cannot retain a single piece of useful information about. I’ve also worked in kitchens as a cook, dishwasher, waiter and a maître d’. And I can cook.

The problem and the skill is not actually in the food, or in having an eye for decor, an ear for the staff, or a nose for the wine list (which I rarely mention, because I don’t drink). It’s in the language.

English, which is so gloriously verbose about so much of life’s gay tapestry, is summarily tongue-tied when it comes to describing food and eating. The reasons are partially cultural. It has never been considered polite to talk about food, partly as there hasn’t ever been much food that you could be polite about. Food and talking about food was something the French did. It’s often pointed out that while the words for farm animals are Anglo-Saxon, their names when they’re cooked are Norman – pork for swine, beef for cattle, mutton for sheep – distinguishing who did the herding and who did the eating.

But then, many of the words that we do have are swaggered in a Pooterish bourgeois snobbery. I can’t write “moist” or “succulent” or “luxuriant” without shivering. Writing about food and the sensation of eating can be as nauseating to read as watching someone eat with their mouth open. So you have to pick your way through the verbiage with care and imagination.

You do need to be pretty omnivorous – I’ve always said that I’d eat anything anyone else ate, as long as it didn’t involve a bet, a dare or an initiation ceremony. I’m often asked what the most disgusting thing I’ve ever eaten is. Buried shark in Iceland, jewel beetles in the Kalahari, fertilised duck eggs in Vietnam, seal blubber with the Eskimos in Greenland and warm blood with the Masai in Tanzania all pale into wholesome yumminess compared with the fast food available on every high street after 11pm, or the chilled, dehydrated and microwaved amuse-bouches lurking in petrol stations.

My particular interest in dinner really only begins with the food. I’m constantly fascinated by why and how we eat. The movement of ingredients and the history, anthropology, mythology, manners and rituals of food. Dinner is a defining human occasion. We are the only species that ever existed that offers hospitality.

Is my opinion worth any more than anyone else’s on the bus? With a modest blush I must say yes. It’s also worth more than that of most chefs and restaurateurs – I’m a professional, this is what I do; they’re big men, but they’re out of condition. Do I ever get bored, blasé, bilious? No, hand on heart, I’m always excited about dinner. I still get that frisson with a new menu. Do I ever eat or order badly on purpose, look for awful food to make good copy? Of course not. Despite what you think, it’s no easier to write a bad review than a good one; it’s just that you prefer reading the bad ones.”

21 October 2007

Mama Ganoush 2

Monaco, 1967. Nikita Krushchev to Michael Caine:
"You're worse than Stalin... have some Baba Ghanoush."

"You hold the coffee pot in the left hand and the cup in the right, pouring the coffee away from your body into the cup, then you pass the coffee to the guest's right hand." Our earnest and camp waiter sweetly advised us on the etiquette of serving Turkish Coffee. A former Trolley Dolly in the Middle East he regaled us with tales of Sheikhs and falcons. Very fitting for a night at Mama Ganoush.

We had bounded into the restaurant for a second time, eager with anticipation of eating anything from the menu that we'd missed the first time. The atmosphere was more subdued and quieter - I put it down to the crisp, new white tablecloths absorbing some of the noise and clatter - and the downstairs was still dimly lit.

Ushered up steep stairs we found ourselves in another room where the decor was considerably brighter and lighter. At the end of the space, under three arched, gold painted windows was a bar and waiter's station area. Overhead hung brass lampshades that resembled upturned Dervish's hats, though Mr Stickyfingers preferred the description 'Madonna's Bra' - an acute observation, given our waiter's presence.

The tables here were less close together than downstairs, the ceiling high and although the mood was less intimate,
I felt more comfortable than on our previous visit. It will, I expect be an appropriate venue for private functions
as time goes by.

I chose not to take more photos of the food, suffice to say we could fault nothing about it. The highlight being the oysters topped with blue swimmer crab, lime and coriander. We gave the spatchcock a repeat visit, marvelling at the succulence of the meat and the unctuous, sweet roasted eggplant underneath it.

Finishing my meal with mint tea - served with two top ups - I swirled it around my mouth and felt the urge to spit. Was it heated dental mouthwash? Possible, I suppose. It lacked the herbal quality of the previous visit. Where was the spittoon? Apparently orange tea, drunk by friends in a cafe in Turkey, turned out to be heated Tang. The proof being when they caught a glimpse of the Tang jars behind the counter, so who knows?

Having devoured the entire menu, I realised that many of the same ingredients are being used across several dishes, but the application of them makes for very different tastes on the menu. Not only does this keep the costs down, but demonstrates just how cleverly this kitchen is being run. Bravo!

Greg Malouf is back in the country after his Guest Chef appearance in Austria and a new menu will come into play at Mama Ganoush next week, giving us another reason to go back.

Mama Ganoush, 56 Chapel Street, Windsor, Victoria.
Ph. 03 9521 4141. Open for dinner only.

20 October 2007

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

What does one feed a man the night before he rises at 4:00am to cycle 250km? Pasta.

It is the day before the charity 'Around The Bay in a Day' bicycle ride for The Smith Family. Mr Stickyfingers and I join his Lycra wearing road cyclist buddies for a BBQ and bask in the glorious Spring sunshine.

After a char-grilled protein fix of an exquisite, thick Black Welsh Porterhouse steak from the King Valley, his favourite spicy Asian Coleslaw and a serve of potato salad with caramelised onions. I was stumped as to what my beloved's next meal should be. What would help propel him down that long journey around Port Phillip Bay?

I scanned through my mental catalogue of recipes. And then an old favourite rose to the surface. Spaghetti Alla Carbonara. Perfect. A carb load with the added muscle building protein of eggs.

I never follow a recipe. I cook instinctively using an expansive mental database of techniques and recipes to use whatever is at hand. Pasta is not something we eat often, but it is always kept simple. The Carbonara I wanted this time would feature a couple of non traditional extras: a large King Oyster Mushroom, two small cloves of garlic, a few sage leaves and an onion.

It came together beautifully. The aroma of Gypsy Pig leg bacon - a local pancetta - cooked gently with garlic and onions, wafted through the house. Mr Stickyfingers, who had been pumping tyres and packaging provisions, left his tasks and hovered nearby, summonsed by the smell.

Then to the pan came the mushroom, a little splash of milk, spaghetti,
a duck egg and a couple of hen eggs broken into the pan, stirred through with crème fraǐche, then finished with flat leaf parsley and purple sage. A little Murray River Salt, black pepper and a garnish of a sage flower and fresh watercress finished the picture. Parmagiano Reggiano was on hand but not required.

Meal finished, hunger sated, Mr Stickyfingers retired for the night. In a matter of hours he will rise to a breakfast of Knead Wholemeal bread studded with seeds and grains, and topped with Mountain Honey from Kyneton, leaving the house with his pockets packed with bananas, protein gels, sweets and sachets of Powerade.

And when he returns home with an infinitely painful posterior I shall again ponder the question of what to cook next.

There are a few theories as to the origins of Spaghetti alla Carbonara. Some say that it is named for Carbonari - Charcoal makers - who lived in the hills outside Rome and created the dish. Others claim that it is named for the amount of black pepper served on it, as to resemble coal dust. Still others cite it as having evolved from
a nineteenth-century secret society whose aim was to unify Italy, then
on having been driven into the forests of Abruzzi named themselves
La Carboneria.

Carbonara is said to have been a purely provincial dish in Italy until after The Second World War, when many Italians were eating American Streaky Bacon and eggs supplied by US troops, which is why both bacon and pancetta are acceptable as core ingredients. The first known published recipe for it appeared in 1927 in Ada Boni's La Cucina Romana.

17 October 2007

Roundtable Wines

"Tangy and citrus peel on the nose: slightly musky too.
Excellent fruit weight in the mouth - pear skin and citrus peel again - a real mouthful in fact, with excellent fruit persistence. Really tasty and reasonably priced."
Tim White, The Age, Melbourne magazine, 25/1/07

After working everywhere from Brazil to Moldova, Vales homeboy
Nick Bickford made this crunchy biodynamic tracker from the
New South Wales Canowindra tablelands. What a relief.
Bone-dry, furry with appetising tannin, and loaded with Old World rusticism, it's clean, fine, focused and stunning. Respect.
Bickle just rewrote Oz chardonnay. Bouillabaise. 94/100
Philip White, The Advertiser 19/04/06

Nick Bickford’s first, 2005 vintage wines - a lean and minerally unwooded chardonnay and savoury, gluggable shiraz - were made from Rosnay-grown certified biodynamic grapes.
Max Allen, Red, White and Green.com.au

Ok this is my first blog-flog. I’m doing it to support my dear friend, the winemaker Nick Bickford and to put food on his family’s table. Nick is offering up the last 200 cases of his beautifully crafted Roundtable biodynamic organic white wine for sale direct…and what a drop it is. As you can see the critics have given him top marks.

Passion however can be an expensive thing. A great quality wine is no guarantee of sales either. Nick has admirably scraped together not only blood, sweat and tears to create this wine, but also every last cent he has, to make his dream of a quality organic, sustainable wine come true. And he not only still works for wineries, but he does other odd jobs to keep the wolf from the door too.

Born and raised in the magnificent McLaren Vale wine region of South Australia, Nick and his family are passionate about sustainability and his grapes are sourced from dedicated grape growing, organic accredited vineyards. The packaging is recyclable and the production of which has been achieved with minimal environmental impact. Amongst all this, his wine is a particularly fine contemporary unoaked chardonnay.

So this is what I want you to do: put your drinking elbow to use and put some of this great wine in your cellar, then tell your friends. If any of you or your friends would like to invest in this excellent product - that not only is sumptuous but also paves the way to a better world - Nick is also happy to discuss ongoing partnerships in the business.

C’mon get behind an Aussie battler who is trying to do his best for the planet and give everyone a little pleasure in the process.

Roundtable Wines ‘Bianco Verde’ 2005 Organic Unoaked Chardonnay
$60 per half dozen, $95 per dozen. Free delivery within Australia


15 October 2007

Protein Plus

The water in the pan was gently simmering. I had added a splash of vinegar, and stirring, I made a centrifuge with a slotted spoon, but the action was unnecessary.

As I broke the freshly laid egg into the water it pooled perfectly and I paused to watch the egg white slowly congeal around the beautiful duck yolk, gradually shifting from translucent to opaque.

On the plate sat a warmed, golden, lobster quiche, made with Marsh Family free range chicken eggs - purchased that very morning from my mate Swampy, at the monthly Collingwood Children's Farm Farmer’s Market.

Into a small, porcelain bowl went a smashed, blanched, clove of garlic with a generous serve of freshly made pesto. I thinned it with vinegar, honey and a splash of extra virgin olive oil.

A dip of the finger into the bowl and a little taste; yes, perfect. The coarsely ground pine nuts of the pesto distributed themselves evenly throughout the simple salad of torn herbs, blanched asparagus, tomato and lettuce.

I fished out the immaculate oval poached egg and crowned the salad. I considered adding some fresh Buffalo Mozzarella but discounted it as superfluous.

As the knife went into the poached egg, a thick, bright orange rivulet of yolk oozed into the salad and onto the plate. The rich flavour of the duck egg melded with the dressing transporting it into a sumptuous dish, crisp but rich and laced with garlic.

The quiche lurking alongside became an over the top accessory for a hungry man who had just cycled 100km in training for this coming Sunday’s 250km Around the Bay in a Day ride. A man who needed an extra serve of protein with which to restore his muscles*.

Bicycle Victoria’s Around the Bay in a Day is a charity event to raise money for The Smith Family. One of the world's biggest and most popular cycling participation events, riders have a choice of four ride distances - 250km, 210km, 100km or 50km.

The ride on Sunday October 21st will take in some of Melbourne's most scenic and popular cycling routes around Melbourne's Port Phillip Bay. Riders will traverse the West Gate Bridge, Beach Road and the Bellarine Peninsula, crossing The Bay between Portsea and Queenscliff by ferry.

In 2006, more than 14,000 riders took on the challenge of riding "around the bay", raising a record $496,872 for The Smith Family.

*The protein in eggs has a biological quality greater than any other natural food. In fact many manufacturers of protein powders often base their products on egg protein such as albumin because of its protein quality. Egg protein contains all the essential amino acids in the exact proportions required by the body for optimum growth and maintenance of lean, metabolically active tissue.

13 October 2007

Purple Gold

Price of Gold per kilogram $26,577.41

Price of Truffles per kilogram $597.86

Price of Organic Purple Garlic per kilogram $55

1kg Garlic = 2gm gold necklace or 100gm truffle

11 October 2007

Spring Tom 2

I stood up and stretched my back
. My nails were filled with soil and the skin of my hands thick with worm castings. As I brushed against the tomato plants their distinctive smell wafted up. With the promise of future home grown meals lingering in my nostrils, I washed my hands in a bucket of rain water and stood back to study my efforts.

It's happened. One month after planting some Stupice and Hardy Tom seedlings we have our first tomato of the season. I was amazed that we have something so soon, but read up on Stupice and found that they are so frost resistant that they will grow in Alaska.

I guess I'm not as green thumbed as my Grandpa after all, and then there's the weather. It's been a perfect Spring of sunshine and showers to encourage the plants in their endeavours.

The tomato seedlings were purchased last month from the St.Kilda Veg Out Farmers Market and this week, after bumping into Ed, I followed them up with Oak Leaf lettuces, Rabbits Ear lettuces, Rocket and Basil.

I think that we owe part of our success with herbs and vegetables to worms. We mix the potting mix in our planters with our Vermiculture efforts - worm castings and liquid - from a worm farm supplied by the local council.

I love that I can feed our worms all of our kitchen scraps, lint from the dryer, pet hair and excrement, the contents of the vacuum cleaner, newspaper and the human detritus that falls on the bathroom floor, then out the other end comes a marvellously rich and complex mix to keep our plants happy. Anything we can't feed the worms - like citrus peelings, lemongrass and onion scraps - get chopped up and composted under the citrus trees.

Now our garden is small and what little soil we have is so sandy that water washes straight off the top without sinking in. I believe our home is on the site of an old foundry and despite applying lashings of compost and mulch for years, our patch of dirt is still ghastly. So bad that I am thinking of building a decking over the main garden bed instead.

Consequently we resort to self watering pots for our vegetables. Or in this case, we went to the South Melbourne Market, and enroute to the Dim Sim Stall, we scrounged large empty polystyrene boxes from the fishmongers. The long narrow boxes smell fishy at first, but make excellent planters and it's a great way to recycle.

We already have a smaller polystyrene box filled with Tasmanian Purple Garlic and it's going great guns. In August we surreptitiously smuggled some garlic bulbs into Victoria after a visit to the growers at the Hobart Salamanca Market. Until then we had been garlic free when I failed to find anything but that awful acrid bleached giant Chinese garlic in Melbourne. At the time even the organic stores were barren of decent garlic.

So, after planting and administering worm by-products to all saturday's new lettuce and herb seedlings, I then added a little Saturaid around the stems. Mr Stickyfingers treated them to a dose of grey water mixed with rainwater and like tucking a snug blanket around them I topped the lot with pea straw mulch. If seedlings had expressions, I'd guess that they'd be looking rather smug at this point after a good feed and a comfortable new bed.

Every day since, like a couple of expectant children, we have checked on the progress of the seedlings. And the pay off is that they have already blessed us by growing noticeably since the weekend. If I can manage to keep the snails off them with the coffee grounds from my Vietnamese coffee maker and dishes of beer, we should be enjoying a fair bit of organic, home grown salad in the months to come. I can't wait.

A shout-out for Bloggers. Ed Charles of Tomato is masterminding a Bloggers Banquet here in Melbourne, for bloggers, partners and aspiring bloggers. To be held in the St.Kilda Veg Out Community Garden, the old bowling club in Chaucer Street. You'll find it's next to Luna Park and one street back from Acland Street, where there is abundant parking and easy access to trams.

A number of Monday or Tuesday nights in November are on offer, when we will have access to the Garden's BBQ and Wood fired oven. The evening of Monday November 12 is the current favoured date. The plan is to bring a dish - what in the USA they call Pot Luck, I think - so you have a month to come up with a treat to bring or BBQ or bake in the oven.

Holler back if interested here or at Ed's blog as we need to confirm numbers, and why not post details on your own blog? It'll be great to meet you in the flesh.

08 October 2007

Stinky balls of stodge

I looked up and looked down. The sky matched the newly concreted pavement. I rounded the corner and beheld the queue in the distance. It had snaked out to the edge of the wide, extended pavement and around along the bicycle path.

The café patrons looked on as a rag-tag group of locals, suburban visitors and tourists patiently waited on the street. The queue seemed to be a constant source of bemusement as they sippped caffé latés, and wrapped fat fingers around panini, bomboloni and pancakes, clustered on simple outdoor furniture.

I joined the queue. There were 26 people ahead of me. The wind bore a cold hole in my back and as the sky got darker, the rain spat icy droplets on my cheeks. I drew up my hood and buried my hands deeper into my pockets. Shuffling along with the rest of the expectant shoppers, the vendors moved sales along briskly. It took 5minutes to get to the front.

I knew what I wanted. Here there was no time for dilly-dallying or procrastination over the short menu. When you got to the counter you placed your order and were specific. Dim Sims, fried or steamed; Deep Fried Spring Rolls or crispy Potato cakes - all together, in separate bags or mixed bags? Cash only. Transaction complete, move on quickly.

Condiments to the left – slosh dark soy sauce or squirt lurid red Sriracha chilli into the bags and consume quickly on the street before the greaseproof paper of the brown paper bags melds into the dumpling pastry. Fingers covered in grease and sauce, I make a beeline for the public conveniences to clean myself up.

Mr Stickyfingers and I have a Sunday ritual. We start our day with freshly baked organic artisanal bread, with Marsh’s traditional eggs from chickens that roam freely, feeding on grass, insects and whatever fare they come across, with a helping of Gypsy Pig free range, rare breed bacon. It’s the perfect start to the day, healthy and delicious. We then get stuck into our chores and if we need something from South Melbourne Market – usually a visit to the market’s cheese room – then comes the second part of the ritual; the dim sim queue.

The antithesis to our breakfast, this anomaly in our diet is something that started as a way to entice Mr Stickyfingers to the market. But I too have begun to enjoy the stinky delights of God knows how many kinds of offal derived from beef and mutton, cabbage, starch and seasoning with a little meat, wrapped in a thicker than average Goa Tse dumpling pastry. I know, it sounds dreadful, but comes together well. Their Spring Rolls however are not to my taste. The filling is mushy and reeks heavily of cabbage, not unlike another Australian snack food – the Chiko Roll.

Although I have been visiting the market for twenty years it took me some time to come around to these giant dumplings. I suspect that the recipe has been refined somewhat since the death of the business’ patriarch and after, on two occasions, fines of $26,000 & $30,000 for breaches of food safety, arising from unsanitary conditions and not using refrigerated vehicles to transport their products. The recipe was until then, quite an adhoc production.

The Dim Sim is something of a culinary icon in Australia. It is a dumpling made by Chinese Vendors to appeal to western palates as a snack food and is a popular item sold in fish and chip shops and Chinese takeaways. It is not dim sum, which is found at Southern Chinese Yum Cha, though it would appear to be based on their tiny steamed Sui Mai dumplings.

Elizabeth Chong - a Melbourne Chinese cooking teacher - claims that in 1945 her father William Wing Young was the inventor, serving them in his restaurant Wing Lee and selling them at Football matches. The South Melbourne Market dim sim however, is the one upon which most commercial dim sims are based. With a large circumference packed with a stodgy, meaty filling, Aussies love them either steamed or fried.

Kuen Cheng was the father of this commercial ‘Dimmie’. As a cook for the US Marine corps he escaped the Japanese invasion of China and wound up in Darwin, working his way down to Melbourne, where in 1949 his family claims that he sold the dim sims from a trolley that he took to Caulfield Race Course and nearby pubs. It is said that the dumplings were originally very salty, which made patrons thirsty and kept him in the ‘good books’ with the Publicans who allowed this mutually beneficial trade to continue on their premises.

Once business was booming he relocated to South Melbourne market. Today Kuen’s children continue to maintain the business in a newly refurbished and larger stall. People come from all over Melbourne for their fix and there are always queues, even early in the morning. I once met a man who drives from Grafton in Northern NSW armed with an enormous car fridge, to buy large bags of frozen uncooked Dim Sims that will last him several months. He has been buying them since 1960. Such is the love for SMMDS.

South Melbourne Market Dim Sims, Stall 96. South Melbourne Market, Cecil Street (between Coventry and York Streets), South Melbourne, Victoria. Open: Wednesday, Saturday & Sunday: 8.00am - 4.00pm, Friday: 8.00am - 6.00pm. Closed: Monday, Tuesday & Thursday & some Public Holidays.