Not that I mind the actual work of it, watching a project come together is its own reward, but when said painting interferes with my cooking projects, then it becomes a pain in the derriere. Our unit is from the 1940's and has all the attendant problems of peeling paint and water damage that one would expect, which all has to be patched and sealed. You know how it goes, patch, patch, patch followed by sanding, checking, more patching, a coat of sealer, back to patching.
All of which is stopping dead in their tracks several cooking projects, namely a flourless white chocolate cake that tasted so great the first attempt, but needs some textural adjustments, then there is some blue cornmeal sent to me by a dear friend that I have worked into a recipe in my head whilst painting and a dumpling deadline that is fast approaching to an event that I want to enter. The painting has also had an effect on my blogging, slowly it down considerably.
Still, the painting hasn't stopped me from doing something food related and that is dreaming about it. Last night I dreamt that a fellow blogger from the States, with a now defunct mushroom blog, was visiting me in Australia and we went on a country walk. As we walked by a flowing creek, he suddenly stopped and pointed out to me a mass of morels growing by the bank, I was so excited and happy. Then he told me where I could find more...
You didn't really think I was going to tell you.
Tap, tap, tap.
Okay, you're back. Did you notice the part where Rob claimed that McDonalds chips are perhaps the best ever, period? And he's not the only one either, a certain food fascist has made a similiar claim.
It looks like I'm a lonely beacon on a forlorn windswept coast, but I can't let those boasts pass idly by, because in my experience, homemade chips properly made beat Maccas fries hands down on all counts, taste, texture and staying crisp.
Just as a great wine starts in the vineyard, great chips start from the soil and from there, how they are handled has a huge bearing on the outcome. If you look closely at the photo of horse fat fried chips, you'll notice some very brown spots, rather than a uniform pale gold colour. That comes from potatoes that have been either held too long or not stored properly, causing some of the starch in the potato to turn to sugar, which then caramelizes quicker than starch at frying temperatures. Supermarkets are the biggest culprits with the way they handle their spuds, and for chips we never buy from them as we have been disappointed too many times.
Of course McDonalds know all that and take great care with their potatoes, which gives them a head start in making chips, but if you can source good potatoes from a specialist greengrocer that has a high turnover, you can certainly match Maccas potato quality.
Then comes the point about how McDonalds chips have a great flavour that originally came from being fried in animal fat, but is now achieved by adding flavour to the chips. I've been around a long time and certainly remember chips fried in animal fat and for sure they do have a different flavour to those fried in vegetable oil, but these days I prefer the cleaner taste of oil and the way it doesn't coat the tongue with grease. And I like my chips to have a creamy potato flavour.
Notice I wrote that McDonalds add flavour?
It's not the only thing they add either. If you make chips at home, there are only three ingredients - potatoes, oil and salt. Here's the ingredient list from McDonalds USA website.
French Fries: Potatoes, vegetable oil (partially hydrogenated soybean oil, natural beef flavor (wheat and milk derivatives)*, citric acid (preservative), dextrose, sodium acid pyrophosphate (maintain color), dimethylpolysiloxane (antifoaming agent)), salt. Prepared in vegetable oil ((may contain one of the following: Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, partially hydrogenated corn oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness), dimethylpolysiloxane added as an antifoaming agent). *CONTAINS: WHEAT AND MILK (Natural beef flavor contains hydrolyzed wheat and hydrolyzed milk as starting ingredients.)
That's nine separate ingredients if you don't count all the different oils they use and you probably noticed the word hydrogenated in reference to some of the oils, in other words, trans fat. Which is not the only problem with their chips either. Notice the words wheat and milk? No McDonalds fries for you if you're a celiac or vegan.
I won't repeat how I go about making chips, you can look here, or use the method Rob wrote about. But I will say, it does take a bit of practice to get them right, it's definitely not a matter of plonking them in hot oil and forgetting about them, especially if you want to keep your kitchen! But good home made chips are so worth it, go on try, you won't be disappointed.
Edited to add: If you live in Melbourne, you can source top quality russet potatoes from the Spud Sisters, Kerri & Catherine, who will deliver a ten or twenty kilo bag of them to your door for a very reasonable price, they also carry other varities, straight from the farm. The Potato Specialist at Prahran Market also carries russets from time to time.
Spud Sisters: Phone & fax 03 9503 4783, Mobile 0421 478 993
It was like, "You saute some spinach and onion in some white wine..."
It's not that we don't deep fry, we do on a regular basis, but why on earth would I sack the pot that has given commendable service for over a decade with nary a hint of trouble, for a clunking interloper that takes up twice the space and doesn't do a better job?
So there it sits, waiting for someone to get married.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm sure an electric deep fryer would be a boon for the right person, the idea of a thermostat makes a snap of temperature control, just set and forget. That takes all the guess work out of frying, all commercial kitchens that I've seen have thermostat controlled fryers. The thing is, after frying all my life, I know without the aid of even a thermometer when the oil is just so, the thermostat is in my head, so to speak.
With apologies to Kitchen hand, last night we had that simple French classic of steak and chips served with a peppercorn sauce. We prefer russet potatoes for chips but sebagos are also good and happily, wherever you buy, in this country at least, unwashed nameless spuds, they usually are sebagos and after those varieties, any white fleshed potato will do, but do stay away from waxy, yellow potatoes, they never turn into decent chips.
So we peel and chip the spuds, giving them a rinse, which gets rid of excess starch and helps stop the chips sticking together. The oil is heated to medium, I don't know, about 160 c and the chips are blanched until they float and are a pale white colour. They are removed and allowed to cool down before being returned to the oil for a second frying at about 190 c which happily equates to flat out on my stove, until they are crisp and golden.
It is probably worth letting you know about my steak with peppercorn sauce too. My favourite cut for this is from the rump and I like it to be about 1" (2.5 cm) thick, regardless of what length it is. The steak is left at room temperature for about one hour then quite heavily salted and dropped into a hot frying pan that has been filmed with oil. It is important for the sauce to use a flat frying pan, not one with ridges. Cook the steak however you like it. With a fillet steak, I prefer it rare but with rump steak, medium to medium rare seems better.
When the steak is done to your liking, remove it to a warm plate and cover, leave in a warm spot. Have ready a finely diced small onion and a finely diced clove of garlic as well as about a tablespoon of green peppercorns. If there is enough oil still in the pan, sweat the onion and garlic for two minutes, add a knob of butter if the oil is insufficient. Turn up the heat to high and add a wineglass full of the red wine you are drinking while cooking (not the Grange though) and the green peppercorns. With a wooden spoon, scrape up all the sediment on the bottom of the frying pan and reduce the wine until it's syrupy, then add about 125 ml of single cream and any juices from the resting steak, a good pinch of salt and about twenty turns of the pepper grinder. I know the extra pepper seems like coals to Newcastle, but is essential to get a good peppery sauce. Reduce for a minute and serve.
Now that's a good dinner for a cold winter's night.
Picture courtesy of Ripe Fruit.
This is a picture of Melbourne's iconic Flinders Street railway station and is the central hub for all the outlying suburbs that are connected to the rail system; trains shuttle back and forth, day and night, bringing people of all persuasions to and from the city.
There is another hub that I've been reading and thinking about about lately and that is Autism Hub. This is a central site from where interested folk can access blogs from both autistics (neurodiverse or nd) and also people (neurotypical or nt) who are involved with this condition, but don't actually present with it, such as parents and carers. But instead of trains, Autism Hub is the central point for ideas about autism that people put up on their blogs and those ideas hum up and down internet tracks day and night, connecting people all over the world.
What has caught my attention is how different folk actually view this site; I've read about neruotypicals who feel they don't quite belong and I've followed the debate of an autistic as to why he feels he doesn't belong either and in fact dramatically quit, causing some major ructions within Autism Hub and it was a series of comments that appeared after a posting by the owner of the hub that left me wondering a bit if some people do in fact understand what Autism Hub actually is for.
For me, the answer is simple, Autism Hub is for a-u-t-i-s-m.
But what seemed to be upsetting a particular autistic is that he felt that Autism Hub should be for autistics only. That neurotypicals can't and don't really understand what it's like to have autism and have no place there. This argument is a familiar refrain and is seen in many different places, usually where a group has attained some specialized knowledge through dint of their work. Footballers would be a good example - many believe and aren't shy about saying that they are the only ones who really understand the game. This disingenuous argument completely ignores the vast army of fans, who week in, week out go to watch football and have a keen sense of the game and will happily applaud a champion doing amazing things as well as dish it out to someone under performing.
Because they understand.
To be dismissed as someone who doesn't understand autism because I don't have it, is to miss the point. Every day I live with it and have obtained insights through practical experience as well as what I've learned through educating myself. It is possible to say I don't know what it's exactly like to have this condition, and in return I could say autistics don't know what it's like to be neurotypical, but what is that saying? If I disagree with an autistics point of view, it's not because I don't understand autism and by dint of having autism, doesn't always make one right when talking about it, but by the same token, there is nothing wrong in holding different views, they're just that, views.
Further, it would be a fair question to ask, does someone with Aspergers really understand what it's like to be a higher functioning autistic and in turn do they realize what low functioning autistics go through? Having a place on the spectrum, doesn't automatically qualify someone to speak for everyone there - just as in my world I understand a lot about high functioning autism, but would be lost to explain the needs of someone on the other end of the spectrum.
I can understand someone setting up a site only for people with autism, but why attack a site that caters for both neurodiverse and neurotypicals? To make a scene out of it only gave the impression that there was attention seeking behaviour going on. Why bother to publicly announce that you were quitting the site? It's too easy to set up a new site with your stated goals without making a fuss and I'm sure Autism Hub would have helped. Is dividing the autism community even smart? I know from a friend's experience that here in Australia, Autism Victoria has struggled for years to become the peak body for autism in my home state. Whilst this struggle was going on, various bodies with some affiliation to autism would apply for funds and the government would use these splinter groups to simply divide and conquer, giving out lesser amounts of cash than a united front could have won. Unknown organizations would be given small grants, in one case someone was given a grant of almost $100,000 and all that was known of them was a post office box number - how the money was spent, no one knows. Only the government won.
I understand that some autistics might want to set up their own sites and talk only amongst themselves, that you are a sub group within society and might feel more comfortable amongst yourselves, there's no need to explain anything to anyone. But to exclude me and people like me on the basis we are neurotypical is neither clever or in your interest. We are simply here for you. The saying I heard that someone is an autistic adult for longer than they are an autistic child cuts no ice with me, because I will be a parent of a person with autism for the rest of my life, there is no choice for me. What I read into that statement is a fear of paternalism.
My daughter is an adult-in-waiting and I see my job as helping her to get there. Just as I don't know what my other neurotypical children will make of their lives, I have no idea what M will make of hers. I just want to give her the best chances of becoming independent. For instance, in her mainstream school, she has an aide. We have asked the aide to do as little as possible for our daughter, to only help when needed, which seems counter intuitive, but it means M has to do things independently. Is that not how you learn to grow up? It seems to me in every way that I need to do the same things with M that I did for all my other children.
You see, I don't look at autistic people any differently than I look at anyone else. Sure they might have problems in certain areas, which might need a bit more work, but that doesn't make them less of a person or someone that I might get to know if we were both predisposed to it. I had a lot to do with an autistic person before M was born, so I know it's possible to have friendships on and off the spectrum.
You might not believe this at the moment, but it's better to have me and others like me on your side than to vicariously tell us to piss off. I for one, won't be listening anyway. I'll be the one trying to make the train ride comfortable and as fun as possible.
Toot, toot, tickets please.
You can see I'm never going to get work as a McDonald's stylist, but really, it is the inside of a sandwich after all.
Don't you hate it when with all good intentions you put leftovers in the fridge with the full intention of using them up, but somehow there is never that appropriate moment to serve them? Then after a few weeks, just because you're not really sure when the food was way past its best, you toss it due to the appearance of some sinister looking blue-green fluff that tells you, yes, this food has had it.
I'm as guilty as anyone when it comes to this and the most difficult thing to keep is just a small amount of leftovers. You feel a bit guilty about tossing them in the bin and there isn't really enough for a serve, so they languish in their little plastic container awaiting their pitiful and ignominious end, which is hopefully some time before they actually start to smell. It must be some ingrained human trait to store good food, for it is actually quite difficult to throw out something that is still quite edible, even more so if it was very tasty as well.
Last night we had nachos and I made both the guacamole and fresh salsa. At the end of it, there were small amounts of both left over and as we started to wash the dishes, I asked D if I should turf them out. Now D really loves my version of guacamole, of which there are as many versions as there are stars in the sky and she also has a soft spot for my salsa fresca; there may have only been a couple of tablespoons of each, hardly worth the bother, but she asked to keep them.
Their fate seemed inevitable now that they were in God's waiting room.
I thought no more of it until I ate my sandwich today. There was a bit of lettuce and pastrami poking out, but as I took a bite, there were the unmistakable flavours of Mexico. Funnily, it didn't taste of either guacamole or salsa fresca but a little of both. And so it proved. D had cleverly mixed them together and used it as a spread.
That was great thinking and very tasty to boot.
Imagine if you will that you invent something and someone else gets all the credit and even gets to name it. Russian salad or salad russe is a case in point. According to my wife D, what now passes for Russian salad is actually Polish vegetable salad and from what I have been able to discover, she may have some grounds for complaint.
Russian salad is credited to one Lucien Olivier, the chef at Hermitage in Moscow in the 1860's, where it became a signature dish. It was known to contain grouse, veal tongue, caviar, lettuce, crayfish tails, capers, gherkins, cucumbers, hardboiled eggs and soy beans and is a million miles from what passes as Russian salad today, which is pretty much cooked, cold vegetables, diced and bound with mayonnaise.
Over the intervening years all the exotic garnishes have been dropped in favour of more accessible vegetables and this dish has become exactly as the Polish serve it. Polish vegetable salad always contains potatoes, carrots, peas, fermented cucumbers and eggs, but other things such as onion, beans and celeriac may also be present.
The picture above is a mesh dicer for cooked vegetables and is standard kit in pretty much every Polish kitchen as it saves hours of knifework. You simply push some cooked vegetable, like potato for instance, through the mesh and twist and what you get is perfectly uniform dice, for the essence of this salad is to have all the vegetables the same size. There are no great big lumps in this salad, everything is cut to about the size of a pea.
I bet you like my mesh dicer now!
Polish Vegetable Salad
1 kg waxy potatoes, cooked in skin, cooled & peeled
330 g peeled carrots, cooked until soft and cooled
330 g peas, cooked and cooled
3 or 4 fermented or pickled cucumbers
4 eggs, hardboiled and peeled
1 cup mayonnaise
salt and fresh ground pepper
Dice very small, about the size of a pea, the potatoes, carrots, fermented cucumbers and eggs. Place everything in a bowl and stir in the mayonnaise, season to taste. You can add onion, cooked celeriac, cooked beans, asparagus or whatever else takes your fancy and you will still be true to the idea of this salad, just keep the potato as the dominant partner. It is really great for a barbecue or cold buffet.
D also had something to say about vodka...
Labels: Polish vegetable salad
There is one piece of fried chicken that seems to dry out and becomes unappetizing, and that is the end breast piece, the part that contains the cartilage - the other pieces that have breast meat come on the bone and don't dry out to the same extent. So I said to the server, "No end breast piece please." and he held up a drumstick and asked if that was what I meant.
I'm sad about that.
The next night I got home early to cook some comfort food, mac & cheese. I put on the pasta to boil and made a bechamel sauce well flavoured with grana padana & peccorino. Next I went to get the colander from the cupboard to drain the pasta, which was sitting inside my favourite ceramic bowl, an English one with a bold inset pattern, the large one I use for cake batters and such like. It has been a good friend for more than twenty years, helping mix the cake that I brought along to the first meal I ever had with my wife.
What I didn't notice was that a nest of frying pans was resting against the bowl as their opposite edges were uplifted by a stray box grater, pushing against the bowl. As I lifted the colander out of this ceramic bowl, the weight of the frying pans acted upon it and it shot out of the cupboard like a frightened bird, only it couldn't fly and broke into a thousand pieces on the floor.
Now I'm really sad. I'm also sorry that the last word the bowl ever heard was a word that I don't normally use. So here is a better one.
Exactly what constitutes a quesadilla varies from region to region and between the U.S. and Mexico, and is not universally agreed upon by Chefs, but there are certain similarities between the different versions that people generally agree upon...(from Wikipedia)
D was cooking dinner the other night and asked me to bring some cream on the way home. When I got there, she had already fried off some saffron milk caps (Lactarius deliciosus) that we had picked the previous weekend and wanted the cream to make sauce with them. She could have easily stopped right there and simply served the mushrooms with some plain boiled potatoes, or even better, some creamy polenta, but I noticed that she had a large bowl full of finely grated potatoes and a frying pan heating on the stove, placki (Polish potato cakes) were on the way.
This is one of D's favourite dishes and is very traditionally Polish. We normally all stand around the kitchen as they're being cooked and eat them hot from the frying pan. I like mine with a hit from the pepper grinder, D loves hers with a dollop of sour cream and M eats hers just plain. But today was different. Instead of putting in spoonfuls of mixture to make three placki at a time, D simply filled the entire base of the frying pan with mixture to make one large placki. When that was cooked she immediately made another, then laid the first placki on a plate, topped it with the creamy wild mushroom mixture and topped that with the second placki.
It looked for all the world exactly like a quesadilla.
I said to D we were eating Mexican tonight and a puzzled look broke out across her face, so I pointed out the similarity to her and she laughed and told me that the Polish actually do a dish called Hungarian quesadilla, which consists of two large placki with goulash between them.
I bet the Mexicans never saw that coming.
After a bit of a wait we managed to get ourselves inside and went straight to the stand selling calico carry bags, emblazoned with the show's logo. There was already a long queue to get a bag, but my daughter P's friend S noticed that on the other side of the stall they were also selling the bags - with no queue. Around we went and bought our bags and I mentioned to one of the assistants that the queue was much longer on the other side, she looked and nodded her head in agreement, but did nothing to point out to anyone that they could come around to her side.
I could put all that aside but for one of the first stands we came to, Danish Dan. There was no one there except for the chap serving, standing at his counter, head down wiping his clean bench. We stood there for a minute without acknowledgement, when I finally asked if he had any samples for us to try. He said no and walked off. If he was a computer I would have gone to the computer shop and bought him a customer service chip for he was so obviously lacking one. There was no attempt to engage us or let us know anything about his product, which appeared to be a new concept.
Well, we walked around some more and you could say if there was a theme for this year's event, it would have been chocolate. I wasn't counting but there were at least half a dozen chocolate stands, chocolate was everywhere.
This was the only photo I took, because when I was whipping out the camera and setting up a great shot, THEY DIDN'T GIVE ME ANY CHOCOLATE. I took no further chances.
We wandered into a darkened tent, curtained off from the outside for a chocolate tasting and as went in the entrance was cordoned off. There were about ten bar stools along a short counter and as we sat down, we were each given a piece of chocolate but told not to eat it. The guy in the photo gave us a short lecture about the chocolate, which turned out to be a Club Noir, a newish range from Nestle that seems to be taking on the Lindt Noir range.
We were asked to close our eyes and smell the chocolate and keeping our eyes closed we had to place the tablet in our mouths without biting, just letting it melt on our tongues. This part was nearly too much for P, who almost had an attack of the giggles, this was just damn chocolate after all, it was way too serious, though I can report the chocolate was of excellent quality. At the end we could purchase the chocolate, but at three dollars a 100 g block it compared poorly with the Lindt's stand offer of three 100 g blocks for five dollars.
As we traversed the auditorium we noticed that compared to last year there weren't as many samples on offer and the girls mentioned they thought it wasn't as well laid out this time. Near the theatre we could hear Ainsley Harriot, everyone could hear Ainsley, he's no shrinking violet that's for sure, but from listening to him it was easy to see he's quite the entertainer as well as cook.
I went up to one of the Asian stands from where last year I purchased a very yummy sample bag. They were handing out samples of a very tasty curry, but when I went to purchase the ingredients, they told me they weren't selling them, just bags of rice and they were donating the proceeds to the Salvation Army. Don't get me wrong, I have donated many times to the Salvos, but they seemed to be stopping me from getting a decent curry! Grrr.
Time for a drink.
In one of the more positive moves, they abandoned the two dollar entry from last year into the drinks enclosure and you could walk in freely and be given a wine glass to conduct your tastings with. Since I was the driver, I was fairly limited in what I could taste. Spit you say? I don't think so. Anyway, two wines that I liked were the Garden Gully sparkling shiraz and the premium chardonnay from Nicholson River. Not forgetting of course all the Belgium beers. Maybe it's a good thing they are fairly pricey, I could easily see myself drinking a lot more of them otherwise.
The Pravda stand was a disappointment. It's a new premium Polish vodka, distilled five time along the lines of Grey Goose. They put in two lovely looking girls, but they couldn't have been expecting someone like me. First question about the maker revealed nothing, another question got the same blank looks. Please, if you are going to the trouble of having such a great looking stand, educate the servers, not everyone wants to perve.
At last I found what I was looking for - a stand of informed people giving out samples of their product that were really delicious that I had never tried before. It was the Pitango stand, a New Zealand company that specializes in fresh, organic soups, packed neatly in a plastic pouch. I tried a couple and fell completely in love with the New Orleans Cajun Seafood Gumbo. It tasted fresh and more importantly it tasted of the sea. They had a three for ten dollar offer and I bought three of just these. Okay, the name has a bit of marketing license, there's no rice for instance and it needed a bit of chile heat, but this was easily the best thing I tasted at the show. This is the reason I go to food shows, to make discoveries like this. We had one for dinner that night served on top of rice, with some cayenne pepper added, it was wonderful, full of fresh vegetables, john dory and mussels.
Edited too add: I forgot to mention Phillips Foods where I had a taste of their fresh crab meat which is available from Safeways. They said that there were four blue swimmer crabs in every pack and the meat was sweet and tasty. If you have ever picked meat from a crab you will know what a boon this product is, I'll be using some for sure in the very near future. Available in claw or body meat packs.
I think that The Good Food & Wine Show needs to lift their game for next year, as do some of the exhibitors. The wine side of things was better this year, but on the food side, things could have been better organized and laid out. My daughter P for instance was looking for organic maple syrup and only found out this morning that there was in fact a stand. As long as I can make discoveries like Pitango I will keep going, but if they don't improve things, it will be under sufferance.
Labels: Good Food and Wine Show
Of course being French, this mum likes to give the kids French food, with croissants being high on the list, so when M talks about or asks for one she manages to say it with a perfect French accent and exactly like the French pronounce it, not in the Australian manner of inflecting a hard k at the start, sounding like cross-ant, more the gentle q sound, as in quoss-ant. If you close your eyes, you could easily imagine being in a Parisian boulangerie listening to the customer in front placing their order.
Today is one of those pupil free days at her school whereby the teachers get to work on the curriculum in the absence of students, so M is staying at home with mum. She is really looking forward to her day off and to start the day right has asked for breakfast in bed and has placed an order for croissants, in her perfect French.
M hasn't completely succumbed to French ways though, she asked for them to be served with vegemite! I can just hear the French spluttering sacrebleu into their lattes.
That's my little Aussie girl.